On the most holiest of holidays, I traveled to South Carolina to celebrate Easter at Myrtle Beach. The weather was warm, the beach was vacant and the water was ice-cold. Of course burgers were in my vacation prospectus, the question was which one? I had spent several years vacationing with family and friends in South Carolina, and this question was answered rather easily, it was Hamburger Joe’s. Joe Brooks, aka Hamburger Joe, started his restaurant career 34 years ago with a locally well-known seafood restaurant called White Point. After several years of frying fish, simmering clam chowder and filling up tartar sauce bottles, Joe decided to re-direct his fast food expertise in the form of burgers. In 1989 he opened Hamburger Joes,which he openly and honestly told me, copied after a hole in the wall burger shack, in rural North Carolina. In The Carolina’s the burgers are served with mustard-chili-slaw, or all the way-with onions. After a brief mishap where Hurricane Hugo tore off the roof, Hamburger Joes thrived, serving it’s Carolina style of burgers to locals and tourists alike.Some believe the origin of this unique topping came from the West Virginians method of hot dog makings, as they drifted down to The Carolina’s looking for employment in the early 60’s, bringing with them their mustard-chili-slaw ideals.
Joe gets his hamburger blend from Iowa beef, some say the Pat LaFrieda of the South. He adopts the smashed style burger method, and uses sharp cheddar, pressing the burgers out to a perfect 4 oz size, enabling them to neatly fit on the bun. The chili is made from Filet, Short Rib and Rib Eye trimmings from his steakhouse Joe’s Grill, along with some other secret ingredients, make for a hearty beef chili. The slaw is light and chopped fine, with minimal mayonnaise, a recipe that has stuck with him for over 34 years. The menu is cheap and simple, with hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled “Carolina”style BBQ, and a fried bologna sandwich, that may change your beliefs in processed meat. The restaurant is like a country house, wood paneling, corrugated iron roof, fireplace, neon beer signs and dollar bills draped all over the walls and ceilings, which at last count was $8000.00.
Joes hires all female servers, which many have been in his employment for many years. Joe attributes his success to simple ingredients, and a clientele that’s always in a good mood- mainly he says “Because they’re on vacation”. I sat and watched generations of families gorge on their burgers, which seem to arrive rather quickly compared to the volume of people in the room. The assembly line of burgers, sandwiches and wings were moving fast and steady, as I snuck a peek over some guys heads, as they guzzled their pints of Natty Light. The crowd was typical South Carolina, Nascar shirt wearing gents,bikers,neon-cladded woman with teased hair, and overweight, but happy golfers on a restbit from their day on the greens, loudly bragging about their supposed hole in ones.
As my back was turned, my server delivered a bevy of pleasure to my table.I ordered a cheeseburger with mustard-chili-slaw, a hamburger with lettuce,tomato,pickles and onion,and a side of crispy well-done onion rings. The cheeseburger was first of the tee, tasting rich and hearty from the chili, crunchy and zesty from the slaw. The hamburger was decent with a char-grilled smashed burger flavor, that was reminiscent for me,of its Eastern counterparts Schnippers and Petey’s. The onion rings were scrumptious, going perfectly with salt, ketchup and Texas Pete. I would imagine people who are not used to the mustard-chili-slaw combo,maybe having a problem reading this right now, but just remember there are worst things that have been eaten-I mean who would have thought that oysters would taste good!
Hamburger Joes is a great place to go while in Myrtle Beach, friendly,quick service,will sure bring a smile on that sunburnt face of yours. Be sure during weekends and holidays to bring your patience, Joes has been slinging out hamburgers to Myrtle Beach locals and tourists for over 20 years and by the lines to get in,shows no sign of stopping. I enjoyed chatting with Joe Brooks, aka Hamburger Joe, to be in the presence of such a South Carolinian burger founder was a definite high light in my burger quest.