Tess on the Town: It’s a crime we don’t have these chain gang burgers

Talk around the watercooler recently centered on the fast-food burger choices, or lack thereof, in Grand Junction.

Everybody had a passionate favorite hamburger chain they would love to see come to town, with childhood memories fueling the lust.

Charles Kurault once said you can find your way across the country using burger joints the way navigators use stars.

In hamburger fantasyland, four clear favorites emerged.

Each is a regional chain, but with a serious chance of landing in Grand Junction.

And unlike White Castle — apologies to middle-of-the night slider junkies — these chains actually serve a pretty good burger.

The wish list features basic burgers, sans pretension, and is making my stomach rumble right now.

In-N-Out Burger: This California chain was started in 1948 and is just recently spreading its tentacles to a handful of other western locales.

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks recently made headlines when he revealed he had been in communications with In-N-Out about bringing the chain to Colorado.

Luring the legendary burger joint, he said, would be among his initiatives for 2012. Does that fall under economic development, you think?

In-N-Out’s menu is simple, offering only pure-beef hamburgers, cheeseburgers and a double meat/double cheese; French fries cut on site; and fountain drinks and milkshakes. The burgers come with a “spread” that resembles Thousand Island dressing.

In 60 years, the simple menu has morphed into a secret menu not posted on the walls, but well understood by In-N-Out devotees. The secret menu involves every possible combination of ingredients, and has names such as “Animal Style,” “Flying Dutchman” and “4x4.”

Whataburger: The Texas-based burger chain has a big following in the Sunbelt states. Open 24 hours a day, it’s known for orange-and-white A-frame buildings, 5-inch burgers and “we fix it your way” attitude.

Grilled peppers, extra bacon, no tomatoes, no problem. The signature dish is the made-to-order Whataburger.

I used to order a sackful of the smaller Justaburgers with mustard, pickles, onions and jalapenos.

Steak ‘n Shake: It’s not necessarily the best, but Steak ‘n Shake is my favorite. Found in the Midwest and the South, this chain has a dual personality. You can get your order quick at the drive-through window, or sit down and enjoy the ‘50s diner experience.

The “steak” in the name refers to the fact that burgers are made from a mixture of T-bone, sirloin and round steaks and grilled with a performance schtick in view of customers.

The shakes are hand-dipped and whipped in the old fashioned manner.

Besides skinny fries, other side dishes are a mild, sweet chili and a Boston crock of baked beans.

Going to Steak ‘n Shake in the next county over was uptown eatin’ when I was growing up.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: This relative newcomer, opened in the Washington, D.C., area in 1986. It quickly developed a cult-like following, winning the “reader’s choice” spot for No. 1 burger in Washingtonian magazine and landing yearly in Zagat’s survey. The “five guys” are the Murrell brothers.

The chain since has franchised and spread throughout most of the United States, with a couple locations on the Front Range. Like In-N-Out, it serves fresh ground beef patties that have never been frozen.

The menu lists only a few burgers and dogs, but they come with a choice of 15 toppings or condiments. Their philosophy is to keep it simple and provide the best quality possible.

Warning: If you have a peanut allergy, stay away from Five Guys. They serve peanuts in bulk and cook their fries in 100 percent peanut oil.

Maybe the food on our wish list isn’t the greatest, comparatively. Maybe it’s just the memories, the longing and the overwhelming nostalgia of Americana.

QUOTE: “Chief justice of the Supreme Court. What great men he would join: John Marshall, Charles Evans Hughes, Warren Burger. Mmmmm, Burger.” — Homer Simpson

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