She peered out anxiously, her vantage point in the kitchen giving her a clear view of the hungry diners seated on the other side of the wall. As she worked the fryers with a furrowed, sweat-beaded brow and a noticeable grimace, one could only imagine the stormy thoughts racing through her head. Did she realize the joy she'd brought all the carnivores this afternoon? Would our chorus of meat-loving moans penetrate and tenderize her overworked soul?
Such were my thoughts after we'd sat down for lunch at Bard's Burgers in Latonia, Kentucky. Here you will never find a more wretched hive of fried goodness and villainy. The place has forgotten more about burger joints than most other dives have ever known.
We started off with a round of tall plastic glasses filled with Coke and sweet tea. Spending many a summer of my life in the Deep South, I tend to appreciate the latter beverage. An increasing number of restaurants north of the Mason-Dixon Line serve sweet tea nowadays, so I'm no longer surprised when it's available. What does surprise me are the number of waitresses who, when asked if they serve it, say something like, "No, but there's sugar on the table." Are you kidding me? That's not sweet tea, sister. That's a bona fide abomination. And Bard's gets that.
Our laminated menus had been updated since the last time we'd visited --a reference to their new Facebook page was a dead giveaway. For all its simplicity, Bard's Burgers offers up some fairly interesting, artery-clogging items, including Poutine, a large batch of fresh-cut fries topped with cheese and brown gravy. In addition to burgers, there are also deep fried hot dogs called "rippers"; deep fried Twinkies, Zingers and Oreos; hand-dipped milk shakes; chicken wings; chili; and fried fish or chicken sandwiches. One of the most bizarre burgers sounds like it's right up Guy Fieri's alley: the "Famous Five-O Burger" that, in honor of the Covington Police Department, is served with a grilled doughnut as the bun.
Today I choose the special, which happened to be a Mushroom and Swiss burger with fries and a drink. I'm a sucker for Mushroom and Swiss, as it hearkens back to my childhood where, as a slightly pudgy youngster, I'd dance a celebratory jig on the floor of the local Burger Chef.
Our waitress was pleasant and attentive, patient with our questions and remarks while single-handedly tending to the dozens of locals packing the busy dining room. We asked her about the "Bardzilla Challenge" on the menu, in which for $20 you get the chance to tackle a gigantic cheeseburger made up of 10 patties and served with 2 pounds of fries. Finish the meal inside of an hour and you get a commemorative t-shirt, most likely XXXL in size. The waitress told us that there have been a number of crazy fatties who have successfully fulfilled the challenge, including one record-holder who had admittedly been a professional, competition food eater.
Our own competitive spirit was tested as our food arrived: large heaps of steaming, Kosher salt-dusted fries accompanied our generous-sized burgers. As far as we know, you don't get a choice of how you want your burger cooked: it's Bard's way or the highway. The meat is cooked through with a nice crusty char on the outside from the grill. The hinges of my jaw twinged with fresh saliva as I bit into my burger, letting mushroom sauce drizzle unbidden down one side of my mouth. An involuntary "Mmmmmm" emanated from my throat. Embarrassed, I looked around to see if my co-workers had heard me, but they were too busy devouring their own burgers.
The fries were nicely fried with a pleasing potato pillowiness inside, but I thought they tasted a little off this time around, as though it were time to change the oil. In past visits, however, the fries had been absolutely perfect, so I assumed this was an anomaly. Besides, it didn't stop me from nearly finishing them.
By the time the five of us were done with our meals, we wore long, penitent faces, realizing too late just how full we'd become. Of course, this did little to deter us from contemplating a dessert of deep fried Oreos. I coaxed one co-worker with, "I'll eat one if you will" and, before we knew it, six piping-hot, meatball-shaped objects dusted with powdered sugar arrived at our table.
I'd never had a deep fried Oreo cookie before. Skewered with a fork, I lifted one to my mouth tentatively, soon realizing that my breath had blown powdered sugar onto my sleeve. As I bit into the deep fried Oreo, I was surprised to discover a molten, chocolaty core. The cookie had all but dissolved inside its battered shell. And it was divine.
Happily drowsy from my pending food coma, I sat back in my chair and stared into the kitchen. The woman let out a heavy sigh, wiping her forehead with the back of one arm. She was visibly relieved she'd lived through yet another lunch rush. I wanted to say something, to thank her for her daily sacrifice, to let her know that all her effort was worth it. Instead, I lifted my glass of sweet tea in her direction, took a long draw and waddled slowly back outside.