In Search Of The Great American Cheeseburger!

David C. Mau

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

Fourth of July weekend means different thing to different people depending on where you live. Here in the OC it's beach city riots, drunken F-Town hijinks and hopefully we can all stay in town no matter what and stay off the 91. In middle America it's small town parades, tractor shows and cricket spittin' along with the usual fare including what I call the "Midwest Burger".

There is, in fact, such a beast. Much like what I call "beach style" reminds you of being fresh out of the water in HB, grubbing a TK burger high as a kite with sand in your hair and water in your nose, so does the Midwest burger make you feel like it's a steamy small town summer evening a la American Graffiti with all the local kids waiting for something (anything really) to happen, Friday night's big football game is on for later and those tufts blowing off the cottonwood trees are bearing silent witness to the whole spectacle. It's not just the ambience either, the Midwest burger is a reflection of what I call the "cult of under stimulation" out there, where everything is a bit stripped down, simpler and thankfully moves much, much slower. It's basic, with more of a minced patty, cooked on a generally not too hot griddle yet perfectly soaked in it own grease with a slab of American processed cheese product and that straight from the jar burger sauce. Plain, basic bun. Iceberg. Tomato. Onion. Pickle. Original? Maybe not. Delicious and comforting? Hell yes! Hit the Dairy Bar in the tiny hamlet of Altamont IL for a perfect example.

David C. Mau
Here's where the magic happens.

I had heard of this place called Moonshine before the media found out about it but never made the time, until recently, to trek across the fields and over the country roads of rural Illinois to track the place down. It's hard to find by any stretch, the commonly shared directions were a bit misleading and the only signage on the way was a small wooden sign with the word "Moonshine" scrawled across it tacked high on a telephone pole over a mile from the joint. Maybe there's a reason for all that mystery.

Located at a crossroads straight out of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow it's a medium-sized general store with an inviting front porch that would probably be a great place to sip a cool glass of lemonade on a hot afternoon. Inside, when the place isn't packed with out of towners waiting for their food, I bet that rustic room is a great spot to drink coffee with the locals and jaw about who got a new combine, what stranger is in town and whether or not the replacement pastor is up to snuff.  But you come here for the cheeseburger, legendary and deservedly so. It's just about all they serve, with a line out the door and a congregation of burger believers that are collectively loyal as an old tick hound. Note-there is no moonshine in Moonshine however, I asked. Apparently the name is from the moon being reflected off a pond in front of the store a century ago.

David C. Mau
Yep, middle of nowhere.

The joint has been making their burgers for thirty odd years, the structure itself dates from the 1800's and it shows, with the battered siding revealed through patches of peeling paint and a spectacularly oxidized stamped tin ceiling. The crowd ranged from overall clad farmers to erudite tourists from Chicago with a few bikers and senior citizens thrown in. Outside is a communal eating area of picnic benches situated under a few elm trees and there is even an old-timey outhouse.

Oh, and the grill gets shut off promptly at 12:30 in the afternoon come hell or high water.

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