I ate it so you don't have to: Connecticut is weird and so are its steamed cheeseburgers
By Nick O'Malley | firstname.lastname@example.org
Continuing in our series of making fun of other states' weird foods, we take a trip down to Connecticut, a weird state that named its baseball team the Yard Goats and steams its cheeseburgers.
Now, to be fair, the entire state isn't at fault here. The steamed burger trend is mostly limited to the area around Meriden, Conn., similar to how theChow Mein Sandwich oddity in Massachusetts is tethered to the Fall River area. Even within that affected region, the legacy of the steamed cheeseburger can be traced back to one unassuming location: Ted's Restaurant in Meriden.
Despite its status of the birthplace of one of the more devious forms of burger heresy in the region, Ted's is a rather unassuming enterprise, situated along a row of small residential buildings with only street parking available.
It's within this unassuming infrastructure that Ted's does something remarkable: They make a steamed cheeseburger tastes pretty darn good -- even if it is weird.
If you've ever run into a super-high quality cheeseburger -- maybe with some Kobe beef involved -- you're probably aware there is usually a person who's goal in life it to protect that meat's sanctity and ruin it for you. In order to eat that type of burger "correctly," you'll usually be pressured into ordering it rare to medium-rare with few toppings to bring out the flavor of the meat more. It ruins the fun of burgers.
The steamed cheeseburger at Ted's is the exact opposite of that and is therefore awesome.
As for how Ted's actually steams the burgers: They load the patties and blocks of cheese in a custom steamer that cooks them through. The burgers are really juicy and the cheese is really melty. Now, this is where disagreements start to rise.
The steaming process does that same thing with burgers that it does with everything else: removes the oils and fills the whole thing up with water. Now, for some, that is a death knell for the burger's fortune. However, with the demise of classic burger flavor comes the rise of everything else that can be done to make a cheeseburger taste good.
It's here that the burger patty itself begins to fade in a gray area -- literally, since there's no pink in the meat. But if you're smart and ordered your burger with at least cheese (I got the standard "everything"), you'll start to see how the steamed burger shines.
For some, "juicy" will translate into "watery." However, that's not the point. What makes the burger tick isn't the patty itself, it's the other components -- namely the cheese.
Oh, that cheese. It comes in a big, goopy mess and however you want it. Rather than placing a slice of cheese on top of the burger like the rest of the world, Ted's pops in a 2 oz. block of cheddar into the steamer along with the patties. This results in a beautiful golden cascade of cheese that droops down the side and encompasses the patty and some of the bun in a cheddar sarcophagus that would house only the greatest of Egypt's burger pharaohs.
You can get the steamed cheesevalanche on a burger, on a steamed chicken sandwich (also a thing) or atop Ted's home fries, cooked up right on the skillet next to the burgers.
That, combined by an excellent supporting cast of bun and toppings, results in a burger that absolutely works, despite the weirdness of the steam.
For a look at the steaming process, the Phantom Gourmet had a pretty good feature of the restaurant and how they actually go about steaming the burgers:
With that said, I cannot recommend ordering a plain hamburger at Ted's. To be fair, I wouldn't recommend doing that anywhere. Put stuff on your burger. It's the way George Washington intended it to be when he invented it -- or something.
So what do they taste like?
When I was in Boy Scouts early on, we were given license to choose what we'd do for meals on cooking trips. And seeing as how we were mostly 13-year-olds who'd hardly done more than cook a Hot Pocket, this resulted in us thinking that we could totally pull off tacos. The nuanced cooking process we utilized involved taking a pound of hamburger meat and putting it on a square skillet that could hardly fit it, forcing the liquid to leak out the side and leave a bear-luring trail of meat juice on the ground. We then took that meat, unseasoned, and tried to make tacos with it.
This is what the meat in a steamed cheeseburger tastes like but it doesn't matter.
The first bite I took of the steamed cheeseburger with "everything" (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, salt & pepper, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise) was met with a resounding spill of steamy meat juice. The burger comes hot, it's not messing around with the moisture inside.
However, at no point did the burger, situated on a hearty Vienna roll, ever come close to getting overly sloppy from the juices.
Once I steeled myself against the burger's juicy advances, I got my first bite and was met by a joyous revelry of the cheese and the condiments and bun and even that burger texture. It doesn't taste like the sort of $10 burger you'd get at Local Burger or Plan B. But even so, it plays in a harmonious burger symphony, only with the secondary characters building to a resounding crescendo in your mouth while the patty simply lays the foundation of the song.
Steamed Chicken Sandwich - Ted's has some other items on the menu, including some steamed chicken sandwiches. I tried the "California Dreamin" sandwich with bacon and garlic mayo. As expected, it wasn't the most flavorful chicken but the overall sandwich has plenty of flavor, especially with the bacon involved.
Loaded home fries - Ted's doesn't have french fries but they do serve up orders of griddle-cooked home fries that are a nice mix up from the norm. I got mine loaded with an order cheese magma and bacon.
For this trip, I met up with former MassLive producer and Connecticut resident Leeanne Griffin. As loathe as I am to admit it, I had to say I was wrong to bash the steamed cheeseburger for so long.
I was the Squidward to her Spongebob:
And fortunately, unlike Krabby Patties, steamed cheeseburgers don't go straight to your thighs. Not as much, at least.
The Final Word
The steamed cheeseburger at Ted's Restaurant is a great cheeseburger. Now for some, the quality of the patty and the burger, in general, go hand in hand but when talking about a cheeseburger as a concept whose toppings and condiments cater to certain tastes, the steamed cheeseburger is good burger -- even if it is weird.
"I ate it so you don't have to" is a regular food column looking at off-beat eats, both good and bad. It runs Thursday at noon-ish.