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I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Quatman burger today
2434 Quatman Ave.
Norwood, Ohio (513) 731-4370
I’m sitting here long after the midnight hour, Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack” (courtesy of youtube) is soothing my mac, and my mood. I’m sipping an ice cold sweating Mt. Carmel brew, reflecting on last night’s visit to Quatman Cafe. It’s not chicken that’s on my mind, it’s stone solid burger jazz. No jive. Lately the Cincy burger push has been pushing me along with it. Terry’s too-terrific press, Five Guys fad fever, the last issue’s Sidebar burger article still rings in my ears (god they’re good). The burger has been reborn. Is it a frenzy, or fad? Or is it just a rag paper’s writers freedom to run amok in burger land. I wonder how the fanatic fascination began? Or when it will end.
The humble burger got it’s popularity back in the 40’s (aided by “Wimpy” no doubt) “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a burger today”. That simple statement launched a nation’s love with the humble burger. It’s probably the most consumed food of the last three generations. Recently Cincy has been infected with the flutter of who’s who in the burger biz. I for one, just want to feed on the deep roots beef, the fat and the fabulous. Without the frill, or the hype tainting my taste.
In Cincy, when it comes to basing a bank account on burgers few can top Quatman Cafe. These folks have been eatin’ off burger money for over 40 years. Long before the craze took hold. Their joint is rolled tight too. Quatmans still looks the same as it did, well, when your grandpa still boffed your grandma, at least. No high dollar decor schtick. No walls papered in past reviews, no neon either. It’s dated. I hope it stays that way.
We rolled in at around 9 and took a seat under the faux stained glass Burger Beer light. A server who was obviously born there greeted me as if I was a 20 year regular, no kidding. No “Hi I’m blahh bla blah I’ll be your server” She just leaned on the table and started speaking to us as if she’d seen us 99 times. “What are you guys hungry for”. “A classic burger for me, a veggie burger for her” I stated. My girl added “On mine, just onion, lettuce....” She was stopped mid sentence by our server, “The only thing green we have here is pickles, well, and now jalapenos”. “Just give it to me the way you do it” my girl replied. Always a good approach. As we waited I mused my mind listening to the locals trash talk the scourge of the city... those fumbling buffoons called the Bengals. God are they over paid! I studied Quatman’s decor, pure 70’s (at best), except for the lone LCD it was untouched by the Home Depot touch for certain. Dark paneling behind the bar, checkered table cloths, ancient wood lattice, the 50’s deli case, the bottle scarred-smooth-bar top, I loved it. It puts on no airs.
My burger came with fries and a drink (under 6 & a quarter). Soft drink or draft. A Hudy Delight was my delight. It was cold and felt right in step. The fat burger, and a mound of shoe string fries came out on a 2¢ paper plate. A bare bones classic. Onion, 7 pickles slices, a decent (if not almost generic bun) and the classic Quatman beef patty. Charred on the edges, perfectly proportioned, a fine slab of beef. They didn’t even ask me how to cook it. They didn’t care to, they already knew. They were right too.
This burger brought me home again. It made me realize, you can smother your burger in gourmet toppings, smear it with sun dried tomato-unfiltered olive oil-basil-garlic infused bull sh!t, you can fry up huge hunks of the all mighty angus, you can infuse your beef with chocolate, anise, tumeric or what the hell ever and you’ll still be missing the point. It’s just a burger. Let it be a burger.
Quatman serves just that kind of burger. They personify it. It’s basic, it’s plain, it’s beautiful. And, it’s even better with a beer (included). The last time I had a burger like this it was the back seat of my parents big Buick, under the yellow florescent lights of Amelia’s “Frankie’s” (long gone and much missed). I would hastily unwrap the wax paper and work my way around the edges first, saving the center for my last bite. I must have been ten. To quench their burger craving, my folks drove right by that shiny new McDonald’s and pulled into Frankie’s every time. Frankie’s did it the same way that Quatman does it; bun, onion, pickle, beef. Add your own condiments-if you feel the need. And if you squirt ketchup on there I’ll feel like killing you myself. A dab of mustard maybe, plain ole’ yellow mustard of course. I did the same at Quatman, just a smear of mustard on that bare bun. But, only after chewing down over half. I just wanted to relive that Frankie’s memory. I nearly forgot how good it was.
Now, I see why Quatman Cafe is always in the running for the top spot in Cincy for “Best Burger”. They’ve won it before, they’ll win it again. The beauty is they don’t even try. They don’t have to try. They just do what they’ve always done. Make damn good burgers, the way they want to. Like or not. After 44 years in continuous business, I’d say people like it.
The original Quatman Cafe is in Norwood at 2434 Quatman Ave, there is also a new one in Mason at 224 West Main Street.
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