You know those times where you have been fixated on something on so long, expecting it to be great, and then you get there, meet the person, or achieve the goal and its only “OK.” Well that is the feeling I have after visiting this OK Oklahoma landmark, even though the burgers sort of charmed me over the course of the meal.
I had wanted to come to Sid’s Diner since reading about Sid’s in Saveur Magazine’s Burger Issue back in 2009. It was always on my short list for the Summer Food Drive, but then every time the weight of the northern route (Kansas, Missouri, etc.) or the southern route drew me away from the more central route, which would have included Sid’s Diner. Sid’s (along with Feltner’s What-a-Burger) was always the toughest to cross-off. A fried onion burger fired my imagination and this year I was on the central route.
Finally getting here, I am not bitter after my first bite, but instead feel deflated, like the air coming out of a balloon full of hype. I should not be surprised that a cost savings measure (adding cheap onions to expensive beef in the 1920’s) isn’t a first-bite flavor revelation.
One bite in, if I want to be magnanimous, I’d say “I’m into juicier burgers,” or I’d say “I am not that into charring,” something to shift from pure blame to an impartial matter of opinion. I know that fairer is the right course and factually correct, but at the outset I am feeling a smidgen of petulance about my visit. Let’s just say this, at this point, for me, the corner and the short, windy walk around Sid’s neighborhood are the best part of the visit. El Reno’s shades of Norman Rockwell ride easy on the nostalgic tourist.
So, on to the world famous, tv-hyped, fried onion burgers. Mine arrived as a thin, dry burger (you can almost see it desiccating on the plate in the video) with some charred onions in it. I like Martinis dry, but not burgers. The second bite was also dry, but with some flavor of fat and char together, followed by an after taste of soft bun. Hmm was it bad or good?
The dryness is probably a result of Sid’s vaunted “smashing the burger flat with the Spatula.” We teach the exact opposite at Smart Kitchen. We say not to squeeze or smash the Hamburger with the spatula or the moisture will come out. Here at Sid’s Diner it was smashed and the moisture came out. Maybe they should spring for the $9.99? I doubt that they will though, because they are doing alright with plenty of folks; and smashed fried onion burger is something of a regional cultural item, a part of the local cuisine of this bit of central Oklahoma. Not everything is for everybody.
As I was thinking all this, the visual appeal of the burger kicked in and I went in for bite three. The burger was growing on me. It was a more historic taste, with some complexity because of the burnt onions and some contrast due to the terrific, moist produce (Tomato & Lettuce). I was slowly converting from a Negative Nelly to a Neutral Nancy and then to a nice Nodding Nick. My plan to eat only half the burger was modified, on-the-fly, to eating three quarters. After all that travel, I am glad I had those next few bites.
I went from “No, not coming back” to “Coming Back” from 50 miles, but really likely further since to my knowledge they are sort of short on burger Meccas in Central OK.
You can visit Sid’s in El Reno or even try your hand at making a Sid’s-style burger by following the Sid’s Diner Fried Onion Burger Recipe, which was published in Saveur in 2009. The link goes to their site.