Meriden, CT

I didn't believe it when Jim made his suggestion for lunch last Friday. You see, Jim has been my guide to lunch spots near the office. Over the last few months, we have hit every hot dog stand of repute in the central valley (including Sahadi's Hotties, the Liberty Cafe (home of the bacon cheese-dog), Saints, Blackie's, The Capitol Deli, and Pudgies: Home of the Two Foot Long Hotdog) as well as a number of local sandwich shops and diner-type places... and his recommendations have always been on the mark. But when he told me about Ted's, I thought he had completely lost his mind.

Ted's, he explained, is known for Steamed Cheeseburgers. Steamed cheeseburgers? I've had grilled, fried, baked, sauteed and broiled cheeseburgers but never steamed. I mean, wouldn't the burgers fall apart when they're cooked? "No," Jim assured me, "and they're great". Ok, so I guess I would be having steamed cheeseburgers for lunch.

Ted's is this little burger shack on Broad Street in Meriden (off of 691 for any of you locals hankering to try one for yourself). They have a simple menu: Steamed Cheeseburgers. Sure, they also offer steamed hamburgers and double-cheese sandwiches, but their specialty was the aforementioned steamed cheeseburgers. Since everyone else in the joint was ordering the steamed cheeseburgers, I decided to put my preconcieved notions behind me and ordered up a steamed cheeseburger myself. The only question asked was "do you want onions on that" to which Jim advised me to say yes.

It was at that time I saw the most interesting cooking technique of my entire life. On top of a boiling pot of water was one foot by one foot steel box with a door on the front. The chef at the counter opened up the door revealing four or five rows of little meat-loaf pans (about 1.5 inches by 3 inches). He slid in a spatula and took two out. One was filled with a rectangular 1/4 pound (I'm guessing) burger, while the other was filled with melted American cheese. The chef opened up a seeded kaiser roll, dropped the pattie on, flattened it out with the spatula, poured on the cheese, threw on an onion and closed the top. That was it: a steamed cheeseburger.

The server passed it to me. I took a sip of coke and picked it up... it smelled... well, it smelled fantastic. It reminded me of the steamed meatballs that you can sometimes get at a Chinese Dim Sum restaurant. I bit into the burger and was treated to one of the best damn cheeseburgers of my entire life.

Jim later explained to me that Ted's had been there for a little over 40 years, and that aside from offering more than coffee to drink, it had essentially not changed since it first opened. The recipe was simple: pure ground beef (no seasoning) and american cheese... and the place went through more than a 40 pound block of cheese every week! It seems that steamed cheeseburgers are a local phenomenon, with six or seven steamed burger joints still operating on the strip between Meriden and Southington. It's a cooking style that seems to be indigenous to central Connecticut, and is a local delicacy.

Steamed cheeseburgers. Who would have guessed that they would be so damn good?