It’s Labor Day soon – which is about my favorite holiday of the year. No pressure. No stuff to buy. No special clothing to wear. No need to hang out with your family unless you just want to. And since, for many of us, school has just started or is about to start, no time to travel.
With respect to Peter J. McGuire (or Matthew Maguire, depending upon whose version of the holiday’s history that you embrace), my tiny Oak Cliff family celebrates the contributions of the millions of working men and women who help create our nation’s wealth with swimming in the backyard, knocking back 40s and sitting on our widening butts.
Long about Sunday, I usually work up enough energy to take another drive through the Fuel City drive-through window and, then, fire up the grill. That is, I used to fire up the grill. Before I discovered the Hamburger Man flyer at Hunky’s, and the wondrous news that the burgermeisters at 321 North Bishop have a catering arm.
Oh, do you know the Hamburger Man? The next time you find yourself faced with throwing a casual bash, you may want to stop and smell the charcoal before you start patting out patties by the sink. Hire them or not, though, the Hamburger Man team gets tried by the fire of 30 to 40 events per week here in the Metroplex, and has expertise by the plateful to offer Oak Cliff hosts this Labor Day.
The Hamburger Man, the catering arm of Hunky’s, is owned and operated by longtime CliffDweller Rick Barton, a burger aficionado who has fired up more than a million burgers since the early 80s. Barton, who was raised in the business by his restaurateur father, attributes his success to hard work and to keeping it simple – both for his customers and within his business.
“Simplicity. That’s the best advice I can give anyone about throwing a party,” Barton asserts. “Through the Hamburger Man, we grill hamburgers, turkey burgers, chicken and hot dogs on site, and serve them up with potato salad and beans. That’s the deal, and everybody just loves it.”
Barton, who estimates that the Hamburger Man (214-533-1223) serves up 120 gallons of potato salad and beans each week through his four catering tricks, also urges CliffDwellers to avoid the “party equals fancy” equation. “Some people tend to get a little crazy when they’re planning an event,” he says. “We’ve been to parties where they’ve not only hired us, they have two or three other vendors. It’s so elaborate and over the top that it’s too much. It’s overwhelming. There’s no need to whip up 20 different menu items, even for a big party.”
The Hamburger Man (named after Barton and his team showed up at several early events and were greeted with cries of “It’s the hamburger man, it’s the hamburger man!”), is, not surprisingly, a big believer in careful planning. “Plan ahead, make a thorough list of what you need to buy and, then, a list of what you need to do,” he explains. “That way, you won’t get crazy. Think it all through, step by step, get organized, and then follow your plan. That way, you’ll be ready to enjoy your party, too, when the guests arrive.”
Barton, who has honed his organizational skills over two decades of throwing 8-10 backyard barbecues a day, has been called in to rescue far too many events for folks who’ve made the fatal mistake of marrying poor planning and a complex menu, only to find themselves forced to cry uncle. “We show up with our grills, we throw the burgers on, and people get happy,” he explains. “I’ve never had anybody tell me they were disappointed with the food, which tells me most people – particularly for something like Labor Day – enjoy something simple. You don’t need fancy food to have a good time.”
Barton’s last tip? “Buy quality,” he says. “When you’re doing something simple like turkey burgers or hot dogs, it really is critical that you buy quality meat, buns and condiments. It is a party, after all.”
It’s all fantastic advice. Advice I will employ, I’m sure, at some point in the next few months, I write as I lovingly clutch Barton’s flyer. But at an average $10 per person plus tax and tips, it’s hard to imagine an easier way to throw a party.
Between Oak Cliff’s Hamburger Man and the fine folks at Fuel City, I know that my nightmarish struggles to light charcoal or chill beer are blessedly over. Which means, of course, I have two new reasons to stay south of the Trinity. At home. And pop the cap on another Shiner.