We’re famous! Or, our twin city to the north is….well, at least one old restaurant in it is. I went to MSN.ca the other day, and there was an article about Harmony Lunch. Still in its original building on the main street of Waterloo, ON, this eatery has been in business for 83 years, passed from father to son, to grand-daughter.
Opened at the beginning of The Great Depression, it is typical of 1930’s diners, which means that it is very un-typical for it to still be in business. The heart of its appeal, the thing that got it going then, and keeps it going now, is that, the staple of its menu is pork burgers with fried onions. The writer of the article said that they were made with ham, but there’s lots of parts of a pig that ain’t ham.
Always cheaper than beef, the patties are made with ground pork. They are fried by the dozen on an old flat gas grill, right beside the sliced onions which are constantly replaced, and fried all day, in the pork fat, till they are tasty and caramelized. The place goes though a fifty-pound bag of onions a day, obtained from local Mennonite farmers. The split buns are given a quick toast at the edge of the grill, and then this delicious concoction is assembled.
Before the son achieved full-time employment, I would take him out for lunch each week I was on afternoons. A couple of times we wound up here. Long-time residents of the Twin Cities know about the place, and keep it busy. It’s an un-liquor-licenced, family restaurant. Within walking distance of both the Universities, the place doesn’t advertise. The owner says that many students don’t know that it exists, or head for trendier eateries, but once they get dragged in by friends or family, he sees the same young faces regularly.
The lean, mean automotive world operates on a just-in-time system, and deliveries must be guaranteed. When I worked at the auto-parts stamping shop, normal problems sometimes caused production delays, which in turn caused Saturday overtime work. If any of my eight underlings had to work, I was expected to be present to supervise. As the Purchasing Agent, I couldn’t call anyone, but there was always some paperwork which needed to be cleaned up.
The company president also showed up, and, about ten o’clock would ask each worker how many of these gorgeous Harmony Burgers they wanted for lunch. Depending on the size of the necessary crew, he would phone in an order for 30 or 40, or 50, and arrange to have them delivered to the plant. I can’t say that he was a kind, thoughtful, caring boss, just that he was cynical enough to know that he should appear to be.
In one of his how-to-be-an-asshole boss instruction sessions with me, he taught me how to get an unwanted change made. First you start a rumor about something that’s far worse than what you want to achieve. Then you let the workers stew about it for a few days. Tell them on Monday that, the next Monday, when they come to work, you’re going to cut off both their hands and feet. Let them worry about it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, you tell them, that you’re only going to cut off their left big toe. They’re so happy that that is all they’re losing, that they go along with it willingly. What a sweetheart! I miss him….as much as I possibly can. Oh yeah, asshole long enough and hard enough equals dead asshole.
I usually had two burgers at the plant, but, at the end of the day, there were inevitably a few left over. I got to take these home for the wife and kids. We joke that we can’t take the wife anywhere to eat, because she will figure out how to make the same food as well, or better. Even though she was born and raised in Waterloo, the wife has never been to Harmony Lunch. Despite that, based only on the leftovers, she has developed our own version. I had a leftover one for lunch today before I decided to start this post.
It might not be the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices, but there’s obviously a recipe for them. Other than ground pork instead of beef, we mix them as we do regular hamburgers, bread crumbs for filler, an egg for binder, salt, pepper, mesquite powder or liquid for tang, and some Worcestershire Sauce. They make theirs thin, like a Big Mac single patty. We make ours twice that thick.
To go with six burgers, for three people, I fry up two Sweet or Spanish onions, as big as melons. It takes at least an hour and a half to render down a huge frying pan full of raw onion to a soup-bowl full of delicious condiment. Add some mustard and sweet relish, on a lightly toasted bun, and you’ve I’ve got a meal that’ll stick to my ribs….and a lot of other places on this bowl-full-of-jelly body.
It’s nice to see a local business get some national recognition. They must be doing something right, to have lasted for 83 years. I hope that there is another generation to carry on the tradition. I wish them another 83 years, although my cholesterol levels won’t let me stick around to see it. It’s a good thing there was only the one burger left at lunch, but now I’m hungry again. You guys talk among yourselves while I go raid the fridge.