Tried to amend my carnivorous habits
Made it nearly seventy days
Losin’ weight without speed, eatin’ sunflower seeds
Drinkin’ lots of carrot juice and soakin’ up rays
But at night I’d had these wonderful dreams
Some kind of sensuous treat
Not zucchini, fettucini or Bulgar wheat
But a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat
Cheeseburger in paradise (paradise)
Heaven on earth with an onion slice (paradise)
Not too particular not too precise (paradise)
I’m just a cheeseburger in paradise
Just what is a cheeseburger in paradise? In his top 40 song Cheeseburger in Paradise, Jimmy Buffett seems to infer that a cheeseburger in paradise can be any cheeseburger you consume after depriving yourself, or as he put it, “after trying to amend your carnivorous habits.” There’s much truth in this. Every dieter with whom I’ve spoken admits that what they dream about most after any period of deliciousness deprivation are cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers are, after all, America’s most popular, arguably most delicious, fast food offering.
In Buffett’s case, the cheeseburger in paradise was inspired by a boating excursion on the azure waters of the Caribbean. While sustaining himself on peanut butter and canned foods, he fantasized about devouring a “piping hot cheeseburger.” His fantasy cam true…sort of, when he landed in the British Virgin Islands where he found a restaurant offering American cheeseburgers. Despite the specificity of his instructions to the waiter on how he wanted the burgers prepared, what he got was an overdone beef patty on a burned, toasted bun. No matter. To Buffett, this was a cheeseburger in paradise. It fulfilled his fantasy and “tasted like manna from heaven.”
Buffett likes his cheeseburgers “with lettuce and tomato, Heinz Fifty-Seven and French-fried potatoes.” For New Mexicans, there is nothing as thoroughly soul-satisfying and utterly delicious as our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. We have a fierce pride in that most simplistic, but explosive, flavor-blessed union of a thick, juicy beef patty grilled over an open flame or sizzled on a griddle then blanketed in cheese and topped with taste bud awakening, tongue tingling, olfactory arousing green chile. To New Mexicans, it isn’t a cheeseburger in paradise without green chile.
Americans have been adding cheese to their burgers since the mid-1920s though, as with the hamburger itself, culinary historians can’t seem to agree as to when the molten marriage of cheese and beef patty first happened. Most credit Lionel Sternberger with having “invented” the cheeseburger while working as a fry cook at his father’s Pasadena, California sandwich shop. Legend has it that Sternberger experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger. The rest, as the proverbial “they” say, is history.
Though the “inventor” of the cheeseburger is much in dispute, there is absolutely no disputing its impact on the American culture. Wall Street Journal writer Raymond Sokolove called the cheeseburger “America’s contribution to world cuisine. Does it stand to reason, therefore, that the more cheese you add to a cheeseburger, the better and more delicious the end-product will be? The Squeeze Inn in the Sacramento, California area seems to think so.
For many people in the Sacramento area, the Squeeze Inn offers the cheeseburger in paradise. That’s been validated in their having voted it the “best burger” winner from 2007 through 2010. The original Squeeze Inn, a Lilliputian burger joint has also been voted “best dive” in Sacramento five years running. It’s called the Squeeze Inn because of the original restaurant’s size; you literally got squeezed in to get your food. The original was so small –only twelve bars tools–that customers would line up literally around the block to get in its doors then wait for hours to eat. It would have to be a cheeseburger in paradise to inspire such loyalty.
In 2009, Sacramento area resident and Food Network luminary Guy Fieri introduced The Squeeze Inn to the rest of the world on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program. The effusive Fieri also included the burger on the second book he wrote about his “Triple D” program. In an episode of the Jay Leno Show, the host asked Fieri who serves the best hamburger in America. Without hesitation, Fieri mentioned the Squeeze Inn in Sacramento.
What makes the Squeeze Inn’s “squeeze with cheese burger” unique and famous is the way it’s prepared. It starts with a third-pound of 100-percent beef topped with mayo, mustard, tomato lettuce, pickles, cheese and onions served on a sesame seed bun, pretty traditional stuff. A crispy “cheese skirt” is created after the beef patty is cooked on a flat top grill. The skirt is created when an entire third-pound of cheese and the top bun are placed atop the patty. The cook then throws a handful of ice chips on the flat top and covers the burger with a “hood” to create a steamy effect. The result is a rectangular, crispy cheese skirt which extends about an inch beyond the burger on all sides.
That’s one-third pound of beef and one-third pound of cheese plus high-quality, fresh ingredients. What’s not to like? As Fieri might say, “it’s a California thing.” While I found the burger interesting and unique, it wasn’t necessarily memorable by virtue of its flavor profile alone. Though I cherish cheese, the fried cheese skirt itself can be a bit off-putting–both texturally and in terms of flavor. Sure, it’s crispy and maybe by itself would be a nice snack, but it makes the burger difficult to eat (the cheese becomes a bit “rubbery”) and actually detracts from the flavor of the beef. This is one marriage of beef and cheese I didn’t like much, but there are thousands of Sacramento area residents who say otherwise.
The Squeeze Inn prepares everything to order and to your exacting specifications. In addition to their famous “squeeze with cheese,” the restaurant serves other menu items including tacos, hot dogs, sandwiches and more. Even a vegetarian burger is available for non-carnivores.
The Squeeze Inn is certainly not everybody’s version of a cheeseburger in paradise, but from an experiential point of view, it’s one of those legendary restaurants you’ve got to try just to say you’ve been there and done that. You may even like it more than I did….and who knows, had the squeeze with cheese had some New Mexico green chile, it might have been closer to being a cheeseburger in paradise for me, too.
The Squeeze Inn
106 North Sunrise Avenue
LATEST VISIT: 14 June 2010
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: French Fries, Squeeze with Cheese