Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Every time I gaze down on its bright lights from my balcony at night, the Greyhound bus station taunts me. Look past the homeless man deliberately coughing on cars as they drive by and the cab driver yelling at the drug dealers, and you'll see it too: the bright blue sign that reads "Best Burgers in Midtown."
Even if Christian's Tailgate and Hefley's weren't directly down West Gray from the bus station, I'd still have a hard time believing that the same place which produces thrice-daily fistfights outside its front doors is turning out some hidden jewel of a burger. It couldn't possibly be any good.
Or could it?
Now I know, Greyhound. NOW I KNOW.
I took Glenn Livet with me one afternoon to prove that obnoxious blue sign wrong once and for all. Only a few seconds into placing our order at the 24-hour restaurant-cum-gift shop tucked inside the terminal, Livet had already offended the delicate sensibilities of the Greyhound staff.
Yes, it can be done.
"All right, your order number is 69," said the salt-and-pepper-haired cashier as she handed back my receipt -- $14 for two lunch combos -- and Livet immediately giggled like a middle school kid in detention.
There was a pause while I gave him the hairy eyeball, then: "Jesus Christ!" exclaimed the cashier. "I know where your mind is!"
Livet blushed and fumbled his way over to the soda fountain to grab our drinks. "You offended the 24-hour restaurant cashier at the Greyhound station," I remarked, somewhat astonished. She couldn't have been that offended, though, as she chased off some loiterers from a table in the restaurant so we could sit down.
There's nowhere else to sit and wait inside the station, making the restaurant's few chairs and tables hot real estate. As we waited for our combo meals, I watched as the cashier chased off a few other folks lingering over laptops or listening to iPods at the tables, none of them having ordered any food.
Livet quickly became fascinated with a dreadlocked young woman who looked as if she'd just come off a three-day rave, circa 1996. He concocted a story for her while we waited: Her grizzled old grandparents had taken custody of the troubled young teen, and were now sending her back to her mother in West Texas via bus.
Finally, our food arrived. For all the time it took, I had begun to think that it might actually be good after all. Maybe they were hand-forming the patties back there! No dice, of course. The meat was obviously frozen, with no flavor whatsoever, and was barely warm enough to melt the cheese on top. And the jalapeños I'd requested were nowhere to be seen.
The bun reminded me of an old-school Wendy's hamburger, with a dusting of cornmeal on top. It wasn't bad. Neither was the crunchy produce, all of which looked very fresh. I ate the burger with no complaints other than the flavorless patty and the missing peppers. It wasn't the best burger in Midtown by any stretch of the imagination. However, it was certainly better than what you'd get at McDonald's across the street.
Frozen, crinkle-cut French fries added nothing to the burger, so we threw those away and walked away with our cups refilled for free with Coke despite a sternly worded sign warning that refills were 50 cents. Maybe there's something to be said for joking about sexual positions with the cashier after all...
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