Monday, February 27, 2017

Go West for Nation's Best Fast Food Burger

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling over the years in my various jobs. And during that time, I’ve eaten a fair number of hamburgers. I haven’t done this for my own pleasure, mind you, but simply for scientific purposes. I did it for you. Because of my work, you won’t ever have to waste precious calories on a subpar burger.

You’re welcome.

So now, without further ado, I am releasing the results of my extensive studies. Following are the top five burgers from coast to coast, starting straight from the top.

1). In and Out Burger. This is the easiest choice by far. This west coast institution is unparalleled. It offers the freshest, best-tasting, lowest-cost burger available. When I first went to In and Out, I was jarred by its simplicity. This is not a place for chicken or fish sandwiches. They only do burgers. But when you do burgers this well, you don’t have to do anything else. When traveling to Los Angeles, I’ve been known to make In and Out my first stop when leaving the airport or my last stop when returning. I take pictures to savor the experience. If I were a poet, I would write an ode to In and Out.

2). Culver’s Restaurant. It gets a little crowded after number one, in my opinion, but I’m giving Culver’s and its butterburger (so called because the bun is dipped in butter and lightly grilled) the nod here. Freshness is again the differentiator with each burger made to order.  Plus, as a bow to Culvers’ Wisconsin roots, you can order cheese curds as a side instead of French fries. What’s not to like about fried cheese?

3). Steak ’n Shake. Although it might not seem like it if you order a milkshake, I’m assuming Steak ’n Shake qualifies as fast food. After all, it has a drive-thru window. Steak ’n Shake’s original steakburger is smashed thin, which makes the edges nice and crispy. Add cheese, onions, mustard and some shoestring fries and you’re in business. Steak ’n Shake’s burgers also score very high on the value scale.

4). Five Guys. I include Five Guys mostly from a sense of obligation. Everyone seems to love Five Guys. Sure, the burgers are good. That’s a given. For me though, I find the double burger and sack overflowing with fries all to be just a bit much. After I eat at Five Guys, I don’t want another hamburger for a month. Five Guys is the artery clogger among artery cloggers. It’s also the most expensive or this group.

5). Sonic. Perhaps it’s human nature to yearn most for that which we cannot have, which explains my odd affinity for Sonic. Most Sonic restaurants near me have closed over time. As a result, whenever I see one on the road, I’m drawn to pull over.  Sonic does a good, honest burger at a fair price. I particularly like the freshness of the bun. Plus, you can order tater tots as a side, which is a nice change of pace and a pleasant reminder of childhood.

That’s my list of the nation’s best fast food burgers with a couple of caveats. First, even though I have been to New York repeatedly, I somehow never sampled Shake Shack so I can’t speak to its quality, although I know it has many devotees. Second, if I were forced to pick from only the large national chains, Wendy’s wins hands down. Finally, if we include dives as well as chains, then Reno’s Little Nugget Diner tops the list. It is home of the “awful awful” burger, so-called because it is both awful big and awful good.

How about you? Do you agree with my list? Would you choose a different order? Do you prefer others?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tales from a Colonoscopy Rookie

The prep is the worst part.

That’s what smug colonoscopy veterans tell you. They say it with assurance, like a chef cooking something exotic tells diners “it tastes just like chicken.”

I’m no fan of frog legs and I’m thinking I’ll like a colonoscopy even less.  Still, I’m 51 with a family history of colon cancer. I’m technically past due. So I reluctantly schedule the procedure. It’s now the night before and I keep repeating, “the prep is the worst part.”

I was surprised I could buy everything I needed for the prep over the counter, including beef broth, Jell-O, Dulcolax, Miralax, Gatorade (other than purple or red) and baby wipes. As I check out, the clerk looks at me like I must be planning some party.

On prep day, I eat nothing more than beef broth and Jell-O. That’s just as delicious as it sounds. But, as we know by now, the worst is yet to come. As evening sets in, I take two Dulcolax tablets. Then I mix a whole bottle of Miralax into two giant bottles of Gatorade, which I spend the next several hours drinking. I cap it all off with a couple more Dulcolax tablets. For the rest of the night, I wear out a path in the carpet between the couch and the bathroom. My family knows to steer clear. My wife shares her sympathy … and some baby wipes.

It isn’t pleasant. It isn’t supposed to be. This is the alleged worst part.

Sometime after midnight my stomach finally starts to settle down.  I fall asleep and doze peacefully, except for a dream where I soil myself. I wake up and double check. Thankfully, it was only a dream brought on by the evening’s stressors.

The next morning I’m still nervous. I’m second guessing things. I’m starting to think that I’ve been sold a bill of goods about this colonoscopy thing. The prep isn’t the worst part. The camera up the backside has to be the worst part. The nurse at Medical Center East senses my anxiety. She reassures me. The prep is over. The IV is in. The rest is easy, she says.

Of course, she’d say this. She’s in on it like the rest of them.

But there’s no turning around now. I’ve already told the anesthesiologist about my allergies and I’m being rolled away to the room where the procedure will take place. I keep my doubts to myself and turn onto my side as directed like a good soldier. I’m eased off to sleep. Less than 30 minutes later, I wake up back where I started. The doctor has shared good news with my wife. Everything went well. No polyps. No cancer. I won’t have to do this again for 10 years.

I am relieved, of course. But more importantly, the experience gives me a strange sense of purpose. It endows me with an important message I must share with those who follow. I feel compelled to sit down at my keyboard as soon as possible and pass my wisdom along to the public. To wait even a day more, would be nothing short of dereliction of my duty to humanity. So here goes dear people: The prep is the worst part.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Snider is Star vs. UK, but Others Shine Bright, Too

Hometown hero Quentin Snider, a junior point guard from Ballard, was the star of stars in Louisville’s 73-70 victory over rival Kentucky in the KFC Yum Center Wednesday night, but there was plenty of praise to spread around.

Snider was the undisputed game MVP with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, but he had plenty of help, too. It seemed nearly everyone who hit the hardwood for the Cards made some kind of contribution to the much-needed victory.

Let’s start with Deng Adel. Adel saved his best game for the biggest stage with 18 points and six rebounds against UK, including six of six from the free throw line. Both Adel and Snider played all but three minutes, underscoring both their effort and importance to the victory. Much of that time, Adel was harassing the Wildcats’ best player, Malik Monk, into shooting just one of nine from the three-point line after 47 points against North Carolina. If not for Snider’s heroics, Adel would’ve been the headline from this game.

Big man Jaylen Johnson continued to showcase his off-season improvement with 14 points and six rebounds, including a couple of thunderous dunks (although not nearly as thunderous as Bam Adebayo’s rim rattlers). However, Johnson’s biggest play of the game was of the softer variety via a nifty reverse put back of Donovan Mitchell’s miss with only 11 seconds left, giving the Cards a four-point lead.

Speaking of Mitchell, it simply was not his best game. He picked up two early offensive fouls that limited his effectiveness. Mitchell shot only three of 12 from the field and missed an open three-pointer with just over two minutes left and U of L leading by four that might’ve blown the game wide open. He soon redeemed himself by coolly delivering two clutch free throws with nine seconds left to give U of L a three-point margin, meaning the Wildcats had to shoot from deep on their final possession. They missed, but credit UK Coach John Calipari for getting Monk an uncomfortably good look there.

On that last shot, walk-on David Levitch, of all people, had his hand in Monk’s face. Levitch also drew Monk’s second foul earlier in the game, causing the Kentucky sharpshooter to miss a large chunk of the first half. On the flip side, Levitch missed two free throws. Because of those misses, I was surprised Cards’ Coach Rick Pitino went back to him late.

While we’re talking about freebies, how about Ray Spaulding of Trinity shooting four of four from the stripe? Sure, a couple danced around the rim, but they went in and were desperately needed in a game where every point counted. Spaulding probably would’ve been even more impactful if not for foul trouble.

Two other U of L big men contributed without even scoring. Mangok Mathiang grabbed five rebounds, but his biggest play came when he blocked De'Aaron Fox’s runner with just over six minutes left and Louisville clinging to a two-point lead. Anas Mahmoud grabbed a key offensive rebound with 3:42 left, tossing it to Adel before falling out of bounds. Adel then found Johnson for a big dunk and a four-point Cardinal lead.

Tony Hicks and V.J. King both played in the rivalry for the first time. Neither made much of a mark other than giving the starters a rest. They have better days ahead. However, this night belonged to Snider … with a lot of help from his friends.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Having a Ball -- and a Fall -- on Bowling Night

If you’re my age, you probably remember Mars Blackmon’s refrain from the popular Nike ads. “It’s gotta be da shoes,” screamed Blackmon, aka Spike Lee. When it came to my near catastrophe at the bowling alley this week, Blackmon was right. It was definitely da shoes.

I bowl once a week in a men’s league.  I have a pretty regular ritual. So regular, in fact, that it’s damn near rote at this point. I sit down, lace up my bowling shoes, polish my bowling ball, place it on the rack, pay the team captain and wait for practice to start.

But this week, my routine was interrupted with disastrous consequences. I spotted a friend from work on the next lane. I was eager to chat with him. So I started cleaning my bowling ball as we caught up. When we were finished talking, I put the ball on the rack, paid the captain and waited for practice to start. See anything missing?

Because it was cold outside, I wore blue jeans to bowling – instead of shorts – for the first time this year. For some reason, I was oddly concerned that I might trip over my pant leg. So, as I stumbled on my first practice ball, I blamed the jeans. Then, on my second practice ball, the stumble turned into an all-out, head-first sprawl onto the lanes. That’s right. I dived onto the oil with all the gusto of Pete Rose into third base with a full audience of bowlers watching.

I scrambled to my feet, took inventory of any personal injury (thankfully, the only bruises were to my ego) and sat down in the same seat where I had sat just moments before so blissfully ignorant of what was to come. I was still trying to figure out exactly what had happened when the team captain came to check on me. He pointed to my shoes. They were sneakers … not bowling shoes. Bowling shoes slide. Sneakers stick. When sneakers stick, you fall … hard.

So Mars was right. It was not da jeans. It was da shoes.

But don’t feel sorry for me. This story has an unexpected happy ending (besides survival). After such an inauspicious beginning, I ended up bowling my best series ever … about 650 actual. Perhaps I concentrated better knowing I’d have to do something to redeem myself. Or maybe I was just lucky. Either way, I’m thinking of taking another header this week … just in case.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Larry David Loves This Idea ... In My Dreams

I happen to think Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, is the funniest person alive so maybe it’s not all that odd that the comedian recently made a guest appearance in one of my dreams.

Dream Larry lived next door to me. We visited each other regularly. I talked with Dream Larry in great depth about his career and his creative process. He was perfectly accommodating and lovely. In other words, he was nothing like Real-Life Larry.

On one visit, Dream Larry and I could barely hear each other because of the abrasive licks of a heavy metal band practicing outside the widow.  We agreed it was repulsive and a blight on the entire neighborhood. The next time I saw Dream Larry I asked him if he had done anything to address the repulsive metal band problem. He said yes. He had signed them to a recording contract. We both laughed uproariously. I told him this would make a great plot for a future Curb episode. Dream Larry agreed.

So Real-Life Larry, if you’re out there, feel free to borrow that hilarious anecdote for a future episode. I’m not holding my breath though. Unfortunately, Dream Larry also told me he wouldn’t be doing any more episodes of Curb.