Fresh hand-pressed beef griddled on the flat-top is dressed to impress on a sesame seed bun; it’s my all-time favorite fast-food burger—the Lot-O-Burger, my teenage years between two slices of bread.
High school reunions come at you fast. They come in 10s and 20s and 30s as capsuled packets of time that shine light like street lamps along a lone dark street. I’ve grown to expect them; I’ve mostly eluded them. And 50 comes like the Panama Limited—a faint light in the distance that gets closer and louder as it picks up speed barreling right at you. But, I digress.
Growing up in a small Southern town was magical. Back in the day–the 1950s and 1960s, to be exact–Bogalusa was a bustling Louisiana paper mill town just an hour north of New Orleans tucked away in the toe of the boot–the southeastern corner of the state where it borders Mississippi. It was about as far from Cajun culture as you could get, but South Louisiana nonetheless. As a kid running barefoot down Montgomery Street, catching lightning bugs in a Mason jar after dark and playing outside until bedtime were simple small-town pleasures that kids today are missing.
And later, as a teenager anticipating the future, we were all making plans. That’s when things got complicated. You see, back then the Vietnam War was raging, and we all lined up for our draft card. Even those who were heading out for college had the specter of war hanging over their heads. I vividly recall those times and remember exactly where our refuge–our sanctified center of social normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world– was.
If you had the pleasure of being a teenager in the late 60s living in a small rural town, there was one undeniable truth—it was boring. This was the time before cell phones, before Facebook, before cable TV; we actually enjoyed hanging out and talking to each other. And there was another good thing– gas was less than 40 cents a gallon–a very good thing indeed. Friday nights were an endless parade of carloads of girls and truckloads of guys cruising Columbia Road, the main drag of town, honking and waving at anyone you might know or would like to get to know. The procession ended at the foot of the bridge in the parking lot of the Frostop Drive-In. And after 9 pm, it was teenage turf–no parents allowed.
It was mostly tame fun–back before drugs, gangs or any hint of violence. Oh, there was a fistfight or two, but mostly it was just sitting in cars, talking to girls and grabbing a burger and a cold drink. A Lot-O-Burger to be exact.
Frostop was the small-town USA answer to McDonald’s. It would be years before the Golden Arches graced our little town, but we could care less when we had a 20-foot-tall frosted mug shining in the night—a beacon of our youth lighting the path to our future. Frostop made its name on two specialties of the house: Root beer in a frosted mug and the Lot-O-Burger. A big beef patty, on a jumbo sesame seed bun (Holsum bread for sure) and dressed to the nines. In fact, there was a sign in the window that everyone knew by heart as the condiments offered: Tom-Mus-Let-May-Pick-Onions. And I ordered mine loaded every time.
But that was 50 years ago, and things have changed, for sure. The bypass passed Bogalusa by, the fog of war finally lifted, and the Frostop went dark. And we went off to live our lives with only memories of “where stately pines in grandeur stand.” But for me, an ice cold mug of birch beer and a big ol’ bite of that Lot-O-Burger brings me back to 1968 for another round of great memories with great friends. Lumberjacks forever!
And that recipe? It turns out that butter was the key to the taste of a genuine Frostop Lot-O-Burger. They added cold, diced butter to the meat patties and, in some of their locations, it was even billed as the “Butter Burger.” Who knew? There are just a few Frostops left (New Orleans, LaPlace, and Baton Rouge), so check it out for yourself, and let me know if it is as good as I remember.
- 2 pounds ground beef, such as 80/20 ground chuck
- ½ stick ice-cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 jumbo sesame seed hamburger buns
- 8 slices tomato
- 4 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
- 4 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 8 sliced dill pickles
- 4 slices yellow onion
- 4 ice-cold root beer, for serving
- Crinkle-cut French fries, for serving
- In a mixing bowl, add the small chunks of butter to the chilled ground meat, mixing thoroughly. Place in the refrigerator to chill. Once ice-cold, shape the meat into 8-ounce patties; add salt and pepper, place on a platter and chill.
- In a large cast-iron skillet or flat-top griddle over medium-high heat, place the burger patties. Let them sear on one side and flip to cook through on both sides, about 8 minutes. Remove and keep warm.
- Place the buns in the same pan and griddle them until just brown. Remove and add the condiments along with the meat. Serve immediately with root beer in a frosty mug and a helping of crinkle cuts.
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