TLO Restaurant Review: Big Ed’s Hamburgers
10:45 AM EDT on June 24, 2014
It’s been a little over five years since Big Ed Thomas, the impresario behind Big Ed’s Hamburgers, shed this mortal coil and there’s not a conversation about burgers—and I have a lot of them—that goes by wherein someone says to me “Man, I sure do miss Big Ed’s!” as they woefully bite into a $25 artisan-crafted boutique-burger sided with a dollop of rosemary-tainted truffle-fries, swigging a piss-warm craft beer to wash/choke it down with.
There was a time in this great state when Big Ed’s burger joints were littered all across the land, a state-wide success story that included over 50 stores and statewide acclaim. Since his death, however, that number has dwindled down to one measly location at NW 122 and N. Penn in an obscure little shopping center that is as non-descript as it is empty. It’s the culinary equivalent of your once strong and virile abuelito reduced to dementia-infused tears as he wets himself in the game-room of a crooked old folks’ home.
Even I had been under the impression that it was a long-faded memory, a tasty relic of the past that we all took for granted, until meeting some former journalist pals for lunch one afternoon in said shopping center at Casa Pericos, noticing that a few doors down was an Ed’s. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief that the much-beloved establishment was still open for business and, had I not filled up on tamales and tacos beforehand, would’ve most definitely double-lunched it and enjoyed a double-cheeseburger as well.
The Big Ed’s that I was most familiar with growing up was the one on May Ave., right around Northwest Classen High School. Sometimes after summer marching band practice, a few of us, in an effort to put back on the weight we lost synchronizing various routines to Chuck Mangione’s “Children of Sanchez” in the blazing August sun, would stop by there for an afternoon post-practice nosh of jumbo cheeseburgers and hand-cut fries.
Back then, they also had the Big Ed’s Challenge where a gluttonous participant had to devour a comically enormous burger and bucket of fries in 45 minutes. In a rare moment of actual triumph, I succeeded in this endeavor, but, unfortunately, I did it before a football game at Taft Stadium and, as we marched in formation during half-time, that searing heat built-up under my already tight polyester uniform and I came down with a bad case of the meat-sweats. Finishing our set, as we marched back to the bleachers, I threw-up in the bell of my alto sax. It could’ve been a scene from a teen-sex comedy called Bonercamp ‘87 Part 2: The Return of Nerdlinger Von Smallnutz but, of course, this was real life and the gorgeous Native American chick (who I’m sure, by today’s standards, would be classified as a “little person”) that I was totally crushing on was right behind me the whole time, grossed out by my very visage.
Emotionally scarring incidents be damned, I would still always return to Big Ed’s with the gang because no one in the city could touch them burgers and fries. Ever. And, honestly, they still can’t.
It was a true moment of sheer bliss when I returned to that lone Big Ed’s location, filled with nostalgia but also prepared for realistic disappointment, ordered my jumbo cheeseburger basket ($7.29) and punched my canines deep into that buttery, toasted bun, the incisors gripping into those juicy patties, hot grease-laden cheese spilling out the sides of my mouth, nostrils inhaling every bit of car-freshener worthy scents the super-sandwich had to offer.
This is how a burger should taste and, as I sat back to actually savor, I knew that it was something that I had not only been missing, but something that I had never found anywhere else in all my hamburger-based travels. And even though, sure, I’ve had other delicious burgers over the years, none of them have even been comparable to these. Without question, Big Ed’s is the best hamburger I’ve ever had in my life.
While the Big Ed’s Challenge appears to be long gone, in addition to their various burgers and other sandwiches of seemingly normal size, they still offer quite a nice selection of gigantic burgers that I want to order and then pull over into an empty parking lot and eat while I cry and contemplate suicide.
For example, there’s the Ed Burger ($15.99) and the Big Ed Burger ($25.99), but the real killer diller when it’s dressed to the hilt is the gregarious Jumbo Big Ed Burger ($31.99): it’s three pounds of beef, eight slices of cheese and all the fixings on a foot-wide bun, plus a double-order of fries just in case your heart is still even thinking about continuing on with normal life functions. Serves up to eight skinny people or one fat guy with nothing left to live for. Your call, bro.
But, as I looked around at the empty storefront, myself being the only patron during what should be a mad dinner rush, I openly wondered but for how long with this last testament to Big Ed’s husky dreams remain open? How can this level of business be sustainable? It’s got a total old-school vibe, a diner feel that caters to the ham and eggers, the Joe Lunchbox crowd that the holier-than-thou hipster crowd spits on via their Tumblrs and whatnot; maybe it needs to be updated for today’s hep and now generation of teens with a wide selection of black bean and tempeh patties? Garlic-parmesan pomme fritz secured from area farmer’s markets? Live music from the area’s hottest Plaza District-based folk-rock indie-art collectives?
Places like Big Ed’s are truly the last of a dying breed, my man.
Try to make it a point to visit Ed’s before it closes. It is—or it damn well should be—an Oklahoma institution, a historical marker, a revered temple to meat and cheese, that will, sadly, eventually be forgotten and demolished and left to the corporate sands of time. Remember how that went over so well with your precious Split-T, baby boomers? (Perhaps Sonic will come in and appropriate Ed’s as well?)
The next time someone says “Man, I sure do miss Big Ed’s!”, knock that artisan burger out of their stained bone-like phalanges as though powered by the hefty forearms of Ed himself, and point them, with force if need be, to NW 122 and Penn. Maybe split a Jumbo Big Ed and perhaps even buy a t-shirt or two. They have them up to 5XL, the way Ed would’ve wanted it.