By Johanna Voutounou
LOS ANGELES, CA – Before I boarded my plane flight from my home in Cyprus to come to the United States, my yiayia hugged me tight and whispered this to me: “Americans only eat hamburgers, make sure you don’t only eat hamburgers, they are not good for you.” Every phone conversation I had with her for the next 12 years always ended with the same warning about the American hamburger. The truth is I did not follow my dear grandmother’s advice. Instead, I have become a huge fan of the hamburger. I travel great distances to try a new hamburger joint. What I love most about the burger is that I could eat one every day and it would not taste the same as the last. I am intrigued by the endless topping possibilities and how what most believe to be an inferior meal can be transformed into a culinary masterpiece, if the right ingredients are used. I have had burgers covered in truffle cheese and then topped with a duck egg, aged angus beef grilled to perfection, piled high with organic chilies, caramelized onions and homemade ketchup, veggie burgers topped with fresh pesto, and slow roasted tomatoes on a freshly baked bun. How could these possible be bad for me? I am not the only immigrant that has taken to the classic American meal. Some of the best burgers I have eaten have been at Greek diners across the country. I am not at all surprised as Greeks are no strangers to cooking up a delicious meat sandwich as the world famous souvlaki and gyro have proven. I happened upon one of these Greek diners the other day during my ongoing search for a great burger. Patra’s Charbroiled Burgers has been specializing in hamburgers since 1978. Demitrios “Jimmy” Perris, founder of Patra’s, left his home in Patra to open a restaurant in the United States. He quickly discovered that the only way to succeed was to give his customers what they wanted. Burgers were what they wanted, so he set out to learn how to make a classic American burger that people would come back for. As a result, Patra’s quickly became a landmark in the east side community of Glassell Park, Los Angeles. As I enter this busy restaurant a pang of guilt comes over me, as it always does when I am about to order a hamburger. My grandmother’s voice haunts me as I scan the board full of fast food delights. To my yiayia’s defense when most people think of the American hamburger they imagine the well know fast food enterprises that have exported a very bland, unhealthy version of the beloved sandwich. Jamie Oliver, the British chef, apparently had the same view of this American staple and he embarked on a nation wide journey trying to make American fast food healthier. Patra’s was one of the stops on what he calls his Food Revolution Tour. Jamie worked very closely with Patra’s new owner Dino Perris (Jimmy’s son) to create the Revolution Menu that is meant to be a healthier alternative to the well-known standards. The menu has a variety of options including a Veggie Burger packed full of organic, fresh vegetables, a Garden Burrito and a couple of salad choices. However the crown jewel of this new menu is the Revolution Burger, a half pound of fresh ground grass fed Angus beef on a whole wheat bun, topped with mixed greens, smashed beans and potato spread. This controversial addition to Patra’s menu has caused quite a stir among loyal patrons of the burger joint. Jorge Gonzalez who has lived in the neighborhood and has been eating at Patra’s since it opened its doors said. “Jimmy’s burgers have always been good. He has been using fresh ground beef and fresh ingredients since before this new healthy menu. I don’t find the Revolution Burger to be healthier, just different. Sorry Jamie, I’ll stick to the old Double Cheeseburger with a side of fries”. Owner Dino is proud of his choice to reimagine his late father’s original menu. He wanted to stick to his father’s recipe for success and give the people what they want. Dino felt that people in Los Angeles were looking for healthy fast food alternatives and he set out to give them that. I indulged in both the Revolution Burger and classic Patra’s Burger. Two foreigners putting their own twist on an American meal. Both were delicious in their own way. I wish my yiayia could be here with me to enjoy this meal, I think this would give her a different view of this misunderstood dish. She would probably also scold me for eating too many hamburgers.