Tom's Tavern closed. All those Saturday lunches with my dad, sitting in a booth and hoping that I didn't end up with a scoop of that godawful macaroni salad which would stand in stark contrast to one of the most amazing burgers on the planet, done. Over. It was the dimly lit corner just north of Boulder's pedestrian mall, a holdover from a simpler time when a burger and fries solved problems. It was where my brothers and I met after my father's memorial service. It was not just the aforementioned heavenly hamburgers. It was a destination, and later when I was a little older, I learned that you could ask for potato salad instead of the macaroni salad. It was a place that cured hangovers and helped me say goodbye. Tom's went away in 2007.
At that time, I was already living in California, and a trip to Tom;s was part of any homecoming. In the meantime, I found myself living, by happy coincidence, around the corner from a shoebox of a cafe called Hamburger Dave's. It was a place for me to go after a long day working in the book warehouse when my legs wouldn't carry me further up the street for more exotic fare. It was the first place in Oakland where I felt truly comfortable. The guy who ran the grill saw me coming and would throw a patty on the grill, and when I ran low on my large Coke, he didn't mind me reaching over the counter to pour myself a refill. That apostrophe s made a difference to me. It was my place. Until it closed, too.
There are plenty of places that want to tell you that they are selling you a hamburger, but so many of them get caught up in making them unique or trendy. Please stop this. I don't want kale mixed into my ground beef no matter how many years this will add to my life. Don't use the term "artisan" to describe the bun or anything else that will be squirted with ketchup and chewed up by me in a matter of minutes, right after I finish my fries. The ones made with potatoes. Straight or twisty or crinkle cut, just make them a little crispy, please. Artisan. Who are we kidding?
That's why I was so very much in love with Bay Burger in the Emeryville Public Market Food Court. It met all those criteria, and even though I had to hop on and off a highway to get from one side of the town to the other, it was totally worth it. They knew my order, and over the years, they got to know me and when my son wasn't there at the counter ordering a cheeseburger with me, they asked after him. The hamburgers were exceptional, and brought me briefly back to those that gave me so much comfort at Tom's. The familiarity put me in mind of Hamburger Dave's. When I stopped drinking Coca Cola, they were as surprised as anyone because I had made such a reputation for myself and my standard order.
Now it's gone. Last Friday, after a week of rebounding back into the world of public education, I was eager to have the comfort food that put the pause button on the week. I could relax with a warm gut and a smile on my face. There was no Bay Burger. Just an empty stall in the Food Court. All the fixtures had been removed. Not even a sign saying goodbye. You might think I would be used to this heartbreak by now.
I'm not. But when one burger joint closes, another one opens. Just hold the artisan, please.