Burger Week Guest Column: When A Burger Is More Than A Meal

EDITOR’S NOTE: I erred with this morning’s post in a way that risks my credibility as a St. Bonaventure University graduate. Tucked away in the village of Allegany, a sleepy two traffic light town that wakes up long enough to complain about the drunk college students throwing up in their collective bushes, is The Burton Hotel…your typical college town beer hall, with an atypical midday offering. The Burton Burger takes its rightful place beside Al Capone, Bob Lanier, John McGraw on the Mount Rushmore of that area. In a week where I was going to write about burgers, I failed to mention the damn thing. I’ve since corrected the egregious miscarriage of justice.

Todd Lewandowski, Williamsville, N.Y. Bureau Chief for the Al Dente blog, corrected me today during a Facebook conversation and penned this tribute to the overlooked, but not forgotten Burton Burger. Every word he writes about the experience, from the taste to the smell to the vacant stares of the staff is true.

In all of its glory (Courtesy of Todd Lewandowski)

Listen I’m a cold blooded american male. When I saw that my friend Jared was dedicating a week of his blog to the greatness that is a burger it caught my attention. My first comment to Jared was that I assumed a certain burger from a certain small town in the Southern Tier of New York would be prominently featured. To my dismay I was met with the following statement, “There is not. And that was a gross oversight.”

Wha, wha, what?! I stared at the comment for a moment like I imagine a woman stares at a text message from Anthony Weiner. “No, it, it can’t be. Can it?”

How quickly Mr. Paventi has forgotten the single greatest burger ever served on a styrofoam plate. So of course I offered to write a guest post on said burger.

Allow me to set the stage. You see, food is arguably one of the greatest memory triggers at our disposal. Every time I smell onions cooking in a pan it takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. The smell of cooking Cheerios does the same (Buffalo peeps know what I mean). And the taste of the greatest burger in the world, The Burton Burger will always take me back to college.

Situated about an hour and a half south of Buffalo, the town of Allegany is home to two of the greatest places in the world: St. Bonaventure University and The Burton Hotel.

The Burton is one of the favorite watering holes of young people hoping to be the next Bob Lanier, Mychal Judge, or even…Adrian Wojnarowski (sure, why not). The backroom of this den of middle class Franciscan debauchery is where the greatest burger in the world is produced.

Unsalted curly fries at The Burton are still the saltiest food you will ever eat. (Borrowed from the Facebook page of Ryan McKenna.)

Is it the buttered, salted roll? The half-pound patty (that’s post-cooking folks)? The accompanying curly fries? Maybe it’s the blank, somewhat reminiscing stare of Chuckie as he takes your order? No one knows for sure. Like all great foods, the recipe remains a secret.

What truly makes the Burton Burger great is the memories it invokes. And I’m not talking about the debauchery. I’ve got plenty of photos, tapes of radio shows, and liver damage to remind me of the chaos of college. For me, it evokes those rare quiet moments of Bonas. You see, the beauty of the Burton Burger is that it’s only available from Noon-2 p.m. (4 p.m. on weekends). So save for those two rare occasions that we convinced Steve to open the grill at night, the Burton Burger is a daylight-only experience.

The taste of the Burton Burger is about, dare I say it, the pensive moments of college. The afternoon we were supposed to leave for Cleveland, nervous that our mono-stricken station manager wouldn’t be able to make it. Or my very first trip, St Patty’s Day 1996, worried that our less-than-21 status would be discovered as we sat quietly on the steps in the backroom not drawing attention to ourselves. Or the countless hungover Saturday afternoons when only the grease of a burger would cure us. Or even March 16th, 2000 when the only sounds that could be heard in the bar was the silent prayers of the Bona faithful as David Messiah Capers hit three free throws to take Kentucky to a second overtime. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m still bitter about that game. Cyrus did not hang on the rim during overtime anymore than the UK players did during the game.)

As time tends to do, our days at St. Bonaventure ended too quickly. But a trip back to our second home is never complete without a trip to The Burton to sink our teeth into the greatest burger in the world. A friend of mine once said, “the greatest thing about Bonaventure is the friends you make and the family they become”. It’s something I’ve always held close to my heart.

The paint may change, the prices go up a quarter, the kids begin to look like…well, kids. But every reunion, wedding, even a random road trip is met with the same salted bun, the same half pound piece of meat and yes even the same stares from Chuckie. He might not remember our names, but we remember his for he is the keeper of some of our greatest college memories.

Todd Lewandowski is a 1999 graduate of St. Bonaventure University and classmate of mine. He is a marketing advisor for a Buffalo, N.Y.-area marketing firm, a former radio disc jockey and hopes to one day establish the first professional bocce league in America. He can be contacted on Twitter at @dr883.

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