It's easy to roll straight past Quickie Burger, a rough-looking food truck parked in a rough-looking part of Spenard. In fact, the gentleman inside the truck told me that some people do it on purpose. "You can tell they're looking for us," he said. But then, when they set eyes on the dark brown truck and the wall tent that serves as a tiny dining room, they keep on going.
I have to admit that I almost did the same thing. But I spent four years living just down the street from where the Quickie Burger truck is parked, so I know things in this neighborhood aren't always what they seem; and everybody seems to rave about these burgers, so surely they were worth a try. Besides, I didn't want to admit to my editor that I'd been scared off because the truck wasn't kitted out in high-gloss paint and a hand-lettered calligraphy menu.
So, I parked in the small gravel lot behind the truck and went into the tent, which shelters the Quickie Burger order window along with a single picnic table and a tall space heater. The cook was friendly, the two ladies already at the table looked happy, the photo of this month's specialty burger (the "Rein of Cheddar," ($8)) looked pretty darn good, and I couldn't detect even the faintest whiff of stale grease or burnt food.
I'm short and the order window was tall, so I couldn't really see into the kitchen-but what I could see had obviously been recently scrubbed. A note on the menu explained that they use never-frozen beef (ground three times a week in Anchorage). I started to suspect that this is a case of people putting their money where it matters most-the food and the service-rather than into a paint job on the truck.
I went for the specialty burger from the photo: A one-third-pound beef patty topped with pieces of reindeer sausage, caramelized diced onions, melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on a sweet bun. I added steak fries ($2) and a chocolate shake ($4) for dessert, prompted by the good-looking strawberry milkshake a customer before me purchased. Everything came in brown paper bags (burger wrapped carefully in its own wax paper)-quite fitting, considering the neighborhood.
Horning in on the other people at the picnic table seemed like the thing to do, but it was so sunny that I excused myself to nearby Westchester Lagoon instead, clutching my brown bag of what turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
First, the most perishable item on deck: The puff of whipped cream on top of the milkshake looked a little sad after the short drive in 70+ heat, but the shake was still so thick and cold that I almost resorted to my childhood habit of licking it off the bottom of the straw. Next up, the steak fries: I'd let them cool a little too much but they were still lightly crisp on the outside and just barely salted.
I should mention that, like my initial side-eye for the food truck, I also had to overcome a little bit of a prejudice against the hamburger. My first paying job ever was at Burger King, where I developed an instinctive distrust of fast food burgers, even as I transformed into the stereotype of the chirpy, ponytailed and visored girl at the service counter.
So I was surprised to find myself liking the burger I'd gotten. The patties are machine-pressed instead of hand-pressed, so they have that "pre-made" shape, but not pre-made flavor; they're juicy and tender instead of dry and rubbery. The bun was soft and sweet as promised, but not sticky; and the toppings-including real cheese-all looked and tasted fresh and had been portioned out with a generous hand, becoming a cheerful, tasty jumble inside the bun instead of an unmanageable mess.
This wasn't so much a gourmet burger as fast food actually done right: Reasonably priced (a Quickie hamburger is just $5.50, a Quickie cheeseburger $6) and made with obvious pride. And in a town where we put everything from fish to Brussels sprouts on our pizza, the creatively topped specialty burgers are a welcome touch.
On my second trip, I agonized between the two most popular specialty burgers: Bacon My Blues Away (fried bleu cheese topped with cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion; $9) and the Spenard Burger (caramelized bacon and onion chunks with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and burger sauce; $8.50). I went with the latter in honor of my old neighborhood, plus shoestring fries for another $2.
The plan is to-business permitting-turn the Quickie Burger truck into a year-round operation by creating an indoor seating area in the building right next door (the other half is a head shop). Meanwhile, I shared the tented picnic table with one other customer as I worked my way through the fries: Very crisp outside but still soft inside, with a little more salt than before. Perfection, as long as you get at them while they're hot; like all french fries, they're barely adequate when cold.
The burger was, again, a pleasant surprise, especially the mildly sweet burger sauce that dripped down my fingers but didn't drown the burger. Instead of trying to take over the whole shebang, it blended into the background and gave all the other flavors a boost. But what I really liked was the sizzling sound of the bacon cooking right after I ordered it, as opposed to the ding of a reheater.
Fast food can be comfort food when it's done right, and although the Quickie Burger truck does look a little sketchy on the outside, on the inside-where it counts-it's all good. So for the first time in my life, I can tell you to go get a Quickie in Spenard. They're inexpensive, creative and surprisingly satisfying. Who knew?
1087 W. 27th Ave.
Open Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.