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Tasting History at Bob's Big Boy, Burbank, CA

"Bob's Big Boy is historically significant and in its day was truly revolutionary, inspiring a slew of imitators, most notably McDonald's iconic Big Mac."

The burger at Bob's Big Boy has been made the same way since before the current restaurant was built in 1949. The origins of the sandwich date back to Bob Wian's original restaurant called Bob's Pantry near Glendale. The story goes that a group of musicians asked for something different than the standard hamburger. Wian became inspired to cut a regular bun into three rather than two slices and stuff two patties into it. The name "Big Boy" came later on when a rotund child walked in and Wian greeted him with a friendly, "Hello big boy." The name was soon applied to the double decker sandwich, which had become so popular that it was prominently emblazoned on the front of the restaurant.

Bready and saucy is probably the best way I can describe the sandwich. The prototype might have been carved from a normal bun, but the current incarnation clearly has a custom loaf that could easily contain a massive 10-ounce patty—or two undersized ones, as is the case with the classic Big Boy Burger, which holds two relatively thin patties totaling only five ounces. I can't help but feel that if the sandwich were introduced today it would be a colossal failure, the beef-to-bun ratio being so skewed in favor of the latter.

As if the voluminous bread weren't enough to overpower the beef, there is also an excessive amount of tomato relish slathered on the top patty. While it does nothing to offend—it's quite ketchup-like with a mild sweetness—it further obscures the already elusive beef flavor. The loss of flavor is a shame since the patty, despite being cooked through, had a pleasing fresh chuck flavor and was quite tender, if not overly juicy. It actually tasted far better than it looked, which was sort of like a pale pork breakfast sausage with a very crispy, almost burnt, circumference. The bottom deck is topped with a slice of cheese (you will barely notice it), shredded lettuce, and "special sauce."

The combo comes with a salad (I don't know why you would need this, as there is lettuce on the burger) and some very good, golden skin-on fries.But don't miss the enormous classic-style milkshakes that come in the metal tumblers that they are blended in. The shakes aren't overly thick—you can easily sip them with a straw—nor are they too sweet, almost as if no syrup is added to the milk. In other words, they do the opposite of modern, fast food milkshakes. The result is a creamy, rich experience that allows the vanilla flavor to come through.

While I'm glad I ate the original Big Boy, I probably wouldn't order one again—it's just not beefy enough. Fortunately, there's a more contemporary version of the sandwich on the menu that offers the same bread with twice the beef and cheese called the Super Big Boy. While I have yet to try one, I imagine it is probably very good, perhaps fulfilling the double decker concept's true potential. Having said that, I have tremendous respect for the original sandwich. It is historically significant and in its day was truly revolutionary, inspiring a slew of imitators, most notably McDonald's iconic Big Mac.

But like Bob Hope International Airport, the Big Boy Sandwich is an anachronism. No one would design a sandwich with so much bread these days any more than they would build a small airport like Burbank in the shadow of LAX. Despite this, I am comforted that the Big Boy still exists, virtually unchanged, allowing us to quite literally "taste history."


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