Monday, December 15, 2014
Could The Monkey Burger Be The Best Burger In Pulaski County?
Milton Fine gave me a recommendation a while back that I have just now been able to indulge – a little place in College Station that offers home cooking, sandwiches, pie and a nice, hefty selection of burgers. The place on the outside is heralded as It’s All About Mak’N’It, but it’s called by its regulars (and its menu as well) the name of its signature dish: Monkey Burger.
I went in this Monday afternoon full of curiosity. There were half a dozen patrons already dining and a kindly woman behind the counter – an ancient general store-type counter filled with candies and gums, topped with clear boxes of Laffy Laffy and Jolly Ranchers and jars of whole dill pickles. I told her I’d come for a burger.
“The best dang burger you ever done had,” she started to brag. “The best ground beef. We got a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a Monkey Burger-”
“What’s on a Monkey Burger?”
She cackled. “Two patties larger than you ever eat, with lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion!”
“Yeah, why not? I can take home the rest.”
“You get it in a combo, it’ll come in a box to take home.”
I agreed and sat down. At that moment I turned and saw the hostess come around the counter with a couple of plates with ridiculously large two-patty burgers and fries on them. They looked massive.
“You gon have ta cut it in four pieces, Dwight,” one of the guys at the table laughed. There were three men at the table, and another two at the next one. They all seemed to know each other well and were joshing each other over the humongous hamburgers. They were each taller and more hearty than I.
The door opened and another guy walked in, apparently well known to this crowd. He crowed “put my burger on their bill!” as he saw the cluster of eaters around the table full of burgers and fries. There was laughing, and a man at the next table over stood up and called to the cook “hey, hotshot!” and suggested he give the newcomer a free burger.
More folks were coming in by this time. Over the TV in the corner playing a western on TV Land, I heard the voice of the hostess ring out to the guy who’d wanted his burger on someone else’s bill. “I don’t have no gravy, don’t ask me. You have to done ask me 100 questions about one ham sandwich, what comes on, what comes with it, now go on.”
Another patron walked in and over to the cooler, which was full of cans and bottles – both generic beverages and named brand sodas. I noticed there was a cooler of lemonade on the end of the counter, and a big container of tea.
“It took me three hours to eat the one thing,” I heard rise from the table of diners. Not a one of them was close to finishing, but I got the impression they weren’t in any hurry.
From behind the register rang out, “we don't have anything that's not good. We know how to make it.”
“Y’all be good,” one of the guys from the other table said as he walked out the door.
“Ain't no way you gonna bite it,” the conversation continued at that table. I looked over towards the counter and noticed the whiteboard that advertised a cold cut sandwich (turkey or ham), chips and a piece of cake for $3. What? I realized then I hadn’t even looked at a menu when I came in. For all I knew, I might have just ordered a $12 burger.
A couple and their young son came in. The gentleman waiting for his order turned around, gently grabbed the boy’s arm and looked him over. “What year are you in school?” he asked before looking up and greeting the couple.
His mother caught my eye as I looked back towards the whiteboard and whistled. On the right side, it said Holiday Turkey, you buy, we fry, $20. We buy and fry, $35-45. Pan of dressing $12. Sweet potato pie $10.
“Those prices are incredible,” I mentioned to her. She widened her eyes a little and nodded with a smile.
Time was passing. It’d been 20 minutes or more since I’d walked in the door, but I was in no hurry. I did hear one of the eaters at the bigger table call out to another man walking through the door that there was going to be a wait and he should have called ahead. I eyeballed the big burger over on the other table within eyeshot, which was slowly being consumed with a knife and fork by its owner. The man who’d just come through the door pointed at the dish and asked “you ain’t finished it yet?”
“You see I ain’t”
“What’d you get?”
And that’s when I realized the big burger he was eating, wasn’t even the biggest burter there. I grew concerned that I might have to unhinge my jaw to properly sample what was to come. By this point I could smell the burger on the griddle, hear the fries in the fryer. I was salivating and being quiet and listening and trying not to answer the desire to gnaw off a limb.
The guys at the table across from mine were laughing and joking without a care in the world. In those 20 minutes since my order, since they got their burgers, none of them had gotten halfway through.
A line was forming. I heard a credit card being processed. I noticed the chocolate-covered Sara Lee individually wrapped cakes on the counter.
“Both of them with cake,” the hostess was telling the next patron, patting the white sack. “An here come more folks!” she cheerfully called out. I noticed another white paper bag marked TURKEY sitting atop one of the dill pickle jars.
She looked at me and smiled. “Everybody come in the same time, ain't no joke,” she said. I just nodded. As I said, I was in no hurry.
She repeated the latest order to the next customer, “the Jumbo, no pickles, extra cheese.”
The two men up next, a gentleman my height and a taller man, placed their order. “I want the Monkey Burger,” said the taller man, and the shorter one put his hand on the first guy’s arm and looked up at him.
“I warned you.”
The taller man looked down and grinned. “TWO Monkey Burgers!” he gleefully corrected.
I looked at the remaining text on the whiteboard, which I couldn’t see earlier, and saw that tea and lemonade were 50 cents each and pecan pie was two dollars. I heard the second guy change his order to a regular cheeseburger.
“I thought your mama don't raise no quitter!” came from the loud table. None of the three men there had made any sort of motion to get about doing whatever they might have needed to be doing. They were just enjoying a friendly afternoon.
“Bacon cheeseburger, extra pie, no onions, extra cheese,” the hostess called back to the dude waiting for his take-out order.
And at the same time I heard the cook holler “Monkey Burger!”
The hostess finished up with that customer and turned back briefly to the kitchen before taking one more order. Customers coming in greeted those in the loose line. “How ya doin, darling? All right!” called one rather jovial guy as he came in. I was beginning to believe I’d see the entire population of College Station before it was all done.
“Ma’am! I got your burger!” the waitress called, and this time she was hollering for me. I went up and paid for it and a cup of tea and she asked me if I had taken a look at it yet. I carefully open the box bursting at the seams.
She got a red Solo cup full of ice and waved her hand over towards the tea dispenser (there’s only sweet tea and lemonade and what’s in the cooler), then handed me a plastic knife and fork and a wad of napkins.
After a moment of silence that seemed to fall over the entire restaurant, they started to whoop. “Woo !” and “Dang!” were uttered, and I’m sure I likely blushed at these guys who were very entertained that I actually managed to get a bite out of that burger.
I took another bite, and was rewarded with appreciative laughter. I got the impression that the crowd thought I was all right.
I didn’t eat all that much… well, I mean, I did, but there was a LOT of burger left. What was left after I got home was more than a pound. Why did I measure?
Well, first off, I have to say that this burger’s one of the best I’ve had in several years. I’ve been, for the most part, off the burger circuit since mid-2012 and it’s been some time. But the fantastic even-handed spices in the humongous hand-patted patties make this an epic sandwich all area burger lovers need to get over and try.
But I measured the burger because when I asked the hostess how much meat was on it, she laughed. “We don’t measure it. We have no idea, we just make them!”
So, how much did this repast put me back? A total of $8.70 – which included fries and tea and a tip. The burger itself was $5.65 with cheese on it.
That won't bother me, though. The hostess confirmed the great quality and flavor of the meat, and asked me if I'd seen the commercials for Bush's Baked Beans. When I nodded, she said "It's the same thing, but I don't let the dog in the kitchen! No one's going to get that recipe!"
That lovely lady at the counter also told me that there was a couple that had a young girl who had brought her in and she wanted that Monkey Burger. They had gone ahead and let her have it with a box to take it home it because they did not think she would eat much of it. But it only took her about 30 minutes to disassemble it with a knife and fork and consume the whole dang thing.
You're not going to just find Monkey Burger out of the blue. You have to know it's there. Not a lot of food lovers get over to College Station, and that's a shame, but I have a feeling that more will make the journey the six miles from downtown to get this burger a shot. I am very interested to see what you think.
4424 Frazier Pike
Little Rock, AR 72206