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Friday, August 5, 2011

A Burger Stand and Expectations Defied (Again)

best burger

Must every post on my blog begin with an apology for lack of content? Probably not, but I feel compelled to apologize for the dearth of material anyway. Hot temperatures and relatively few day trips have kept this blog quiet... it's just not that pleasant walking around in business clothes taking pictures when the heat index is 115 degrees. This post is light on pictures, too, but I thought the experience warranted a post.

I took the above photo of Best Burger last summer - I've passed it dozens of times while traveling on Highway 190 through Point Coupee Parish. (Highway 190 is a popular bypass from Baton Rouge to I-49. I-49 runs from Lafayette, through Alexandria, up to Shreveport, and Highway 190 provides a more direct route if you're headed to Alexandria from Baton Rouge. It is probably best known as a notorious speedtrap - especially through the hamlet of Krotz Springs, where municipal police stand guard at the bottom of the bridge over the Atchafalaya River, waiting for unsuspecting speeders to crest the hill.) I've often thought that Best Burger must be amazing - I mean, just look at it. For a place like that to survive in 2011, the food must be really great, right? I've often thought of stopping but never did until today, on my way back from Alexandria. Until I looked back at the picture above, I didn't realize that it looks a little different now - note in the picture below, taken today, that the seating area left of the restaurant is now partially enclosed. More on that in a moment.

As I rolled down Highway 190 with my stomach grumbling, I nearly stopped at one of the numerous boudin & cracklin shops along the way. But at some point I remembered ol' Best Burger and decided that today was the day. I was excited... but as I got close and saw the small handful of work trucks sitting in front, I got nervous. I pulled up in my European sedan, dressed for a business appointment, and drew a long stare from a guy eating in his truck. For a moment I thought of backing out and going through the McDonald's drive through just down the road, but I steeled myself and walked up to the window.

The window slid open and a pleasant, handsome woman asked for my order with a smile. Burger, fries and small Coke, please. No small, I was told, despite the fact that I was looking at the words "small, medium, large" on the menu. For another moment, I felt uncomfortable. Medium is fine, I said, and pulled out cash to pay. The total was about $6.50, which I paid and began to step away from the window, ready to stand in the heat for a few moments until my food was ready. Before I could take that step, the lady behind the window asked, "you wanna come inside here in the air conditioning while you wait, baby?" She gestured to an unmarked door just to the left of the window. I thanked her and opened the door.

Upon opening the door, I found a bare, dimly lit room with a few plastic picnic tables. There was another window that lead to the kitchen where you could watch the woman prepare your food - it was now evident that she was the only employee of Best Burger. The room was nice and cool, with a few other people waiting on their food. As I took my place on the plastic bench, something struck me. It may seem inconsequential to you, but it was somewhat revelatory to me. As I approached Best Burger, I had naturally assumed that I would not be welcomed. I was driving a different kind of car, wearing dress clothes, holding an iPhone... but the thing is, outside of one pre-teen girl who stared at me the whole time (probably the iPhone, actually), I don't think anyone else cared. The lady behind the counter ("Miss Betty," as best I could tell), didn't have to tell me that there was an air-conditioned waiting room. She could have taken her time preparing the food (oh, and she did) and let me bake in the Louisiana sun, but she referred to me as "baby" - just like she did everyone else - and made sure I was comfortable.

A couple people came and went, each referred to as "baby." Clearly all of them knew Miss Betty, and she made arrangements with one customer to drop something off at their house later that day. Eventually my order was ready, and with one last "baby" I was sent on my way. As I completed my drive back to Baton Rouge, I reflected on how similar I felt the day I first visited Stelly's, chronicled in a prior post. One of the things I truly love about South Louisiana is the unequivocal hospitality. As with my experience with Stelly's, I went in with strong preconceived notions, but South Louisiana defied expectations again.

I suppose you want to know if the burger was any good. Well, it was fine. In this day and age, with the proliferation of Five Guys and the ability to get ridiculous gourmet burgers from food trucks, it didn't exactly blow my mind. (Pretty good fresh bun, patty mildly seasoned, decent condiments.) But even though the burger might not have been quite good enough to warrant a return trip, Ms. Betty reminded me that I shouldn't be afraid to stop again if I wish.

1 comment:

  1. Great story nicely told. Thanks for sharing!