…. or at Least Like a Creamy Banana Milk Shake with Greasy Onion Rings
You know a burger joint is worth its weight in grease when it’s situated on a less traveled side street and there’s twenty people lined up, going out the door. The charbroiled smoke that fills the air at Broiler Bay Burgers in Bellevue (10636 Main St. Bellevue, WA 98004) and casts a haze over your better judgment lures you into the winding queue of high school boys, young professionals, construction workers and the occasional lady.
The organized chaos is enough to cause momentary paralysis – between the chatter of patrons squished into booths along the L-shaped perimeter, the call and response of the cashier to the kitchen, and the crackling pop of homemade onion rings being born.
Don’t let anything deter you from reading the menu (straight out of the mid-70’s, complete with white plastic letters that snap into place) as soon as you walk in. You may be at the end of the line, drooling on the spit shield watching the grill jockey flip patties, but the factory style ordering means you’re about to come face to face with the cash register. After you order, immediately look for a seat in both maze-like side rooms. Both have plastic deck chairs around rickety diner tables, and if that’s not to your liking, pony up to a table outside. Just listen for your number carefully, as there’s no loud-speaker.
Broiler Bay doesn’t have any crazy, couture burgers or sandwiches, and if you ask anyone that works there what’s their favorite, they’ll probably say, “everything.” And while that’s really not very helpful, they may throw in a recommendation, like “make sure you get onion rings, they’re homemade. And we’re really big on shakes.” Heed both pieces of advice, they’re right. The onion rings, made fresh all day long are tender, flavor-packed bangles, fried in a flaky, light batter that attracts the right amount of grease and salt. Plus, the rings are a standard option on a combo meal so you’re not breaking your mid-week budget. The prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially considering the bacon cheeseburger is a full (if not more) quarter pounder bursting with multiple slices of thick cut, crispy bacon, real cheddar and fresh rounds of beef steak tomato with lettuce and sauce.
Ah, sauce. Nothing makes a meal like sauce, whether it’s a classic French Béchamel or a tangy BBQ with a hint of smokiness to it, sauce adds that extra layer to any dish. The kitchen at Broiler Bay puts two kinds of “special sauce” on the condiment tray: “Fry Sauce” and “Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.” While you’re not getting instruction on either from the staff, watching the regulars’ pump Fry Sauce bucket into oblivion speaks for itself. It says, “don’t be dumb, squirt at least twice as much as you think you’ll need into those plastic white cups. You’ll thank me later.” You’d be wise to submit. The bucket (no, literally, it’s a bucket) of fry sauce is bigger than the bucket of ketchup, and probably contains ketchup, mayo and maybe a third mystery ingredient. Who cares what’s in it, it’s delicious and you want some – some on your fries, some on your onion rings and some on your burger. Then we have Frank’s Red Hot Sauce in a red, squeezy, ketchup bottle. Upon first inspection, it’s unclear if Frank has deemed it ‘Red Hot’ because of its level of hotness or its color. To cut to the chase, it’s actually red, and not so spicy. That’s just fine, because you’re going to cover at least one bun and several fries in it, before adding fry sauce and ketchup to the equation (and if you’re not putting this much sauce on your burger, then the joke’s on you). Don’t feel compelled to try Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. If you have to choose one, go with the Fry Sauce.
If for some reason the hot sauce is too much for you, you’re safe: there are a handful of great shakes to quell the pain. Pick your favorite, but if you’re curious, the basic chocolate and vanilla seem to do just fine, and both strawberry and banana hold their own. If you like real chunks of fruit do the banana, but don’t pretend you’re getting an extra serving of fruits, this is dessert, okay? The best part about ordering a shake is you can upgrade your combo meal to include the shake for $2.00. Not too shabby, and you’ll barely be able to finish half the shake if you do indeed get your mouth around the whole burger and fries/rings situation. For right around ten dollars, you get a full belly, dessert at lunch, soft and salty O-rings, burger bliss hot off the grill and of course, all the Fry Sauce you can eat.*Originally published for The Eatside, a Voracious column for the Seattle Weekly.