Friday, December 19, 2008

American Fast Food

Some months ago while watching a couple of Japanese students excitedly buy hot dogs on the UC Berkeley campus I got to thinking. I realized that this American fast food staple, is the kind of food that I and many other Bay Area bloggers ignore and or even turn our noses up at. Most blogs round these parts are about local, organic food eaten by the Bay Area's comfortable. You're more likely to read gushing posts about relatively expensive "farmers market goodies!" replete with gratuitous food pornography than write ups about the stuff eaten by regular folks. Just so we understand each other: I've done posts about my garden vegetables, my fancy juicer, and my obsession with coffee. I do love all of these things, but I'm also interested in other aspects of American food culture besides my personal tastes and outside my immediate comfort zone.

People the world over often associate American food with fast food. While I've tried to convince many people there is in fact more to American food than this, you can certainly understand why people think this way. Fast food giants like McDonald's and Burger King first caught on in America, then branched out to many many other countries. While I don't really have a problem with fast food, I do find it discouraging that the fast food giants have often all but snuffed out their more unique predecessors. The fast food you get on the west coast of America, is the same all the way across this massive country, and often much the same across an ocean. Needless to say that it wasn't always this way, and in a few places, you can still get a glimpse of what things used to be like. That's what I want to look at today.

In Oakland, California there are a few old time fast food joints are still holding on. It's like a step into the past. The sign from above belongs to Giant Burgers. A fast food joint from maybe the 50's or 60's that still displays their sign advertising their 1/4 pound burger. This was obviously put up before the quarter pounder became the norm, and long before the double quarter pounder began killing people or at least making American people fatter than other people.

I often wonder how this 24 hour a day joint stays open. They probably do well with the late night crowd.

Giant Burger
22nd and Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94612

Giant Burgers has a number of locations.

Here's another Giant Burgers on 25th and San Pablo. The menu includes all your favorites plus barbecue items such as hot links and ribs.

Giant Burger
(between Athens Ave & Mead Ave)
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 452-2984

Another curiosity on upper telegraph in the Temescal Neighborhood is Original Kasper's Hot Dogs.

Original Kasper's closed in 2003 for maintenance and has remained closed ever since. This odd little building and business served the good folks of North Oakland for over 60 years. Closing their doors has made us all poorer.

NPR's Living on Earth did a story about Kasper's back in 2003 and it's a fascinating story that gives a lot of insight into some Oakland history, class and racial issues, and a little philosophizing on the value of food made with love and care. I urge you to have a listen, and I challenge you to not get just a little nostalgic. You can find the audio program on this page. Look for "Ode to a Hot Dog Stand."Link
There exists another local fast food joint that I pass quite frequently. This place is called Caspers. Not to be confused with Kasper's with a K. Caspers has been in business since 1934 and it's a wonder that they have survived. Somehow they've carved out a niche and have nine stores in the East Bay. I recently visited Casper's on 55th and Telegraph in North Oakland for a hot dog.

Here's what the official website has to say:

Caspers Famous Hot Dogs®, the family-owned, quick serve restaurant company, has been a hot dog lover's favorite since 1934. The award winning Casper Dog with its signature "snap" is a tasty, old-fashioned style hot dog made from a street vendor recipe. Garnished with freshly cut tomatoes and onions as well as mustard and relish, this affordable delicacy is handcrafted on a feather-light, steamed bun.

I'm no expert on hot dogs or the condiment scheme, but this dog did have a lot of toppings. I found the dog a bit more rubbery than "snappy" and question whether you can call this a delicacy. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the the old fashioned interior, the simple menu, and time warp experience. A dog and small Pepsi came to $4.44.

Casper's Hot Dogs
5440 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 652-1668

To see some of these good old American fast food joints still open is a wonder to behold. While old mom and pop restaurants, drive in movie theatres, and a slew of small old timey businesses have closed, monolithic corporate establishments have often taken their place. If you're a hot dog, hamburger, or general fast food fan, do yourself a favor and try out one of the little guys if you can. Time is certainly running out.

A now closed Caspers just up the street from the recently reviewed Tacos Mi Rancho.


Alexander Santillanes said...

Yowza, those places are awesome! I love their retro-futuristic styling. -X

Dolores said...

Sigh. I miss Kaspers. I spent many an after school afternoon there growing up...

Tinman44 said...

Kaspers with the "K" was started after a splitting up of partnership. The "K" comes from the first letter in the last name of the partner who split ..KOOJOOLIAN... "Kaspers" ☺️