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Issue 11 (October 2007)
One of the fond memories of my high school years of the late 1950s is of Linda's Drive-in Restaurant in Mountain View, CA.
This place served hamburgers, fish sandwiches, shakes, a few other specialty sandwiches. One item that I often enjoyed was called a Parisian Burger. This was made with a couple of hamburger patties, a slice or two of cheese, a real French bun, and some special sauce. One usually ordered their special fries, known today as potato puffs or Tater Tots. The soft drinks were supplied by the makers of Royal Crown Cola. A drink, fries and a Parisian Burger were very affordable for kids in the 50s. It was a regular hangout for many of us from both Los Altos High School (the Knights) and Mountain View High School (the Eagles) as it was about equidistant between the two schools. After a quick afternoon snack after school, a few of us would drive over to Camino Bowl for a game or two.
Linda's was "fast food" well before the term ever came into vogue. It was sited on El Camino Real at Escuela in Mountain View. All they served were a couple of varieties of hamburgers - one was called a steakburger and on the glass window someone had painted the slogan, "When we say 'steak,' we mean (a cartoon of a t-bone steak)." It was a red and white cube of a building with large glass windows on three walls. You walked up and gave your order to one of the kids who worked there and within a couple of minutes, your burger, fries and drink were ready.
Linda's is long gone, having been replaced by a 1-hour photo outfit. The memories of those hamburgers with their special sauce will always linger. I recently began a stuttering search online and in libraries for information about making Linda's secret sauce. I'd heard that some old-timers in Mountain View knew the recipe but guarded it closely as if it were Coca Cola's cola recipe.
I discovered a posting on a web site devoted to locating and publishing "lost" recipes. One correspondent wrote in that the recipe was very similar to hamburgers served at a place called Tommy's Burgers in Los Angeles. The writer noted that the only difference was the bun. He then provided what he felt was the recipe for Linda's Parisian Burger secret sauce, copied out of one of author Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurant Recipes books. The recipe was actually more of a chili-burger sauce than anything I recalled from Linda's. Interested readers can view the bogus Linda's recipe here.
However, I did publish that recipe as a blog entry several years ago. That blog entry proved to be mildly popular and eventually generated emails from a several readers.
The first, Charles Guest of Mountain View, wrote that he enjoyed my original recollection of Linda's and noted that he had worked there in the late 70s and he knew a Mrs. Riggs, who owned Linda's. He informed me that the recipe I had published was not correct. Charles offered to let me watch him some time as he brewed up some secret sauce. Unfortunately, though there were a number of followup notes between us, the topic petered out with me being no closer than before.
About the time that the "Charles" lead dried up I heard from Jim Noon, who was a year ahead of me in school at Los Altos High. He bumped into my blog after being referred to The Ecphorizer by a San Diego Mensa member.
Jim also noted that the Tommy's recipe was completely bogus. He was close buddies with a fella in his class named Scott Curtis, who (Jim claims) was one of Linda's original employees. Jim sent me his version of the recipe, which is much simpler than the Tommy's recipe. I tried it and it was perfect! I bought a bag of sourdough French rolls, grilled a patty, slapped on some cheese, and smeared on the sauce. Words cannot describe how good that tasted and how it brought back memories so sweet.
About a month after Jim Noon contacted me, a local reader named Roberta sent me an email indicating that she had also run across my blog entry. Roberta wrote that she had gotten the recipe from an online posting by a former employee of Linda's who actually had his hands in making the sauce. Roberta provided me with the original bulk recipe, which called for, among other ingredients, 6 gallons of ketchup and 2 gallons of mustard. Wow!
On further research I discovered that Roberta's source was none other than Charles Guest, my original correspondent!
Roberta kindly divided the commercial recipe's volume by 128 and came up with a recipe remarkably similar to Jim's.
Even though Jim warned me to guard his recipe with my life, since I have a second source I feel that I can now publish the recipe for Linda's Parisian Burger secret sauce.
Here is the basic "bill of materials" for Linda's famous Parisian Burger:
- Small round sour dough french roll (a little bigger in diameter than a normal hamburger bun.)
- Two beef Patties (a little thicker than regular hamburger patties usually made from very high grade Denver Meat Company meat)
- One piece of cheese (usually Kraft or similar high quality American sliced cheese)
- A glob of sauce
Preparing the hamburger:
The meat was cooked on a gas fired grill/griddle at 350 degrees. The hamburger was cooked just long enugh to see gray juice come up through the meat while cooking the first side and then it was turned over. By the time the buns were ready, and the sauce and cheese on the meat, the patties were done.
The split sourdough rolls were heated on a covered grill at about 250 degrees, just until the inside was starting to toast a little.
When the meat was done on side one it was turned over, about 1-1/2 tablespoons of sauce was put on one patty and cheese was put on the other.
The bottom half of the French roll was removed from the grill and put on a heated counter. The pattie that had the sauce on it was removed from the grill and placed on the pattie with the cheese on it and then the whole 'stack' was removed from the grill, using the top half of the French roll to balance the stack and absorb the sauce The stack was then placed onto the bottom part of the French roll. The whole thing was then wrapped in waxed paper and served to the customer.
Assembling the ingredients:
||8 #10 cans2|
|mustard1||¼ cup||4 tbsp
||¼ cup||1½ tsp||4 cups
||8 industrial spoonsful3
||1½ tsp||4 industrial spoonsful3|
Putting it all together:
- All three recipes start out by rehydrating the dried onions by adding some warm water to the onions and letting stand for an hour or so.
- Combine the other ingredients, mixing thoroughly.
- Heat the mixture over low heat
- Add the onions and let simmer for a while
The sauce is best served when warm and can be used as a general purpose meat sauce in addition to its original use at Linda's.
Incidentally, according to Charles, the commercial recipe called for all the ingredients to be poured into "...an old looking 15 gallon trash can..." and mixed by hand - literally, as Charles adds:
Nothing was said about what the cooks did to prevent arm hair and dander from mixing in with the sauce, or what was done with the sauce that clung to the cook's arm. One supposes that they rinsed off rather than using the other hand to squeegee the mix back into the bucket. Charles' post online can be viewed here.
1. The commercial recipe calls for S. E. Rykoff brand ketchup and mustard.
2. A #10 can is equal to ¾ gallon.
3. The recipe posted online mentions that an "industrial spoonful" was equal in diameter to a man's closed fist. A search online turned up nothing relating to "industrial" spoons.