Burgers, Booze, Bikers and Ghosts
(by Stacy Lanson, special to Best Burger Review)
Two serpentine paved roads lead to Jerome. Entering from the north, via Clarkdale and Cottonwood, you spy a flamboyance of lawn flamingos dressed in attire du jour. Passengers can keep their eyes peeled for a vintage Dodge pickup snuggled into a retaining wall’s masonry alcove, off to the right. Coming up from Prescott, the road winds through the heavily forested Prescott Valley.
Cleopatra Hill, on which Jerome is perched, reveals herself slowly, like a new, mysterious lover. Jerome is her very bad boy flame. Together they charm visitors from around Arizona, the nation, the world, and curiously, the afterworld.
“Where’s the best burger?” This is often asked by visitors, and has been known to be met with heated debate by prickly locals.
Jerome has a history as a mining town. The discovery of copper — unearthed in unparalleled plentitude— grew the town’s population to approximately 15,000 at its zenith in the latter part of the 19th Century.
The mines spent out in 1953 and the roughly half-square mile of Jerome seemed destined for a historic footnote. However, Jerome rebounded in the later 1960s and ’70s when various artists and fringe types squatted the crumbling buildings and gradually built a tourism trade. By 2012, the census accounted for 444 living souls in Jerome, not counting, of course, the tens of thousands of tourists who visit each year.
When the tourists make the trek, they can be confident a memorable burger bonanza awaits. The true question is, “Where’s the best burger?” This is often asked by visitors, and has been known to be met with heated debate by prickly locals. More being the meaty merrier, I say, try them all!
An “Elevated” Burger
Mile High Grill and Inn’s owner, Liz Gale, talks up her present burger incarnation, the Diablo Burger (5,280 feet of heat!). It’s made with hand-pressed, never frozen ground beef, and topped with Ghost-Pepperjack cheese (made from ghost peppers that are super hot), Cheddar cheese, house-made chimichurri sauce, green chilies and avocado. It’s served on a warm sourdough bun with your choice of sides for $11.50 (seriously long list of sides including fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots, soup, salad, coleslaw, fresh fruit and their famous onion rings).
Gale’s Mile High Grill and Inn are located in the center of town. Accommodations consist of seven beautifully appointed rooms (sans the interruption of TVs or radios). In line with the town’s haunted infamy, a spectral feline allegedly dwells on property. “Sipps,” the cat is commemorated with a picture above the bar on the first floor.
The restaurant offers three squares a day and a pleasant atmosphere, but taking your burger to go and eating on the city steps of Jerome is most entertaining. It is a premium perch for people watching, rife with colorful characters.
Note: I have not had the pleasure of tasting the aforementioned Diablo Burger, or the Mile High Big Ass Burger, consisting of a pound of beef served with cheddar, bacon and BBQ sauce for $14.99, but did partake in Gale’s Muma Burger — from a previous menu. I found it excellent, as were the fries. I hear very good things about the present menu.
Mile High Grill and Inn
309 Main Street
Jerome, AZ 86331
“Love You Long Time” Burger
In the 1880s progress was picking up steam in Jerome. A post office, schoolhouse and public library arose from the terra firma, a clear march toward civility. Like most boom-towns, a sordid underbelly had already emerged. Hustling “soiled doves” kept the raucous brothels (and the ladies jail) bustling.
Plaques around town speak of the rough-and-tumble citizenry. One such snarky notice of remembrance gives a nod to the brothels and “Husbands’ Alley”, the passage used to reach the red light district after detractors re-homing the red light district away from prominent Main Street.
The lines are often blurred between craziness and love or lust. Emily Dickinson said it succinctly, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” My heart (and stomach) yearn for the burger at The Asylum Restaurant, at the historic Jerome Grand Hotel. There, cooks put their carnivorous love on their cheeseburger and the mushroom bacon burger. I tried the latter, heeding a recommendation by an in-the-know server. It arrived beautifully plated with vivid fresh fruit, my requested selection. This burger boasts sauteed shitake and button mushrooms commingling with cooked-‘til-translucent onions, mesquite smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, and mayo. Sexy buns round out their feats of yumminess. The ample burger can be had for $14.50, including fresh cut fries from Kennebec potatos, cottage cheese, or seasonal fruit. It left me with a rosy afterglow, without an E-cig.
Note: The Asylum is set apart from the rest of Jerome, which some consider “America’s most vertical city.” It is a manageable walk for the physically fit from Jerome’s epicenter, but not recommended during the times of excess heat, cold, or high heels. Their lofty, expansive view of the Verde Valley is stunning, and definitely worth a visit. Parking is ample.
The Asylum Restaurant
200 Hill Street
Jerome, AZ 86331
A Burger to Die For
One of the first things to spring to mind about Jerome is the spooky factor. Mining calamities, opium mishaps, and gunfights would frequently seal the fate of the inhabitants. Local undertakers were at no loss for clientele. It is plausible that their energies are stuck in limbo, munching burgers somewhere between this world and the hereafter.
Recently, the Jerome Grand Hotel has been the focus of several ghost hunting TV shows, and has offered themed tours, arming guests with the ghost busting paraphernalia one would come to expect—digital cameras, EMT meter, and infrared thermometers.
The burger joint most often associated with Jerome is The Haunted Hamburger. The building has a very storied past of eerie poltergeists, who seemingly came out-of-the woodwork when abandoned edifice was sold and renovated. Doors would slam, and hammers disappeared and reappeared. Later, items would fly off the shelves and faucets turned on without the assistance of the living.
Today, the Haunted Hamburger purveys many varieties of the beefy goodness (and a Garden Burger, too) but most notable is the Haunted Burger ($11.59). It is a burger so renowned, it’s recipe can be found on the internet and has been published in such books, as Biker Billy’s Roadhouse Cookbook: Adventures in Roadside Cuisine. It consists of mushrooms, bacon, cheddar, swiss, green chilis, grilled onions, and guacamole. A Double Haunted Burger is available for $13.99.
“We get told all the time by tourists that it’s the best burger they have ever had,” said Nicole Jurisin, a Haunted Hamburger employee.
The restaurant has inside dining, but al fresco dining on the patio offers a view that compliments any burger. They have a fixins’ station, so you may gussy up your charbroiled burger in style. The substantial burgers come with a side: steak fries, baked potato, twice baked potato, or coleslaw. They press the patties themselves, everyday, and the buns are baked in-house.
The Haunted Hamburger
410 Clark Street
Jerome, AZ 86331
I W(h)ine for Burgers
While one could live by burgers alone, are aptly accented by Arizona craft beers, and wine. In recent years, Jerome has played its part in the burgeoning wine scene. The town anchors one the end of the Verde Valley Wine Trail that runs from Sedona to Jerome.
Local resident and vintner, Maynard James Keenan (and vocalist for the metal band, Tool), has much skin in the wine game. He produces almost 4500 cases of wine a year in “The Bunker” at Caduceus Cellars in Jerome. The results of Keenan’s work can be sampled at the tasting room on Main Street. The staff can guide you to just the right wine pairing for a burger.
For a nontraditional take on a burger that plays to the wine and dine set, the Sourdough Zin Burger ($8.99) at Jerome’s Grapes Restaurant & Bar can be experienced with a choice of house greens, Caesar salad, or Kettle potato chips. The burger is a prime beef patty cooked in red Zinfandel wine, with bacon, cheese, a special sauce and served on thick-sliced grilled sour dough bread.
“If you are looking for the best tasting burger in all of northern Arizona you simply cannot beat Grapes’ Sourdough Zin Burger,” said local businessman and all around man-about-town, Tim McClellan. “Get it with the Caesar side and you have perfection on a plate.”
Grapes Restaurant & Bar
111 Main Street
Jerome, AZ 86331
A note from the author: For this piece, I ordered recommended burgers, or burgers said to be the most popular. Curiously, no servers asked how I would like mine cooked and they all arrived with about the same doneness. If I were to reorder, I would ask they be not cooked as long. I went on a Friday afternoon, and all venues were busy, but the staffers all managed beautifully. Jerome, the burgers, and most importantly their people are all worth a visit, which I highly recommend.
Stacy Lanson is an ardent foodie, frequent culinary ghostwriter, recipe creator and food company advisory panelist. Hailing from a long line of Midwestern cattle ranchers, she has boundless enthusiasm for burgers. Her ongoing pursuit of the holy grail of the genre has taken her as far away as Fiji, and has witnessed such curious spectacles as California seagulls tossing leftover onion rings about their necks.
[Unless noted, photos are by the Lason and Joshua Placa. Panorama of Jerome is by Finetooth (Own work) and used under CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]. Mile High photo via their website.]