Hudsons Hamburgers celebrates a century of Huddyburgers in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Hudsons Hamburgers celebrates a century of Huddyburgers in Coeur
d’Alene, Idaho

Hudsons Hamburgers celebrates a century of Huddyburgers in Coeur
d’Alene, Idaho

Find more of Peter Fish’s Postcard and Western Wanderings essaysToddHudson has a century’s worth of stories about the family hamburgerjoint in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. But the best dates back to hisgrandfather Howard Hudson. “A guy sat down and ate eight hamburgersin a row,” Todd says. “Then he wanted to linger over his coffee.Howard told him, ‘Hell, no – I need that stool.’ Howard made himfinish his coffee standing up.”

This story reveals a number of things. First, that Hudson’s issmall – specifically, 17 chrome stools at a brown Formica counter.Second, that Hudson’s is popular. And that Howard Hudson was ademanding host. Most important, it tells you that Hudson’shamburgers are so good, somebody can eat eight of them at a singlesitting.

This year marks Hudson’s Hamburgers’ 100th birthday. The eventhas been celebrated with official proclamations and with tributesfrom America’s most demanding palates, among them the Wall Street Journal’s Raymond Sokolov, who said, “TheHuddyburger is the best $2 burger in creation.”

The Missouri Lunch was what Harley Hudson called the place whenhe opened in 1907. “Not because he was from Missouri,” Toddexplains, “but because he had a brother nicknamed Missouri.” Harleyhad an inkling that Coeur d’Alene, then a booming timber town,would have an appetite for burgers. A century later,multimillion-dollar lakeside homes have mostly replaced the lumbermills. But millions of Huddyburgers (and five generations ofHudsons grilling them) have proved Harley right.

Part of the Hudson’s legend is that it starts serving early.

So I show up at 9 a.m. to watch Todd prep for the day. This is asimpler task than at many restaurants, and a glance at the menuposted behind the counter tells you why. Here’s what you can order:hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double hamburgers, double cheeseburgers.Pickle and onion if you want. Here’s what you can’t order: gourmetburger additions, milkshakes, and – steady yourself – the burger’sseemingly essential partner in crime, the french fry.

I was as doubtful about the no-fries policy as I was aboutserving burgers at 9:30 a.m. But as soon as Todd opens his doors,he has customers: a taxi driver from Sitka, Alaska, and agrandmother with her college-age grandson. “He’s from Spokane,” thegrandmother says, “and he’s never been here. I’m here all thetime.”

Todd and his brother, Steve, have been running Hudson’s sinceabout 1990, when their father, Roger (Howard’s son) retired.Sometimes, Todd admits, they feel the burden of the family burgertradition. “I always say, our great-grandfather started it, ourgrandfather improved it, our father improved it more. Steve’s andmy job is not to screw it up.”

By 11 the place is packed, and Todd’s hands are moving like aVegas blackjack dealer’s, slicing onions and shaping patties andslapping them down on the Depression-era grill. It is time for meto try my double cheeseburger. And it is … superb. In terms offood expertise, I’m no Raymond Sokolov, but the entirebun-cheese-burger package seems perfect in its simplicity, like a Shaker chair. When I ask Todd Hudson the secret of the Huddyburger,he modestly credits his beef supplier. But surely his dexterity atthe grill counts for something, not to mention the spirits of pastHudsons looking over his shoulder.

By now it’s noon. People line up to grab seats at the counter,they line up for take-out burgers, they line up on the sidewalktrying to get in the front door. Todd Hudson looks beleaguered, buthappily so. He admits that he reads Chowhound and other foodwebsites regularly, and recently had his feelings hurt when a dinercriticized Hudson’s for making customers eat their burgers in suchclose proximity to other customers.

“But that’s the whole point,” Todd says. “At Hudson’s, you neverknow who you’re going to be next to. A millionaire, some guy whoworks in a mill.” The smell of grilled beef rises in the air, andright then, Todd Hudson’s seems as good a vision of Americandemocracy as you can think of: one nation, double cheeseburger,pickles and onions for all.

INFO: Hudson’s Hamburgers ($; closedSun; 207 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID; 208/664-5444)

Read more about Peter Fish’s travels at the Sunset Traveler blog »

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