It was a sheer yearning that drove me back to American Roadside, a place I hardly expected to exert that kind of pull. The thing is, I don't even like most fast-food burgers, which are usually either dry or greasy.
These burgers, though, are neither. What's most surprising is that they're made with low-fat beef and generally served medium or well-cooked, not rare, the way I prefer mine. Somehow, though, they're immensely flavorful and appealing. Cheeseburgers, topped with reduced-fat cheese, are even more addictive. What's best is that you can customize yours with any number of free toppings, my favorite being fresh jalapeño peppers, which are roasted daily in the kitchen. Other add-ons include the more conventional lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sautéed mushrooms, fried onions, red onions and several kinds of sauce.
American Roadside Burgers is the pet project of entrepreneur John Tunney III, who also owns HONU Kitchen and Cocktails in Huntington and the Besitos in Huntington and Roslyn. Tunney is also behind the American Burger Company restaurants, whose Huntington and Hicksville locations will shortly bear the American Roadside name. Tunney, who professes that his favorite meal is a cheeseburger, takes pride that his burgers are fresh and ground to order daily and that virtually nothing in the restaurant has more than 3 grams of fat.
If there's a problem at American Roadside, it's with the temperature of the food, which is ordered at the counter and then brought to your table by runners. When the order was for only two, everything seemed to come right off the grill. But when four of us put in a big order, many items were lukewarm. A nearly cool grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and bacon, which was actually quite good, would have been even better had it not been foil-wrapped.
The wrapping only slightly diminished the impact of an otherwise grand hot dog, which was split down the middle, grilled and served on a toasted potato bun. The frank, I later learned, was also reduced-fat. I was especially impressed with chicken "tenders," white meat boneless breast lightly battered and fried. Unlike the nuggets at so many fast-food places, these strips tasted like real chicken. A veggie burger, while not objectionable, was no substitute for the real thing.
On my first visit, the sweet potato fries were piping hot, crisp and irresistible. The second time, however, they were only warm. Regular fries, liberally salted, were a treat, tasting as though they were right out of the fry basket. I liked the onion rings, although they, too, could have been hotter, and thought the house-made coleslaw just fine.
The place, done in a nostalgic roadhouse motif, is fronted almost entirely by plate glass. On a particularly cold day, a window-side booth felt awfully chilly. I prefer the backroom, whose focal point is a big farm sink where customers can wash their hands.
Even in winter, the clean-tasting milk shakes, both chocolate and strawberry, have plenty of appeal. They're made with 2-percent milk and Fox's U-Bet syrup. Ask for an extra squirt if you prefer a more intense flavor. Instead of the "lug nuts" (warm fried dough rolled in powdered sugar), you might want to conclude with a handful of caramels from one of the big wooden barrels up front.
The chewy little candies are free. A burger costs $3.22. What more could you ask? --Joan Reminick, 12/19/07
Burger scene The Fonz would be at home at this '50s-style spot where you order at the counter and wait for your number to be called.
Burger bite The surprise is that the beef is relatively low fat, as is the cheese. Burgers come out surprisingly flavorful and juicy, even if well done. Go wild with free toppings, such as house-roasted jalapeños, red onion, relish and pickles. The truly hungry (or crazy) can order the Roadstar - essentially four burgers under one bun. Have some very good sweet potato fries on the side.
Burger bill $3.22 to $7.91 (for Roadstar)