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Hamburger America: One Man's Cross-Country Odyssey to Find the Best Burgers in the Nation [DVD] Paperback – April 8, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In the 2005 documentary of the same name (included with the book), Motz documented eight classic hamburger joints across the country. In the ensuing years he's broadened his horizons but not his tastes; here he presents a hundred hamburger spots in 39 states, each profiled with love and accompanied by mouthwatering full-color portraits. From Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Conn.-allegedly the oldest continuously operating hamburger establishment in the U.S.-to Olympia, Wash.'s Eastside Big Tom, Motz talks with the owners, employees and customers who keep the cuisine alive and eclectic. In addition to the traditional, Motz introduces readers to regional spins like Iowa's Maid Rite sandwich, a kind of sauceless Sloppy Joe; the green chili-topped burgers of Santa Fe's Bobcat Bite; and Sedalia, Missouri's "Guberburger," dressed with melted peanut butter. Motz limits his selections to independently owned operations that use fresh, not frozen, meat, the most shining example of which is Oklahoma's Joe Maranto, who raises longhorn cattle for eating at his nearby restaurant. Those with a soft spot for Americana, diner cuisine or delicious burgers will delight in this bright, quirky love letter to the American everyman staple, complete with contact information and recipes.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"A fine overview of the best practitioners of the burger sciences."—Anthony Bourdain
"As a French Chef who took an unexpected approach to the American burger, I'm glad that George has put together this fantastic guide to 100 of the classics."—Daniel Boulud
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PAPERBACK VERSION: Although the documentary was produced first it is the book that first attracted me to George Motz's work. The success of his movie inspired him to write a book featuring 100 great hamburger restaurants. It's important to note that he is not claiming that this is the 100 best, only 100 AMONG the best. Motz's research seemed to be pretty thorough, but the cost of traveling to all of the cities that are home to great burger joints would clearly be too expensive to make this book profitable. Choices had to be made and many key cities were not visited at all. For instance, in Missouri he visits Kansas City but ignores it's big brother, St. Louis (home of Karl's Drive-in, certainly as good and unique as many that are included). Austin Texas is also featured but the much larger city of San Antonio (only 70 miles southwest) is excluded. It would be easy for anyone living in a city not listed to feel slighted but I understand that would have been impossible for him to travel to every city that is said to be home to a great hamburger joint.
That being said, let's talk about the ones included. It's almost impossible to classify something as iconic as the hamburger restaurant but I will try. I would divide the restaurants into three groups:
* Classic: These are restaurants that have almost as much historical significance as culinary. They are places that serve a standard molded or flattened patty with the usual toppings but the building or the restaurant's history is significant enough to make it a local legend. Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern and New Hampshire's Gilley's are good examples.
* Gourmet: These are the best examples of what a burger can be. It can be the quality of the meat (such as Kobe or other exotics), spices, seasonings, method of cooking or truly unique (and expensive) toppings.
* Unique: Unusual burgers can be created by either using an unique cooking method (steaming, deep frying, using loose meat, enclosing the cheese into the meat or vertical flame broiling) or by applying distinctive toppings (such as a huge dollop of butter, adding peanut butter, using a "secret sauce", adding pastrami, etc.).
It is true that a hamburger restaurant can embody two or even all three of these attributes (I would say that Santa Fe's Bobcat Bite comes pretty close) but most are famous for one thing or another.
I must mention that although Mr. Motz is very thorough in giving pertinent information I am sometimes surprised by his omissions when profiling a restaurant. In both the book and the movie he doesn't explain the significance of the Billy Goat's Tavern strategic location in-between Chicago's two major newspapers (which is why it has newspaper articles all over the wall), and although he mentions San Antonio New Mexico's Owl Bar and Cafe's role in feeding atomic researchers during WWII he forgets to mention that it's current fame is largely due to being the closest restaurant to the famous Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge which attracts multitudes of birdwatchers every year (the town only has a population of a couple of thousand).
The photography in the print edition (mostly by Motz himself) is very good (4 stars). The photographs of the burgers are not so slick that it looks like a food stylist made it into something that you would never recognize when you see it in person but they are appealing (although they could have been better lit). I would have liked more photos of the people but still, the quality and quantity of the photographs are quite good.
DVD DOCUMENTARY: This is George Motz at his most charming. Others (such and the Travel Channel and the Food Network) have given coverage to many of these restaurants but none with Motz's reverence for both the food and the people that produce it. His profiles of the owners and cooks show a true love and devotion for those that serve us well. Eight restaurants are profiled and they have, for the most part, been well chosen (I didn't think Sedalia Missouri's Wheel Inn Drive Inn is quite in the class of the others). These are unique restaurants with interesting history and great food. My favorites include The Meers Store and Restaurant in Oklahoma and Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT.
KINDLE EDITION: Having decided to make it my mission to visit as many of these 100 restaurants as possible I wanted to have quick and easy access to the data for each restaurant. Beside the addresses and phone numbers Motz includes some important information that came keep one from looking like a tourist or a fool. Such as: which door to use (or even how to open it); what to say when ordering in order to sound like a regular; what NOT to say in order to avoid the wrath of the staff; what is the best hamburger or side on the menu; etc. I have downloaded it to my hand-held device and always have it ready. I have a Kindle 2 and the photos look pretty good on it, not great but decent.
There is a smattering of additional information in the book, such as "How to Buy Hamburger Meat", "Notable Burger Chains" and "My Favorite Sides". He also gives some recipes including his self-named "Motz Burger". This is an excellent, entertaining book and I highly recommend it to both the burger fanatic and the frequent traveler. Five Stars!
To be brutally honest, and with no disrespect, I am not sure all the burgers in the book (or the film) *are* the best tasting burgers you are going to find across the country. George included entries not only for the flavor of the food (not unimportant, of course) but also because of the character, history, and even photographic quality of the restaurant itself. Some are probably here because they are just so unique (think peanut butter burger).
So does Hamburger America contain every great burger in the country? Of course not. Are all the burgers in the book tastier than your local hometown special? Not necessarily. Are they all exponentially better (not to mention healthier) than McDonald's, Burger King, and the rest of the fast food alternatives now dotting the landscape? Most definitely. Will Hamburger America enrich your soul, even as it weighs down your gut? Again, yes. This book provides a slice of Americana to go along with that all-beef patty.
The book itself is almost coffee table quality, full of colorful photos that tell us about the wonderful people and places we would encounter on our journey. Many family eateries are disappearing, and this book provides a Route 66 road map of sorts to catalog for future generations. As Charles Kuralt once said, "You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars." I live in a part of the country not well represented in the book (odd, one would think, given the importance of cattle here), so I am starting at a disadvantage. Still, two down (Bud's in Colorado & Stella's in Nebraska), ninety-eight to go!