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Meers Burger

28 March 2017

In a dusty town, just 90 minutes from Oklahoma City, you’ll find a burger joint that carries legendary status.

Oklahoma might not be on your bucket list for places to visit. It perhaps lacks strollable streets or predictable weather but one thing it delivers in style is an honest-to-goodness burger.

From greasy spoon Cafés like Nic’s Grill in its capital, Oklahoma City, to classics like Cattleman’s Steakhouse or western gems such as White Dog Hill, near the Texan border, you can head to any corner of the so-called Sooner State and find a homemade patty, the recipe for which has been passed down for generations. But let’s get one thing straight: there are burgers and there is Meers. Located around 90 minutes from Oklahoma City, this unincorporated community is also the name for the cramped store and restaurant that has been a local institution for 115 years.

Today, it is little more than a row of wood and cement-fronted shacks that straddle a wooded T-junction. In fact, the only clues that you’re about to enter a landmark are the rows of cars perpetually parked outside or the queue of people that often snakes around the corner of the restaurant itself. Sometimes it can take an hour to get in.

Cash is the only method of payment here and newspaper cuttings, old licence plates and Americana-rich trinkets cram the walls. Stuffed animal busts are an atavistic reminder that Meers is to veganism what the Sahara is to swimming pools.

Gold fever swept the region in the late 19th century, alongside tales of abandoned Spanish mines and gold nuggets the size of shotgun shells. Hundreds flocked to its red dirt in search of a fortune. The restaurant began life as a general store and printing house as the creation of a nearby nature reserve attracted up to 500 people to town. Just two decades later, as the rush died, only 75 people remained.

Today the population is just six (plus, according to owners Joe and Margie Maranto, eight cats and a dog). But its commitment to gigantism has remained since the 1970s, when then-owner, Al Foster, decided it would be easier to make one huge burger than to make dozens of smaller ones for cowboys with fearsome appetites. Enter the Seismic burger. A seven-inch monster that arrives at your table in a pie dish cut into four quarter-pounder slices and resembling something Desperate Dan would be proud to call lunch. Each one is made from local longhorn cattle and topped with cheese, tomato and what might be the world’s feeblest looking slice of lettuce. Little wonder it borrows its name from a groundshaking act of nature.

Pair that with some fries or fried pickles (this is Oklahoma: at its state fair you can eat fried butter – no joke) and you’ve enough to satisfy any hunger. Drinks are served in giant mason jars while dessert, should you make it that far, consists of a mountain of ice cream atop a massive hunk of peach or cherry cobbler, a local dish close in consistency to a British crumble. Even among the gigantism of southern American fare, Meers has managed to outdo its neighbours.

It’s not just Meers that does the region proud, either. In decades gone by Oklahoma was little more than a dusty stop-off on a trip along Route 66. These days it is a bona fide foodies’ delight. North of the famous highway at El Reno is Eischen’s Bar, which is to fried chicken what Meers is to burgers. Oklahoma City itself has enjoyed a purple patch in recent years, thanks in no small part to an oil and gas boom (one in three Oklahoman dollars comes from the industry). Some highlights include soul food diner Cheever’s, spit-and-sawdust bar and grill Powerhouse and hip eatery The Drake – which has somehow brought fresh oysters and seafood to a state that is the geographic centre of the US.

But it’s beef for which Oklahoma is primarily known. And Meers, hidden as it may be, is the grandfather of a tradition that spreads way back past Oklahoma’s incorporation into the US. It’s no small journey so fill up the tank (and wallet – remember the no-card rule). But keep an empty stomach and you’ll be able to say you completed one of the region’s best known eating contests.

In terms of size, Oklahoma is dwarfed by the neighbouring state of Texas. But then, everything is bigger there, so they say. They might not have been to Meers.

Words: Sean Williams

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