Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hudson's Hamburgers

Hudson’s Hamburgers
207 E. Sherman,
Coeur d’Alene
(208) 664-5444

What's the One Thing That Coeur d'Alene is Most Famous For? (Hint: It Ain't the Resort.)

“Totally overrated,” reads a user-contributed review of Hudson’s Hamburgers posted recently on “Can’t get lettuce or tomato on the burger, they don’t have French fries, and good luck getting a seat. The burger itself is good but nothing to write home about.” Naturally, it didn’t take long for a hardcore Huddy Burger fan to come along and issue a terse comeback. “People like you would never understand the concept of tradition. 18 bar stools and the truth is all anyone needs to know about the best Hamburger joint in the United States - bless the Hudson family for keeping it going for over 100 years and letting us all enjoy!”

The Hudson’s experience is a bit like old-timey Blues or Country music, some really get into it and some just don’t appreciate its history and raw, essential simplicity. Obviously, the majority of local old timers (of all ages) fall into the former category, and some are viciously defensive and/or completely obsessive about the landmark burger stand that has attracted national attention in publications like Sunset and USA Today.

There was even an official proclamation by the Idaho State House of Representatives two years ago recognizing the burger stand's 100th birthday and honoring all five generations of the Hudson family who have kept our town well fed and happy, having survived "two World Wars, several international military combat situations, the Great Depression, economic recessions, and the arrival of the Golden Arches." It opened as the "Missouri Kitchen" in a rickety shack built by Harley Hudson and has since been handed down to son Howard, grandson Roger, great-grandsons Steve and Todd, who currently run the show, and great-great grandson Alex who is poised to take the golden spatula some day in the future.

To be fair, folks accustomed to more contemporary, chain-style burgeries have a somewhat legitimate gripe. Without a pile of greasy fried potatoes or onions, a burger can seem lonely. Without layers of exotic toppings like avocado, goat cheese, and fois gras, a burger can seem as naked as Miss March. In a world of Wendy's, Applebee’s, and Red Robin’s with their “bottomless fries,” a simple burger a la carte might cause the typical diner to feel like something was amiss.

Ask any Hudson’s regular. No one even slightly notices the absence of fries, frou-frou side salads or bizarre burger toppings. In fact, mention any of these things inside the place, and you’re libel to be on the blunt end of a few stone cold death glares. Why distract from perfection? In fact, cheese has only been allowed since the 1960's. A Huddy burger is uncomplicated, iconic, handed down like a symbol of local pride from generation to generation since 1907. It comes in four varieties; single, double, single with cheese and double with cheese. Onion and pickles are the only garnish options, sliced fresh per order right there at the grill.

Hudson’s trademark spicy ketchup and mustard should be applied in generous doses, and a fountain Pepsi in a tiny glass is the only way to chase it down. Homemade pie is displayed in the mini-cooler and is probably incredible, but I’ve never had room for dessert. For oddballs inexplicably uninterested in America’s best burger, there are the options of ham, egg, or ham and egg sandwiches. But why? Also, Hudson’s is possibly the last place on Earth where one can order a nice, thick glass of buttermilk. But why?

I was probably around 8 when my father and I saddled up to the counter for my first Huddy Burger. It was rite of passage, a Kodak moment drenched in the 70’s soft-focus of an extra-mushy Hallmark card. Okay, I don’t really remember the details; is there a law against glossing up vague childhood memories? I do know that it didn’t take me long to become a regular, one of the cult. Even during times when I’ve lived out of town, Hudson’s would be one of the first stops I made upon returning. Now that I live in town again, I never seem to visit often enough.

I most recently popped into Hudson’s with a friend on a frigid afternoon around 3:30, hoping that the lateness of the hour would mean the lunch masses had gone bye-bye, and that we’d actually be able to nab a couple of stools right away. We crept by in the car, realizing there was still a line out the door. That’s not necessarily a surprise since Hudson’s is invariably packed from open to close daily. Even in the grey nightmare slowdown of winter, even in those frequent times when the rest of downtown Coeur d’Alene is so dead that all the shop workers are looking for random things to make into nooses, Hudson’s is off the charts busy.

We decided to kill some time by meandering through the retail ghost town known as the Resort Plaza Shops. There’s almost nothing at all there of interest to men, although the endless pricey dress boutiques are heaven-sent for both golf-widow touristas and cross-dressers with expensive taste. We checked out the newly-opened Bruttles candy store and the chatty clerk seemed delighted to finally see other human beings. She charmed me into picking up a small box of their signature “soft peanut brittle”, and it is every bit as flaky and scrumptious as the name implies.

We made it to Hudson’s in ravenous form; mercifully we only had to wait about four minutes before a couple of stools opened up. If only those stools could talk, they’d tell ghastly, oppressive tales of ten thousand bottoms. Sitting atop a Hudson's stool, one can feel the historic burger juju resonate up through the earth, through the stool and directly into the brain’s pleasure circuit.

We sat directly across from the grill, where Miss Tessa, spatula in hand, was doing whatever mystical thing it is they do to create such a consistently fine product. It could be the grill itself, seasoned with decades of love and soul, or it could be the beef, harvested locally and so fresh it was probably chewing its cud yesterday afternoon. No music played, the only sound was the polite murmur of the crowd and the saliva-inducing sizzle of the grill. Despite the frenzied turnover of customers, the atmosphere of the place was surprisingly relaxed.

Wham! Burgers hit buns and suddenly they’re steaming in front of us. Condiments applied and extra napkins ready, we dug in. I was instantly reminded of why these are truly worth all the hype. The magic is in the rich, caramelized crispiness of the patty’s outer layer and the delicate, meaty inside. It’s in the sweet bang of the cheese and the dense power of the onion slice. It’s in the remarkable simplicity of the bun and in the piquant heat of the sauce. Even served plain, there’s something intangibly special that separates them from any other burger.

We ate in silence until Tessa returned just in time to catch me with a couple of big crocodile tears rolling down my cheek. “It’s the onion and hot mustard,” I laughed, “but they could just as easily be tears of joy. It’s been way too long.” “Wish I could say that,” she shot back, winking and rubbing her tummy. “How could anyone get tired of these burgers?” I wondered aloud. “You can’t,” she smiled. “That’s the problem. Just imagine working here…” For many Hudson’s fans, including myself, that’s a fantasy come true.


It's Just Me said...

Hey OTV. I finally tried Hudsons. I have lived here (this time) for 20 years and have never tried them. AWESOME!!! OMG. It's a good thing I don't work near downtown or I'd be there every day.

HuckleberriesOnline said...

Question: Can you guesstimate how many Hudson’s Hamburgers you eat a year?
19 comments on this post so far. Add yours!


JIMMYMAC on March 15 at 12:53 a.m.

I have always said that if we do see the Great Great Great depression and all the shops in downtown CDA collapse (even the Resort), you'll still have to wait for a seat at Huddies if you have more than two people with you around noon that want to sit together.

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Howard_Martinson on March 15 at 9:23 a.m.

Huddie's is by far the best burger joint around. In their own league.

Barbara, Steve & Todd: we miss Roger and think of your family often.

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Don Sausser on March 15 at 10:18 a.m.

I do about 24 huddies a year, plus one more for my vegie friend, Mr. Stick!

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Bent on March 15 at 11:08 a.m.

Now that I work in Spokane, I don't get enough of them anymore…

When I was kid, my best freind and I would get up nearly every summer morning and go out mowing lawns until we earned enough money to get a huddy burger and rent a sailboat for the day … ten bucks usually covered it for the both of us back then…

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Walkabout on March 15 at 11:40 a.m.

Yes, very easily, zero.

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JeanC on March 15 at 1:28 p.m.

Zero. I really need to stop in next time we are in the area and give them a try. The hubby and I are always on the look out for good burgers.

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Aliasjax on March 15 at 3:28 p.m.

I live here. I walk by that place dozens of times a week. I've never had one…don't know why.

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hmoffsuite on March 15 at 4:59 p.m.

I think a testament to Hudsons is that a McDonalds Express opened next door a few years ago and promptly closed its doors. There aren't many occassions where the little guy beats the Big Mac. I think that is a wonderful story. Should have made national news, if it didn't. Roger was a great person.

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Stickman on March 15 at 6:28 p.m.

Don: I appreciate the love, but please not for me. I ask kids all the time, even my own, if you had to kill and slaughter your own meat on a daily basis, I doubt many would. Of course the hunters would all revel in the the blood and guts of the hunt. I gave it all up because of the abuse and inhumanity of it all. I am a small minority of course, but I sleep well and my digestion is perfect. Most kids haven't a clue where their kid's meal comes from, and if they did, probably wouldn't eat as much. I grew up on meat and potatoes like the rest of you, but if I knew exactly where that meat came from and how it was prepared, I would have been a vegetarian long ago. In the future, believe me, we will all be vegetarians.

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hmoffsuite on March 15 at 6:36 p.m.

“In the future, believe me, we will all be vegetarians”

Stick. Not in my lifetime. :~)

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Stickman on March 15 at 6:39 p.m.

I know many of you can't fathom the thought of not eating meat, just watch 'Fast Food Nation' sometime and then make your own decision. I am not here to change your mind about anything, as I have my hands full with my own children, but I am making small steps with them and maybe someday, they will feel as strongly as I do. The animals of this world deserve more than what we give them, a life of cruelty and abuse. Just so we can have Veal on a special occasion. If you have watched the movie Babe and enjoyed it, just know that the actor who was Babe's owner, became a vegetarian after making the movie, and still is.

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Stickman on March 15 at 6:44 p.m.

hmoffsuite: Not in your lifetime, but in the future, we will not eat the flesh of another being. It will abhor us.

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Stickman on March 15 at 6:47 p.m.

As for the famous Hudson burgers, I would never even think of having one. Don please, have one for me, and then hopefully you start to feel bad.

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EagleKeeper44 on March 15 at 7:05 p.m.

Big Stick… I have to agree with HMO on this one!

not in my lifetime… :)

I enjoy Mongolian Beef too much at the GOLDEN
Dragon in PF. Food for the gods and mortal man….

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Stickman on March 15 at 7:16 p.m.

I understand of course Eagle Keeper, as I had lunch with my sons today and we ended up at Thai Bamboo in Spokane. They loved the stuff, though I gave them a hard time. It may take my whole life to convince them otherwise, but I will never win. But for me, the table has been set long ago. If I ate some of that stuff to this day, it would make me sick, so I must say something about the future of what you are eating. Please enjoy the meat of another being, though they might not enjoy it as much as you.

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Stickman on March 15 at 7:25 p.m.

Eagle Keeper: Next time at the Golden Dragon, ask the young lady who waits on you who her dad is? Maybe a hint. Me. She is such a beautiful young lady, must take after her dad.

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Stickman on March 15 at 7:37 p.m.

Sorry Eagle, it's the Dragon House on Appleway, I get confused in my later years. She is there most nights, and you will like her immediately. One after my own heart.

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Kage_Mann on March 16 at 8:02 a.m.

I only ate at Hudsons when I was a kid.One reason is:it's too crowded and hot in there.If they had a drive-through I'd be back.

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Stickman on March 16 at 11:22 a.m.

I mispoke, I meant read FAST FOOD NATION and watch SUPERSIZE ME.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daniel F said...

I went there last weekend with my wife for the first time. I'm not a pickles and onions kinda guy, and the spicy ketchup tasted too much like mustard to agree with my palette. I did like the cash only and very limited menu.

The meat was nice, but tasted like . . . good hamburger meat and nothing else.

The Hudson's Hamburgers cult is just that, a cult. People feel that they have to like it even though there are much better burgers out there. People love the place and what it means to them, and therefore feel the need to defend the food.

Also, you have a typo, "wass."

Finally, I love they way this article was written. It was very easy and enjoyable to read.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of history and tradition - and Hudson's certainly has that! But as far as serving the best burger in town goes, I'd have to disagree. The burger was okay. NOT great. I like the location and the tradition of it - that's why I stop by there periodically. But if I want an excellent burger, I'll go to Roger's up the street (or grill my own at home).

Dawn J said...

You people in Idaho sure are rude to the businesses that try to serve you.

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