Hamburgers are the quintessential American food and they can be wonderful--or completely lackluster--which is why I am still eager to embark upon the Great Hamburger Quest. But when my sons and I recently boarded the #5 bus in Seattle to explore the Greenwood neighborhood, I had no idea what our destination and ultimate goal really was. But my son Matthew did.
We sauntered down Greenwood Avenue, examining the changes that had taken place in the 20+ years since it had been our first Seattle neighborhood. Back in the '80s it was still a suburb of Ballard, very Scandinavian, very much frozen in time, very late 1950s. Now it is a cornucopia of different ethnicities, with places like the Baranof still accommodating aging Vikings of the old school.
Suddenly Matt veered off into a small, dimly lit place called the Gainsbourg, where we sat at a table with a lamp that looked a lot like a zebra's leg and hoof. When I reached out to touch it, the waitress was there to assure me that it was indeed real--as was the pressed-tin ceiling, I realized, and the solid, hardwood bar. "Old neighborhood-quaint," I thought--but then we ordered coffee.
"French press?," the waitress asked, "Large pot?" And then brought us a pot of wonderfully brewed, strong, thoroughly delicious caffeine, which filled our cups more than once and stayed hot throughout our visit.
Which was a leisurely one. The Gainsbourg is that kind of place--with black-and-white photos of Serge and his women on the walls and a jukebox with everything I have ever loved and much, much more--a complete music history course and sheer pleasure. It has creative cocktails and a fabulous beer selection, which I have yet to sample--I was too enchanted by their coffee to stray into other drink possibilities.
However what makes the Gainsbourg linger in my memory is---the Gainsbourger, which for me forever ended the Great Hamburger Quest. The meat is truly beef--or lamb if you prefer--the roll is truly a chunk of bread and the fried onions are a tiny bit of heaven. All of it comes together in an explosion of taste--and then there are the frites...
It was quite probably the best meal of my life, sitting with Matt and Nick, listening to music I'd never heard before with Saturday morning cartoons projected silently on the wall behind us, drinking coffee as good as anything I've had in Laos, which up till now was my caffeine benchmark, and savoring the clearcut winner of the Great Hamburger Quest. If I am good in this life, I will be allowed this every day in heaven--the Gainsbourg on Greenwood with Matthew and Nicholas.