burger-o-rama, burgers, falmouth, harmons lunch, perfect onions

Burger-O-Rama pt1: Diners and Sandwich Shops

A bit of a back note to this, A asked us what our 2011 O-Rama theme should be, just around the same time that all of Portland was at a stand still with our first snow storm. Rational people lost their minds and it took many over an hour to get across town. Like many connecting events, people posted their disgust over the weather on facebook. Joe Ricchio was one that I noticed in my feed, stuck in the middle of the storm. An hour later, after his post of disgust at the snow and the drivers, he posted:

I’m currently having a cheeseburger at 555 that is so good, I had to tell a lot of people immediately. Seriously – do yourself a favor here…

And there it was. Burgers… what a better idea for a theme. One singular dish with a ton of interpretations, which should make for a wider and, hopefully, more enjoyable review series for our readers. Joe planted a craving in my head and I passed it along to the group. So, if you have issue with this series, blame Joe. In fact, do it in person… he’ll love that.

But, on to our new task: Burger-O-Rama. The rules are a bit different this time kids. Instead of A. picking the restaurant we go to, or deferring to us for a suggestion, we’re going by theme like “Diners and Sandwich Shops”–the theme of this first entry–“Upscale,” “Alt-Burger,” etc. I believe he has about 6 different themes, with a V-day wild card thrown in there for an early break. So, with these theme months, all based upon burgers, it’s in the hopes that we open up the scale of the restaurants reviewed. My “Pub Burger” choice will probably be a different than Dawn’s or Malcom’s. It’s a win/win for both writer and reader (hopefully).

Now, burgers are a bit of a sacred thing to some, like a sports teams or caffeinated beverage. For me, they have always made me think of my mother. She is a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of lady with very singular likes and a few simple rules:

  1. Food can’t touch.
  2. It can’t be spicy.
  3. All components have to be identifiable upon first glance.

Fair enough. On the rare occasion, like her visit to Maine this past October, she does have her palette and mind blown. She’s probably still plotting a way for me to ship her Caiola’s Homemade Pop Tarts and Gelato from Maple’s Organics. But, if my mother knew she were going to leave this world tomorrow, I am 99.9% sure that a hamburger or cheeseburger would be her last meal. Oh, and there would be a hot fudge sundae to end it all. I mentioned the new ‘O-Rama’ theme to her and she said back, “Oh, I was just thinking of a cheeseburger. I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!” My mother is a burgerholic. But, don’t go mucking it up with weird toppings, fancy rolls or any meat outside of beef. She is a purist.

So, Mom came to mind when I was looking over the list of places on A’s site. There were a few places I considered, like Steve and Renee’s, Becky’s and Artemisia Cafe. But, I wanted simple. I wanted the burger that would live up to my mom’s strict scrutiny. So, I said “Fuck it,” and ignored the list all together. Instead, I took the 15 minute drive out Washington Avenue, just beyond the Portland/Falmouth border, to Harmon’s Lunch. And there, in a very non-descript building, sits probably the best burger in Southern Maine.

Harmon’s is no frills–seriously, I’m sure there will soon be a sign hanging declaring frills unnecessary and bothersome. See, for those who haven’t been in, there are signs everywhere reminding you that this is just a lunch counter and your bullshit will not be tolerated. An example reads:

New record: 2/23/2009 2 people tying up a 4 person table with others waiting to sit. 2 hr 3min–Please have some consideration.

They take no gruff(and no credit cards–this is CASH ONLY, kids). In fact, I was a bit scared to take any photos for fear of being sassed out the door. Don’t go there asking for medium rare or ketchup or a gluten free roll because you will probably be told to read one of their other signs:

This is not Burger King. You do not get it your way. You get it my way or you don’t get a damn thing.

And, you know what? You don’t need it any other way but theirs. After 45 years doing this, between two different owners, they’ve got it down and chances are, if given too many options, we’d just ruin their perfect burger.

I’ve only ordered a burger one way from them: Loaded. Diced, perfectly caramelized onions, mystery red relish, mustard, meat and plain hamburger bun. Simple enough and insanely inexpensive to boot. But, let’s dote a little more on the burger, shall we? All of the components make this easily one of the best balanced burgers I’ve had because Sweet+Savory+Acidic=Satisfying. You would think that the burger, a quite respectable patty–cooked medium–all on it’s own, would be lost somewhere under all of the toppings, but it’s not. And the plain bun? It too serves a purpose, acting as a sponge for the greasy goodness and toppings that will, despite your valiant efforts, be running down your chin within a few bites. I found myself, alone at the table, giggling as I went through napkin after napkin trying to clean myself up.
And what’s a burger without it’s companion of fries?

Hand cut, fried to order and served hot in their little cardboard home. They, too, are just exactly perfect the way that they are. If there was salt on them, it was extremely light and barely noticeable, which was fine by me. There is ketchup at each table, if you so desire, but popping them in after every bite of burger was enough to sauce them up a bit. It’s nice knowing that these were not taken out of a bag delivered from SYSCO and that they put as much attention into their fries as they do their star burgers.

And how much, sans beverage, did this cost? Around $4.50. For the price of a Venti Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks, I had a lunch that kept satiated until dinner. A double patty, double toppings or cheese will cost you a wee bit more but it still puts it at the best deal in, or rather near, town for such a satisfying lunch. Something else mom would approve of.

Harmon's Lunch on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.