Back in the 1950s, jazz icon Nat King Cole famously dubbed the bacon cheeseburger at P.J. Clarke's the "Cadillac of hamburgers." But as executive chef Michael DeFonzo explains, the burger was on menu at the famous saloon long before that, since the late 1930's. He can tell a truly old school patron because they still call it a bacon cheeseburger. But most people call it the Cadillac these days and the restaurant sells over 400 a day (as well as 600 plain burgers).
According to DeFonzo, not much has changed in the recipe over the years, although the price (currently $17.95 with fries) certainly has. The chef notes that he keeps up with "current meat trends," and in some cases has established direct relationships with farmers."We use two piece chuck rolls, and all of our beef comes out of Souderton, PA" says the chef. The beef is chopped for the restaurant from whole muscles into a 70/30 lean to fat ratio. "There is no added fat to the blend," says DeFonzo, "it all comes from high choice and low prime " which have enough intramuscular marbling (the fat within the muscle). The beef is hand-formed into six ounce patties using a ring mold, and as DeFonzo explains, the cooks "barely press it," so that the meat stays loosely packed. A medium rare order takes about eight minutes to cook on the restaurant's chrometop griddle, then cheese and bacon are added in the last 30 seconds of cooking, and then the burger is flashed in a salamander before being plated.
The Cadillac comes standard with American cheese, Bibb lettuce, plum tomatoes, a kosher dill pickle spear, and a thick sliver of white Spanish onion on a Arnold hamburger bun, which the chef refers to as the "glove." Of all those toppings, the onion is still set underneath the burger, a practice that dates back to a time when the sandwich was served on a paper plate. According to DeFonzo this placement servedtwo purposes: "it perfectly scents the bun with the onion flavor,and, because the burger is so juicy, it stops the bun getting too soggy." Although the restaurant has now switched to ceramic plates, the practice remains as "a tip of the hat" to tradition. Look through the slideshow above and see how the Cadillac is prepared.