It seems a lot of us have fond memories of not only the frosty cold glass mugs of root beer at A&W Root Beer stands, but of the food as well.
B. Chamberlain asked whether anyone know how to make the barbecue as served at the stand on Madison Street in Eau Claire, Wis., back in the 1960s. She called the sandwich “the best-tasting anywhere.”
Wonder of wonders, the recipe has been found! And it turns out, it’s not what we’d traditionally call barbecue, but is closer to a Sloppy Joe or “loose meat” sandwich.
“As a teenager, I washed glasses at that wonderful root beer stand owned by Byron Lord,” writes David J. Johnson, social-work professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“It was a family enterprise with his wife, daughter Rita, his sister-in-law Eva Dahl and his mother-in-law. Eva was a concert violinist who often played beautiful music for us and the customers parked in the lot.
“The loose-meat hamburger recipe was a family secret, and mothers in the neighborhood tried to duplicate it without success. Many years later some friends and I had driven to the Norske Nook in Osseo, Wis., for lunch and their wonderful pie. We got into a conversation with a farmer there who asked if we knew his relatives by the name of Lord that lived in Eau Claire.
“Of course I was delighted to meet this man and asked him about the secret hamburger recipe. He said that Rita Lord was married and lived in Northfield, Minn. I gave him my address, and he promised to mail me Rita’s address. He did just that, and I wrote Rita with some remembrances of our days at the old root beer stand. I also inquired about the recipe for the A&W burgers, and she promptly sent it to me with kind words of those days so long ago.
“Here is the secret 1950s recipe from the A&W root beer stand that has been closed for so many years. The original burgers were served on Tender Crust Bakery buns which did not detract from the flavor of the burgers.”
Here are more reader reminiscences:
• “I could have written the same letter B. Chamberlain wrote about the A&W barbecue sandwich,” says George Young of Miami. “In the ’60s I had a job that took me to Homestead every Thursday. I always stopped at the A&W on U.S. 1 in Homestead across from the Chevy dealer. I always had the barbecue sandwich with fries and a root beer. They were very good. I’d love to have on right now. I knew the owner, Orville Krenkie.”
• “Having grown up in Beloit, Wis., all my family loved the A&W barbecue,” wrote Cheri. “Somewhere along the way we all came up with the following recipe that comes close to theirs: Brown 1 pound ground beef with 2/3 cup small diced onions. Break up meat to a crumble. Drain off grease. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper, 1/4 cup water, 1 can chicken gumbo soup (Campbells), 1 tablespoon ketchup and 1 tablespoon prepared mustard. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.”
• “I will be forever grateful if someone comes up with the real recipe,” said Mary Cole of Homestead. “My husband and I met at the A&W, where I had a summer job and he was a constant customer, always for a root beer and a barbecue. I’d love to surprise him one day with it. I’ve even got a pair of the old glass mugs to put in the freezer for the root beer!”
ESPN’s college football analyst Todd Blackledge has spent years seeking out unique eating spots while on the road for his “Taste of the Town” segments. Now he’s written a book, Taste of the Town: A Guided Tour of College Football’s Best Places to Eat (Center Street, $20), highlighting his favorite spots, interspersed with restaurant recipes and game-day specialties contributed by coaches and their wives.
For the University of Miami, Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor in Dania Beach gets the nod, and he provides the recipe here for chicken chili from Hurricane’s head coach Al Golden (as prepared by Kelly Golden). It’s a fun book with recipes that aren’t fussy and a little football lore thrown in.
Other schools in the book include the University of Florida, Florida State, Boston College, Clemson, Auburn, Alabama and the University of Wisconsin.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.