Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hugo's Off The Square, and the Burger I Couldn't Photograph.

A burger, a bar and a prohibition on using the big camera... let's just say the attitude I loved in Hugo's in Fayetteville changed when I brought my Rebel through the door.  But I still love that Blue Moon.



So, Hugo’s.  Have you ever seen Cheer’s?  Hugo’s is Cheers in a mountaintop town in the Ozarks.  Try not to fall down the stairwell when you come in off Block Street.  The place is dark, crowded, cluttered, loud and wonderful.

Opened in 1977 in a basement, Hugo’s has become enigmatically synonymous with being a native.  The restaurant doesn’t advertise, and the only real way you’ll find the place without a guide is by peering through your window for the small neon sign with the down-pointing arrow.  You’re going to have to circle the block for a parking spot a few times.

One of the original owners, Liz Page, is responsible for the dashed-together d├ęcor. She spent months bringing in all sorts of finds from thrift shops and antique stores to furnish the place.  She didn’t find the Typewriters sign - that pre-dates Hugo's by a lot.

See, Hugo's was once a typewriter shop.

I came in with a bunch of other people on a hot July afternoon in 2013 and sat under that Typewriters sign and was told I was going to have a Blue Moon Burger.  I mean, yeah, someone handed me a menu but everyone
at the table was looking to me to try this burger.  I didn't have my camera with me, but I did have my cell phone, and when the burger was plopped down in front of me, I shot it.

And boy, look at all that red, and that's AFTER Photoshop.  Really.

Of course, my well-meaning dining companions had to rat on me about what I do and about my epic burger quest, which didn't do anything to improve the mood of a staff dealing with a large group that had suddenly appeared to eat.  I smiled and nodded and made a note to come back without the group.

The burger had been stupendous, but what I could best record was its flavor, since even my eyes could not adjust to the burger's true appearance, even after 30 minutes under the red.  The quality of the beef and the sharpness of the cheese stuck with me.

But I did my research, and asked my questions of locals, and looked stuff up on the internet.  I found that Hug's was one of the first places to offer nachos in all of northwest Arkansas, and that the burgers had always been the standard fare.  The menu has not changed a lot.  And its star had always been this Blue Moon Burger, despite a full bar, 32 beers on tap, wine and all the other consumables you might find at a bar.

So a few weeks later I found myself back in Hugo's on another trip.  And there were but two places to sit in the entire darkened interior - under the Typewriters sign, or at the bar.  So I chose the latter and laid my camera by my arm.

The barkeep looked at me with narrowed eyes and proclaimed I could not take any photos of her patrons.  Now, wait, no one had complained when I had taken photos with my phone the previous visit, or that anyone else in my party had shot merrily with their smartphones.  What was the deal?

With teeth somewhat clenched, she mentioned that some of the clientele within the restaurant at that very moment were regulars who did not like to be photographed and should not be photographed. And, for my own security, maybe I'd better just shoot the burger.

Which I did, when it came to me, all those blue cheese crumbles falling off the top. a thin layer of mayonnaise sealing the red onion to the bottom bun.  The patty was still steaming after its ceremonial placement upon the bread, the scent of caramelizing onion and black pepper blending with the sear of the meat, all under a crown of sesame seeds...

and after a few photos, the barkeep leaned over and growled "eat it" at me.  Which I did.  Quickly.  I enjoyed it, but by this point she had seriously unnerved me so I was anxious to enjoy my burger and go.  I'd have asked for a box, but she's already made me feel I'd been an imposition for even hinting that I might want to take a photo.

I've been back since, and have rather enjoyed the hot pastrami and cheese sandwich and the Hot Peach and Amaretto Crepes.  But never again have I dared shoot a photo within the den below Block Avenue.  Somehow, I feel I've been warned, and that breaking the rules might tempt a fate that would bar me from future entry.

You'll find Hugo's down the stairwell at 25 1/2 Block Avenue in Fayetteville, half a block north of the downtown square.  Check out the restaurant's Facebook page for happenings and photos the restaurant provides - which will save you a growl or two from a barkeep looking to protect her patrons.

3 comments:

  1. enjoyed reading this. Husband and I dined at Hugo's last weekend. I have enjoyed meals here since 1977... taking photos of our food with my phone the last few visits has never garnered a comment...a good thing...to be so inconspicious. The burger looks great, btw. Mushroom crepes were my favorite in almost 40 years ago.

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  2. When I was pregnant (33 years ago) and hit the wall and couldn't eat another vegetable,I'd go to Hugos and have a broccoli quiche. I'm sure they are the reason I had a healthy baby. :)

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  3. I've not been back in years. My favorite was a bacon bbq burger. I'd often have a lemon mousse for dessert.

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