There I Was...#23
Published on October 27, 2007 By Big Fat Daddy In Misc
I went to Transportation Corps Senior NCO Course (ANOC) at Fort Eustis Virginia in the fall of 1981. I had been in Germany for more than four years and fully intended to plunge into all the neat stuff you can't get in Germany. The night I arrived I made the mistake of turning on the TV in my BOQ room and discovered cable. In Germany there was one channel (US). When I had left the States, there were three channels and no cable...on this system there were at least 60 channels. I stood there mesmerized for hours flipping from one channel to another. The next day I fell in with some other NCOs who had come in from Germany and we headed to town to get lunch. We stopped at the first burger joint we came to, I am pretty sure it was Burger King, and dove into American burgers. The discussion drifted into comparisons to other burger places and pretty soon we made it our mission to determine who had the best burgers. Over the next few months, we ate at every chain and local lunch room in Denby, Hampton and surrounding areas. We each had a favorite and we argued the merits of the ones we tested.

When school was over and we headed back to Germany, we still hadn't come to a consensus. I got "home" to Stuttgart and after a couple of days rest, got settled back into my routine work schedule. One late-morning shortly after I got back I invited MamaCharlie to join me for lunch at the AAFES snack bar. Patch Barracks is a small place, I'm guessing mayber 40 to 50 acres , if that much. We lived close to the snack bar and it was about half way between my office and home. We met, went through the line, selected our burgers and fries and drinks and sat at a table and began to talk and eat and enjoy each other's company. After about two bites I stopped chewing and looked at my selection...a double AAFES burger with cheese...and realized it was the best burger I had eaten in the last three months. After all the searching and testing and arguing and evaluating...the "hometown burger" from the Army and Air Force Exchange System Snack Bar was the best, no contest.

I thought of this the other day as I was sitting here jonesing for a cheeseburger that someone else made and I thought back over the years to when it was I first had an AAFES burger. As a pre and young teen in Yokosuka, Japan, there was a snack bar and a malt shop where you could get two burgers, fries and a cherry shake for about twenty cents. But that was Navy Exchange. I figure my first AAFES was in basic training. But in basic we didn't get out much...l am not even sure I had a burger until Advanced Individual Training...still at Fort Ord...at the snack bar across from the monster motor pool.

But it wasn't until I got to Bad Kissingen that I became a fan of the snack bar burgers. We rarely got hamburgers in the Mess Hall and when we did they were dried up little hockey pucks. We had a great enlisted men's club, named the "Dew Drop Inn" (now ain't THAT original !). They had a menu that had three items on it, each cost a dollar. Shrimp, Sirloin, or Two Burgers and fries. A beer was 15 cents and a shot was a quarter. But most of us preferred the burgers at the snack bar, two burgers, fries and a coke for about 75 cents. And they were good. So was the chili. The snack bar always had a pot of chili on the stove, 15 cents for a bowl...they had a bowl of those rehydrated onions and a plate full of crackers on the counter. On a cold day you couldn't go wrong with that chili. You could get a burger or a hot dog and a bowl of chili, cross level the chow and have some serious warm 'em up meals.

There came a point in the eighties when Burger King got the contract to modernize all the snack bars in Europe, a pilot program that was so successful that they opened it up to the Army world wide. In the late eighties, while stationed at Baumholder, there was actually both a Burger King and an AAFES snack bar open at the same time. My favorite lunch was a double AAFES burger with cheese, onion rings, a chocolate shake and a Stars & Stripes to read while I sat in my favorite booth and listened to the video juke box playing..."Wild, Wild, West..."...somebodies' Got a Big Ole Butt" and other classics.

I don't know if there are any more snack bars in the system...I think the King has taken over completely. Too bad. 'Cause King or no King...the AAFES Burger was the best.

on Oct 27, 2007
The Department of Defense invited McDonalds, and Wendy's to bid into this project of modernizing the AAFES snack bars and they declined...for what ever reason. Burger King (who half the country had never heard of in 1979) jumped at the chance and within a few short years they had increased their business tremendously. After seeing the success BK was having, the other joints chimed in claiming it was unfair and they should get a shot at the military market. DOD said too bad, boys, you had your chance. While at Leonard Wood in the middle eighties I got to know the manager of the main post BK. He told me that the store he managed was consistantly the highest grossing BK store in the state of Missouri...Number two was the BK that was at the other end of post. Here at Ft Carson there are three BKs and they are always busy. Too bad they don't make an AAFES burger.
on Oct 27, 2007

Now see, I have to dispute this best burger stuff a bit.  I've had some burgers from places where you wouldn't necessarily expect the burgers to be that good that have been excellent.  Places known for other foods, etc.

Fast food burger wise, my money is on Cheeburger Cheeburger.  I never get a bad burger there.  Never dried out, over done, too crispy to bite into, etc.  Cooked to order, and perfect for me every time. 

on Oct 27, 2007
Mmm.... Cheeburger Cheeburger ... good stuff. A little pricey for my budget though.

I can remember when Burger King moved into Europe. And all the fuss a little place called Katterbach Army Airfield went through because it had the first BK on an Army post. Place is STILL there. And still looks the same way it did 20+ years ago when it went in. I lived in government quarters there in Katterbach, at the time.

Last time I was in Germany (admittedly, it was 5 or 6 years ago now), there were a couple AAFES snack bars running around. Not many, though. They've mostly been replaced with fast food type places (Robin Hood and crew) instead of the traditional snack bar feel. Even if they're CALLED Snack Bars, they're not the same beast.

For the price, the food was good.
on Oct 27, 2007
The best cheeseburger I ever had came from an auction. My grandpa used to go there every Thursday to buy junk. in the summer when I didn't have school, I'd get to go with him. And after the junk buying was over, we'd go to the kitchen and get a cheeseburger. That was some good stuff. Maybe it was just who I was eating with?
on Oct 27, 2007
Maybe it was just who I was eating with?

There just may be something to that Marcie, hanging with grandpa makes everything better...

Now see, I have to dispute this best burger stuff a bit.

Go ahead...I never said which of the fast food joints I picked as best...only that each of us had a favorite and when I got back to Germany I found that AAFES fit my taster better than the fast food chains at home. Taste is a very subjective thing..take a look at what people wear around in public to verify that. So enjoy you favorite and mo pow to ya. My youngest thinks them soy things are the best...is there a symbol for "shudder"?

Even if they're CALLED Snack Bars, they're not the same beast.

There ya go. I have been in the food court at the Carson PX and it just ain't the same. My favorite was the little snack bar on Coleman Bks in Mannheim. Not the big one by the PX but the little one between the Infantry Battalions over by Brigade HQ. Small, cosy, warm in the winter...best fried bologna and cheese sandwiches on earth.
on Oct 28, 2007

Mmm.... Cheeburger Cheeburger ... good stuff. A little pricey for my budget though.

5 guys! Best one around!

And another gem!  Thanks for sharing.

on Oct 30, 2007

That's why I love eating at bars. They make their money on booze, not food, so you buy the food far cheaper there than anyplace else.

'round here we have great hamburgers at the local drugstore for 99 cents each on Saturdays...with a bag of chips. Cheeseburgers go for $1.49. It's cheap eats when we take the kids out. Where else can a family of 8 fill up for $20?
on Oct 30, 2007
at the Capitol Ale House.

we have great hamburgers at the local drugstore

5 guys!

an auction

I guess I should have been more specific. There are a lot of really good burgers available in all kinds of places. What we were primarily testing was the fast food genre. Admittedly we sampled other places and we found some goodies. The officer's club on Ft Eustis does a great burger...and the Navy CPO club at Norfolk does even better. But thanks for all the input. I think you will all agree when I say that sometimes nothing else will do...gotta have a double fat burger with cheese and a little extra grease on the bun, please.