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Your Special Order Isn't Special

The Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger at The Friendly is awesome, just don't ask for substitutions


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It's ugly. It's delicious. It's five bucks. It's the Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger.

I’ve just eaten the burger at The Friendly. People rave about this burger. Now I’m one of those people. A couple guys took over an old pizza shop in North Park and serve pizza and burgers. Occasionally they’ll put foie gras on it, I guess. And other chef-y stuff. Like many awesome things and, especially North Park things, you’ve got to be in the know. But this burger in front of me is just their standard, every day option. And it lives not up to, not down to, but perfectly to its name: Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger. It costs five dollars. Coffee costs five dollars and your dignity these days. Five dollars will buy you 30 percent of a movie ticket. 

The burger's pretty ugly. It looks sad. It looks like a good burger had a bad day. Or maybe a good burger has a hangover. This burger needs to take its B vitamins. 

The bun is white bread. The sort of bread whose nutritional value can be summed up as “white.” The sort of soft bread that, when you grab it, your fingerprints stay in the bread. Fitting, because how good this burger tastes is kind of a crime. Between those two lovely, food-esque bread items lay two patties, grilled on the dirty flat top, as advertised, until they have a nice caramelized crust all around them. The patties are thin. This would be an amuse-bouche for Michael Phelps, whose high-performance dolphin body reportedly requires 12,000 calories a day. But for normal humans with normal appetites, it’s enough. Atop the patties are caramelized onions, garlic aioli, and a melted slice of American cheese. American is the Hasselhoff of cheese—widely slandered and mocked, but also one of the best things man has gifted to this Earth.

So, yes, it’s delicious. As required by modern media and modern human instinct at the current time, I post a photo to social media. And the first question is: “Does their 'No Substitution' rule bother you?”

Well, no. And I get this question a lot about restaurants.

When restaurants removed salt from the table, people got testy. When Neighborhood refused to serve ketchup with their burgers and fries, people smear campaigned against the snobbery. And now there are complaints about The Friendly not letting you sub-out or special-order or make substitutions on your Dirty Flat Top Burger. Here are the reasons why this is totally within their American right to do so:

1. It’s a burger for five bucks. Obviously, their business model banks on volume. They’ve got to sell a ton of these to survive. They don’t have time to navigate your special dietary wants and needs. Their ramshackle, DIY assembly line is not designed to whim-cater. If gluten is really bumming you out or if you think mayonnaise is better used as wrestling oil, you can go somewhere else.

2. Restaurants are not your mom. Why do we expect American restaurants to customize their kitchens to our needs? Because they’ve got a long history of being able to adapt, that’s why. It’s a distinct advantage of the food retail industry. If you want to buy a shirt, but wish that shirt was in orange and not yellow, a clothing store owner can’t change the color of the shirt. But if you want to “strike the mayo,” from your burger, a restaurant can do that. But should they be required to? Absolutely not. Businesses of all sorts make a product, and sell it. You wouldn’t walk into a high-end furniture store and say “I like this couch, but can I just buy it unassembled and I’ll put it together at home with an allen wrench?” If you’d prefer to buy furniture that way, there is a store I can point you to that will gladly oblige. Restaurant owners get into this business because of passion, not economic glory. They develop their recipes, and are proud of them, and want to share them with you for a small sum. Due to their long history of graciously catering to our quirky desires and needs, we’ve come to see restaurants as custom-order shops. The best place to custom-order food is at your home. While it’s nice if restaurants are willing to do that for you, it’s not their obligation.  

3. It’s a five-dollar burger. You're one lucky person. 

Would the Dirty Flat Top Burger be better if it had some sort of acid? Like, say, a pickle or mustard? You bet. Does it taste pretty glorious just as is? You bet. Your parents may have been short-order cooks. God bless them. But restaurants aren't legally required to feed you and make sure your elaborate, detailed needs are met. And that's OK. 

The Friendly, 4592 30th Street, North Park. 619-892-7840. 

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