Can’t beat the meat

If there’s one tool a food critic needs, it’s his stomach. It’s a sensitive device, one that demands the utmost of respect. You could lose your sense of taste and still get by as a restaurant reviewer. Lose your stomach and you’re finished. Which goes a long way in explaining the intense anxiety I felt slogging through the cold December rain into Ford’s Real Hamburgers one recent night.

My stomach was trashed. Finished. Kaput. It had all started when a good friend invited me on a four-day cruise to Ensenada onboard Ecstasy, the mighty flagship of Carnival Cruise Lines. “We’ll drink margaritas by day and eat five-star dinners by night,” she promised, and she wasn’t lying. By the time the ship turned around and wallowed back to the States, I was a retching, seasick mess.

The experienced food critic knows that there’s really only one treatment for such devastating gastronomical distress: red meat. The same drive that causes prizefighters to apply raw beefsteak to their cut-and-bruised cheekbones had brought me to Ford’s. Epicurean, heal thyself. I desperately needed to pound down enough ground round to right the list of my prolonged nausea, even if it meant permanently clogging my colon.

Make no mistake, Ford’s is no place for the cholesterol-challenged. Where other burger joints double-up, Ford’s tears a page out of the Al Davis play book and goes for the bomb: The Football, a one-pound mound of ground round (allegedly supplied by Taylor’s Market in nearby Land Park) that’s the biggest burger in town. But although I did indeed desperately need to pound down some ground round, no way could I opt for the one-pound mound. The half-pound mound proved to be a decision that was sound, at least that’s what I found.

What about it? Well, some say the meat, a disc as round and thick as a manhole cover, is a little salty, but I simply admired the fact that my half-pound-mound was cooked to perfection, not too dry, not too juicy. This alone may account for the legendary status attributed to the burgers by Ford initiates. The out-of-this-world tender-but-chewy bun (which was actually large enough to cover the meat), tangy special sauce, and freaky fries that may actually be made from real potatoes (been a while since I’ve seen fries made from a real one, so it’s hard to be sure) didn’t hurt either.

So that’s it for my burger. My dining companion, who I have until this point neglected to mention but let me just say she is a very powerful member of the Wicca community, said this about her grilled chicken sandwich: “This place is legendary, you know.”

I know. I’ve heard countless people say just that on repeated visits. The place is legendary. You can’t beat the meat. But dig: We need to do a little something about the interior décor. Sure, it’s the off-season, but can’t we find someplace else to store the summer lawn furniture besides the limited space on the south side of the restaurant? Now that winter is here, we could use a little extra interior space. They say it never rains in California, it just pours, baby, like that cat with the salt shaker hovering over the ground round piled up in mounds in Ford’s stainless steel kitchen.

And what about all those ripped up chairs we’re still using? The ketchup stains on the bare concrete floor beneath the condiment barrel?

What, you think this is a democracy?

This is Ford’s, home of The Football, the bomb. We don’t need no stinking chairs! We spray the concrete down at least once a day! We will forgive your deranged ramblings, if only because the scientific research is clear: today’s red meat, bio-medically enhanced to deliver the optimum protein-to-fat-ratio, has shown its superiority as both a curative aid and an aphrodisiac. Which is to say the half-pound of ground round I recently downed left me feeling utterly sound.

Vegetarians fear not! The onion rings are round, and delivered with a sauce that tastes vaguely of cumin. Asked what kind of sauce it was, the cutey behind the counter replied, “Onion ring sauce, silly.”

Red meat makes you smart like that. By the way, I got my stomach back.