An alliterative assortment of bucolic beef awaits ravenous road trippers.
BY CHARLIE JOHNSTON | March/April 2012
Editor Matthew B. Brown and I never dreamed that asking our Nevada Magazine Facebook fans for their favorite burger joints in rural Nevada would produce the flood of feedback it did. Overwhelmed, we scanned our wall map, wondering aloud how we could possibly narrow down the suggestions and visit some of them. “Middlegate, Montello, Mina…” we said in unison. Then, it hit us. Simultaneously we exclaimed, “Mmm…” delighted at the aptness of the alliteration.
Though we couldn’t make it to all of the Silver State’s marvelous “meateries” ourselves, a handful of burger runs confirmed our fans’ flattering findings: Delicious burgers are as plentiful in Nevada as sagebrush…though we surely don’t recommend eating the latter.
OLD MIDDLEGATE STATION
Old Middlegate Station’s proximity to Naval Air Station Fallon and the tendency of members of the armed forces to take on superhuman tasks means that during the spring and summer, owners Fredda and Russell Stevenson sell about 40 Middlegate Monster Burgers a week. That number can climb to more than 100 during carrier air wing training exercises at NAS Fallon, which bring thousands of additional personnel to the base. About one in 10 who try actually succeed in taking down the monster, Fredda says, which earns them the requisite “I Ate the Monster” T-shirt.
The military personnel and other travelers who visit the former Pony Express station, which dates to 1859, have left lasting impressions. A door is covered with military and fire and police department patches, and the ceiling ruffles with thousands of signed and dated dollar bills and various foreign currencies. More famous passersby have left more substantial mementos, including a bandana bestowed on the Stevensons by country singer Hank Williams Jr.
When Fredda tells Brown and me about the fittingly named Monster Burger, Brown shrugs and confidently says (before actually seeing the burger) he can handle it…no problem. I, on the other hand, have my doubts. The multi-pound monolith of food looks something like a Big Mac on steroids—the Mark McGwire of burgers. It consists of an entire sourdough loaf sliced into three buns, two Frisbees of fresh top-grade beef that, despite Fredda’s claim of totaling one pound, look closer to a pound each, and enough cheddar and jack cheese to clog a fit man’s arteries.
Homemade sauce (the seasoning on the beef is Fredda’s own as well) and a virtual farm of fresh produce round out the behemoth burger, which is accompanied by a mound of French fries and finished off with two “eyes”—fried onion ring irises with green olive pupils—atop wooden skewers to complete its monster look.
“I’m starting to shake,” Brown says as he feebly forces a forkful of fries into his mouth with at least half of the burger to go. The first half is truly a delight of flavorful beef and gooey melted cheese soaking the dense and chewy sourdough with their combined juices. But after that first half, I am full. Very full. Brown manages to take down about 75 percent of the monster before bowing out. It’s now up to me.
The patties each have distinctly different flavors—one is pretty typical of high-quality ground beef, and the other has a pronounced black-pepper kick—a pleasant surprise that momentarily distracts me from the discomfort of eating a couple pounds of food. The final four bites take about 10 minutes to get down as I struggle to chew and swallow much to the amusement of Brown, Fredda, and other patrons who have since shown up. I’ve defeated the monster.
If the monster sounds like too much, don’t fret, the same care and attention goes into all the food at Old Middlegate Station. While you won’t get a cool T-shirt for eating any of the other burgers offered on the menu, you won’t soon forget some of the best burgers in Nevada.
COWBOY BAR AND CAFÉ
Many of rural Nevada’s best attractions—culinary or otherwise—are protected from crowds by their unassuming, often dilapidated-looking façades. Case in point, Cowboy Bar and Café in Montello. Had Brown and I been dissuaded by the rustic storefront, fading and chipped paint, and misspelled sign proclaiming in bold capital letters “FIRST SLOTS IN NEAVDA,” we might have never known the burger bliss that awaits within.
The foreboding exterior belies an interior that is warmed as much by our friendly waitress/bartender as by the pot-bellied wood stove in the corner of the combination dining room and bar. Like many rural Nevada outposts, the café is more than a restaurant and watering hole, it’s a gathering place for the tiny community of fewer than 300 residents, evidenced by the other patrons present during our visit: a handful of locals enjoying drinks (it’s noon) and a cowboy old enough to be my grandfather shopping online by way of his laptop computer.
Heeding the advice of friends and the outdoor sign’s correctly spelled “HOME OF THE FAMOUS COWBOY BURGER” proclamation, I order what proves to be a half-pound beast of a burger, with perfectly moist—not too fatty, not too lean—beef piled high with the usual suspects: lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. The soft and slightly chewy bun holds up well to the burger’s juices and leaves my hands cleaner than expected. Homemade fries secure the Cowboy Burger’s place in the upper echelon of rural Nevada burgers.
S‘SOCORRO’S BURGER HUT
“Your food is going to get cold,” Socorro Streight warmly cautions Brown and me while we take photos of her burger stand. The exceedingly sweet and soft-spoken woman has owned and operated S‘Socorro’s Burger Hut in Mina for nearly a decade, earning a reputation as much for her pleasant grandmotherly demeanor as for the delicious, fresh fare she prepares for hungry travelers.
Her beaming smile is infectious and seems to never leave her face, especially when she shares the secret behind the somewhat odd arrangement of letters in the burger stand’s name. The sign reads “S‘Socorro’s Place, LTD Burger Hut.” As Streight explains, the “Ss” that lead and follow “Socorro” in the burger hut’s name stand for “Super” and “Special,” respectively, and, combined with “Place,” mark the restaurant as a “Super Special Place.”
Anyone who’s driven U.S. Highway 95 from Las Vegas to Reno, or vice versa, in the past decade or so probably recognizes the well-kept burger joint and its bold red-and-white color scheme, but, according to Streight, many motorists do not realize the restaurant is open. She insists they are almost always open, or will be, if hopeful diners call ahead. A bevy of outdoor seats provide visitors with fresh air and plenty of leg room to recover from long hours in their cars, and what some visitors have called the cleanest restroom on U.S. 95 is a godsend.
In addition to the lineup of phenomenal burgers, S‘Socorro’s also serves authentic Mexican food and handmade shakes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Old Middlegate Station
42500 Austin Hwy., Middlegate, NV 89406
Cowboy Bar and Café
Front St., Montello, NV 89830
S‘Socorro’s Burger Hut
710 Front St., Mina, NV 89422