Philly has its cheese steaks and Hamburg has its hamburgers (more on that another time). Last April, when lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed, I told you that Springfield, Ill., has a legendary sandwich called the Horseshoe.
Rochester doesn’t have a sandwich. That’s because — well, we all know why that is, and DMC won’t fix it. But Austin does. It has the Spam sandwich. And it’s delicious.
Lucky Austin also has Spam and eggs, Spam and cheese omelettes, Spam Dunkers, Spam sliders and who knows what else Spammy.
Think you don’t like Spam? You’re wrong. There’s no way that one of the many ways it’s served in Austin will fail to agree with your palate, which is why I’m here. I have theFour Stars of Spam to help you find just the right dish in Spam’s hometown.
For some reason, Spam gets no respect. For example, when a P-B photographer shoots a pic for this column, whether it’s a scrumptious dessert, outrageously creative main course or a piquant appetizer, they generally eat it on the spot. This time, the to-go boxes of the Spam Dunkers were brought back to the newsroom.
Why? Bad press over the years. That’s all I can come up with, because whether it’s grilled, deep-fried, breaded or covered with hollandaise, it’s a moist, appetizing, slightly spicy ham-like meat. Nobody’s asking you to eat it raw. Cooked up like a burger or a ham steak, it’s great.
I crammed a lot of Spam eating into just a few hours Saturday and covered three of the best Spam dishes in Austin. Two places in particular — B & J Bar and Grill, only two blocks from where the grand new Spam Museum will open in early June, and Kenny’s Oak Grill,at the other end of downtown — have Spam options that will keep you coming back for more.
It’s hard to overstate what a big deal the new Spam Museum will be for downtown Austin, by the way, and B & J’s totally gets that. They have a few Spam items on the menu now, they add a new one from time to time, and they’ll have a Spamapalooza of choices by the time the first visitors check out the new museum.
The day I was at B & J’s, it was Plunging for Pink day, when hundreds of people gather at East Side Lake for a jump into the drink to raise money for breast cancer research. Before the early-afternoon plunge, the bar and grill was packed with people getting their courage up, or just having fun. Most were wearing something pink — a T-shirt, a glittery hat, Mardi Gras beads or Spandex tights. I haven’t seen that many pink boas since Jesse Ventura was governor.
B & J’s Spam sandwich is about as plain, simple and delicious as it gets. It’s a nicely grilled slab of the famous meat product on a good quality bun with lettuce, onion and tomato. With tater tots, a good green salad or another side, it’s $6.75, and if you bring your appetite, you’ll also want the Spam sliders appetizer ($6.95) — three petite Spam sandwiches in buns, topped with disks of pineapple, just the way Hawaiians like it.
B & J’s has been a part of Austin nightlife since at least 1948, when it was Chris & Rosie’s and was on East Oakland Avenue. If it was open just a few years earlier, George A. Hormel himself might have stopped by for a tap. New owners named it B & J in 1962, and after one too many floods at that end of Oakland Avenue, they moved downtown about 10 years ago.
Still on Oakland, though across the street from its original location, is Kenny’s Oak Grill, which I’m ashamed to say I had never stopped by until last weekend. It’s a classic diner-style cafe, with all-day breakfast, bottomless coffee, the obligatory pics of Marilyn and Elvis, and lots of Austin memorabilia.
Their Eggs George A ($8.39) is a pair of poached eggs comfortably nestled on lily pads of Spam atop English muffins, covered with a lemony hollandaise. To mix things up, there’s the Spam and cheese omelette ($8.39), and later in the day you can go with the Spam de Melt ($7.99), which isn’t just a grilled cheese with meat product — they add a few bacon strips (Black Label? alas, apparently not) and sour cream.
The Spam Dunkers at the landmark Old Mill restaurant are the most original manifestation of Spam in Austin. Dave Forland, the mill keeper, invented this delicacy in 2003 and the secret is the light, crispy breading. Toss most things into a deep-fat fryer and they come out oily and puffed up; Dave’s Dunkers are light and cracker-crumb crispy, and inside is that delicious strip of Spam, regular or jalapeno.
Ten are arranged in a herringbone design on a white platter, with chipotle sauce, for $8.95.
And one of Austin’s best-kept secrets is the Spam sandwich at Culver’s. It’s not on the board but ask for it and for $2.99, you’ll get a hot, well-grilled Spam cutlet with California-style fixings.
You’ll never go back to Butterburgers.
There must be more Spam on menus out there. If you know of some, tell me and I’ll eat more and report back.
FOUR STARS OF SPAM
307 Oakland Ave. W, Austin
114 Fourth Ave. NE, Austin
3504 11th Place NE, Austin
1800 Eighth St. NW, Austin
Jay Furst is the Post-Bulletin’s managing editor. Agree or disagree with his Spam picks? Call him at 507-285-7742 or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.