Defending the Hydrant Cheeseburger
|From Specials Photos|
Winding Waters doesn’t fool around in the food department. I eat better on rafting trips than at home, so the river kitchen was just a little bit intimidating for me when I started floating with these guys. I had never braised anything before, couldn’t make vinaigrette dressing from scratch and was a stranger to baking desserts in a dutch oven.
I’ve had a handful of friends over the years come out of culinary school fancying themselves chefs. But really they just rely on that thing where you make portions really tiny and then squiggle mango sauce or something on top to make it appear fancy. Not impressed. Sorry.
River menu discussions can get lively during river season. We’ve all got our favorites and it’s important to gauge when the transition should happen from hearty meals for cooler weather in the spring, to lighter fare like Turkish breakfast in the summer, then back to pot roast and home cooking for fall Grande Ronde steelhead fishing trips.
I’m a strong advocate for Santa Fe corncakes, myself. But I try to defer to the folks who have been cooking on the river much longer. Paul, Morgan, Caitlin, Sam and Mike all earned their spatulas and aprons when I was still heating cans of chili at home.
I’ve found that you really don’t want to meddle with someone’s specialty. I caution you never to offer Baird any tips on grilling. Ever. He doesn’t need pointers, and I fear it would not go well if you told him when it’s time to flip a steak. Or a sourdough pancake for that matter.
Likewise, do not cause a commotion when Caitlin is preparing her melon salad. It’s a mysterious process and best to just let her work.
Sam has turned fresh-fruit cobblers into a form of art. Also stuffed peppers.
Penny makes the finest salad dressing I’ve ever dressed a salad with.
Paul has an unusual gift for cooking eggs to order. I’ve seen him prepare a single farm fresh egg half-poached, a quarter over-easy and two-thirds scrambled. It’s remarkable. And his barbecued pork chops have inspired love ballads.
I’ve tried to recreate Morgan’s smoked salmon wraps in his presence, but either the caper distribution isn’t right or the spinach isn’t diced to his liking or the feng shui is off . . . always something. So I let him do it. I also stand back for the final touches on Hawaiian pork tenderloin night. He’s touchy about that. But you can’t argue with his results, so there’s no reason to meddle.
I drove through Joseph the other day and saw the company rig parked at the Hydrant Bar. I guessed, correctly, that Paul, Morgan and Penny were in there for cheeseburgers. Do try a Hydrant cheeseburger next time you’re in Joseph. I can vouch for them being the finest in the land. Morgan shares that opinion, and once defended it as a point of honor.
Another establishment had been advertising their burgers as the best in town, so Morgan gave them a shot at the title. The waitress came around to ask how everything was. Morgan said it was OK.
Morgan regretted to inform her that the claim of being the best burger in town was, sadly, not the case. That’s how seriously this man takes his food.
The waitress invited Morgan to run that by the cook and owner of the place, so Morgan dabbed his chin with his napkin and said, Sure.
The town of Joseph has tamed down a good deal from its rootin-tootin cowboy and lumber days. But you could still likely stir up a fracas by walking into the kitchen of a restaurant and suggesting they take ‘best burger’ off the menus to avoid false advertising.
So do me a favor. Next time we’re on the river, tell Morgan the smoked salmon wraps are good, but maybe not the best you’ve ever had. The spinach isn’t diced quite right. I’ll back you up. Promise.