Retro Burgers

Mister MacTavish Rarebit Burger

May 25, 2019

Once-upon-a-time, I left a job as an editor for a national food magazine, to do marketing for Chicago’s beefy Lawry’s the Prime Rib. Housed in the former 1889 L. Hamilton McCormick mansion at the corner of Ontario and Rush, the restaurant was soaked in history and the smell of slow-roasted meat. Before Lawry’s set up shop there in 1974, I used to go with my family to see the bizarre puppet operas the Kungsholm Scandinavian restaurant used to put on there. When I arrived decades later to do PR, the sloping theatre floors had been covered over to shore up Lawry’s dining rooms, and the managers weren’t quite sure where to put me.

Eventually, they made me a makeshift office in a corner of the enormous  ballroom at the top of the curving stairs. There, in that echoey room, I dreamed up publicity schemes. One of the best was rolling one of Lawry’s enormous, silver serving carts (retro Buck-Rogers-looking tanks that weighed a ton) all the way up Michigan Avenue to appear on radio disc jockeys Steve Dahl and Garry Meier’s WLUP talk show : )

So this recipe, from the same families that created Lawry’s, brings back some fun memories, simply by association. Called the Mister MacTavish, it was a signature sandwich at the Tam O’Shanter Inn. Established in 1922 by Lawrence Frank and Walter Van de Kamp, Tam O’Shanter is the oldest LA restaurant operated by the same family in the same location.  This open-faced burger, set on parmesan-toast, topped with bacon, and slathered with a Welsh rarebit sauce, was popular there in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s still one of my boys’ favorites.

Mister MacTavish Rarebit Burger
Serves 4
Retro '50s open-faced burger on parmesan toast with bacon and Welsh rarebit beery cheese sauce
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  1. 1egg yolk
  2. 1 Tbsp butter
  3. 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  4. 1/2 cup ale
  5. 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  6. 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  7. 4 slices crisp bacon
  8. 1 lb ground beef
  9. 1 tsp salt
  10. Fresh-cracked black pepper to taste
  11. 3 Tbsp butter
  12. 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  13. 8 slices white bread, toasted, or sliced ciabatta rolls, toasted
  1. Beat egg yolk in medium-sized heat-resistant bowl and set aside on counter. Melt butter in top of double boiler; add cheese and stir until melted. It’ll be clumpy, but don’t worry-- gradually add the beer, stirring constantly, and all will smooth out. Stir in the Worcestershire and mustard powder and continue to whisk. Remove top portion of double boiler (leaving the hot water pan over heat) and pour beer/cheese mixture gradually into the egg-yolk bowl, whisking steadily to prevent curdling. Scrape this all back into top portion of the double boiler; place back over hot water pan and cook, whisking until mixture thickens and you have a smooth, velvety sauce. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Pan-fry or oven fry bacon. Drain fat. Set aside.
  3. Season ground beef with salt and pepper. Shape into 4 patties. Pan fry to desired doneness.
  4. While burgers are cooking, toast bread. Set aside four toasts. Cut the other four diagonally to make triangles. Mix together butter and parmesan cheese and spread on toasts.
  5. To serve: Place one of the whole toasts in the center of a serving plate. Place a triangular toast on either side. Top the center toast with a burger. Pour sauce over. Top burger with bacon slice. Repeat for each serving.
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