On Valentine’s Day of this year, I fell in love with a burger bar.
It was a Saturday morning, and I was out strolling through town looking for people with whom I could discuss the meaning of life, when I saw an enormous queue extending down Market Street, as people waited outside the door of a restaurant that closer inspection revealed was no longer Cafe Carringtons. This inspired a moment’s sadness, for I had enjoyed many a reliable English breakfast in that eatery. But losing oneself in sorrow never being a good idea, I recovered myself and enquired as to why the world was queueing in this particular location.
The wit with whom I had struck up conversation started telling me a story about three pranksters who had once, for the larks, started queueing for no reason at all, until — this being England — a sizeable queue of people had begun to form behind them. Upon which they started selling them over-priced glasses of orange juice — because once people have queued up for something, they’d rather pay above-the-odds for something, than go away with nothing but the forced realization that their queueing was a waste of time.
The story complete, my new friend let me in on a secret: the reason that so many were waiting at the door of this new restaurant, was that they’d announced on Twitter the day before that they would be giving away a free burger to all who arrived within an hour of them opening their doors for the first time. And that first opening was about to happen in less than half an hour! All you had to do to qualify was retweet the Twitter message advertising the restaurant and its offer. Fortunately I had my trusty Samsung Galaxy in my pocket, so I promptly RT-ed the relevant message and joined the line, determined to make the most of this serendipitous moment. Others were now queueing behind me, and myself and Carlos (my witty new friend) were joined in conversation by Clare, a blue-haired music student from Anglia Ruskin.
By the time the doors had opened and our turn had come to step inside this new establishment, we were chatting like old pals. We showed the doorman our qualifying Tweet, each took a Butch Annie’s sticker to validate our request for a free burger, and since we had all come individually, we decided to share a table.
We descended down the stairs into the subterranean gloom of the new burger joint. Since I had been here last during the restaurant’s previous incarnation, the place had been transformed by the addition of jaunty graffiti and swing-doors, like some cross between a skate park and a Western saloon. It didn’t take much browsing of the menu to decide what we wanted — Butch Annie’s is all about the burgers (there’s not a single alternative main course on offer), and when you’re offered a free burger, the natural response is to go for the most expensive one on the menu. Carlos and Clare both went for the ‘Lewd Lizzie’ (beefburger with cheese and bacon); for the sake of variety, I chose the Wild-Eyed Coyote (beefburger with fresh chilli and black beans).
Now I have never really been tempted by the thought of a gourmet burger. Certainly as a child I clamoured for our family’s weekly visit to McDonalds, and enjoyed a good Big Mac as much as anyone — but now I remember, it’s the Chicken McSpicy that was the real treat — but when I grew up, I put away childish things. And although I have in general in my adulthood begun to come to terms with the prices of Cambridge restaurants, to spend seven, eight, almost nine pounds on a single burger was not something I could quite come to terms with. But this was a free gift–so I had nothing to lose.
Except Butch Annie’s didn’t just give me a taste of a gourmet burger, but a taste for gourmet burgers, stealing my heart and smashing my cynicism toward upmarket fast-food. For when the burger arrived, and I opened it out from its turquoise wrapping and took a bite, it didn’t just exceed my expectations — it blew them to smithereens, and the shards tinkled across the wide expanse of my imagination’s enlarged sense of what a burger could be. The bun alone was a treat — for we live in a world where burger buns are either stale, crumbly or taste like cardboard. It was soft and melted in your mouth, and yet managed to rise to the task of containing the burger within. And what a burger! Pink on the inside, browned round the edges, and so generously marinaded that it was leaking juices from the moment you picked it up.
I left Butch Annie’s with my heart still pounding and my mouth still watering. I had fallen in love.