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Restaurants & Bars 10

The best burger on the planet. The New Zealander, Alameda CA

uh ... art | Jan 31, 200511:24 PM

Hi everybody! I've never done this before. My pal Heidipie suggested
I post this here. I went back after this was written, and it was just as
good the second time. This report is from a visit on 16 January 2005:

Helen calls yesterday.
-- "Big news, Aaaaat. A New Zealand restaurant opened in Alameda!".
New Zealand?
-- "What do you folks eat down there? Mutton? Butter? Koala?"
-- "Koala would be Australia, Aaaat. Pies. Meat pies."
Oh heavens. My two favourite things. Meat and pies.
-- "Together? Like, meat in a pie? A pie made out of meat?"
-- "Exactly."
Very quickly we round up Sheri and Mary and head off for the island.

Way way down at the end of Webster St we find the New Zealander Pub.
This must be the place. Inside, a giant brooding Maori mask stares
menacingly down on our table. A few people at the surrounding tables
are talking with cute accents and drinking wine from screw-top bottles.
And ahhh, the menu arrives. Mince pie. Lamb pie. Steak pie. Steak and
cheese pie. Curried lamb pie. Mince pie with curried lamb. Lamb pie
with curried steak. Curried lamb and mince and steak and meat meat
meat. Well then.

But what's this down here at the bottom of the menu? "Aucklander 3am
White Lady Special"?

-- "That one might take a bit of explaining. See, after the bars close
in Auckland, there's this big truck, The White Lady, that parks downtown
and serves all night long. Hundreds of people line up for the burgers."
-- "Hundreds? The line must stretch around the entire island."
-- "Well around the block, anyway. You should try it, see how well
it translates."

After-the-bars-close food is always something special. With air-quotes
around the "special". A 2am bowl of "chili" at the Tastee Diner in
Silver Spring. A "roast beef" sandwich at Buzzy's Roast Beef
("conveniently located next to Massachusetts General Hospital," as we
used to say). If you were lucky, you might even find the toenail in your
Buzzy sandwich before ... well ...

But the list of ingredients in this burger is longer then the list of
pies. OK, I'll give it a try.

Some time, and most of the way through a screw-top bottle of wine,
later, the food arrives. You know how sometimes you mistakenly order
the wrong thing in a Chinese restaurant and it comes to the table
sizzling on a plate throwing up clouds of greasy steam and maybe on
fire? And the whole restaurant turns around to look at you? Or some
joker tells the waiter it's your birthday and you end up getting a
candle stuck in your dessert and everybody sings? This White Lady is
the Great Big Happy Birthday Cake of burgers. None of us were prepared
for it.

Let's see if I can remember ... Starting from the bottom up we have: A
plate and the bottom bun. Sitting on the bottom bun is a huge hamburger
that alone would rank high on anyone's list. Half a pound at
least, maybe more. But we've hardly started. Cheddar cheese, melted
and then, I'm pretty sure, flipped over so it grills just the
slightest bit for a faint sweet burned flavor. A slice of tomato on
top of that. Then a big mound of grilled onions. Next up, a slice of
pickled beet about the size of a regular burger you might get anywhere
else. Pickled beet? At this level things start to get interesting. On top
of the beet is a thick slice of ham that would all by itself make a fine
sandwich for a hungry farm boy. On top of the ham, a fried egg. Yes,
this is a supper that comes with its own breakfast. Top layer is
a pineapple ring and finally the upper bun. The whole thing is feebly
held together by a toothpick the size of a chopstick.

I'm sure the pies were good. I think I got a glimpse of Sheri across
the table digging into her curried lamb. Mary seemed to be making
satisfied sounds sitting next to me. But the White Lady was demanding
my full attention. Something this big, once picked up cannot be put
back down.

I wonder how they handle it, the 3am drunk New Zealanders standing
around the truck trying to get the whole thing going at least roughly
in the direction of their mouths. There must be flocks of koalas that
come in from the hills to feast on the bountiful detritus on the
nearby streets.

[The New Zealander, 1400 Webster, Alameda]


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