Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Younkers' Famous Rarebit Burger Gets a Makeover

As a kid growing up in Des Moines in the seventies downtown was the place to be. Malls weren't a thing yet, and downtown all the big department stores had huge fortress-like buildings. The streets were lined with shops and interesting places, big stores, small stores and lunch counters. The big department store in Des Moines was Younkers, and their flagship store was right in the heart of downtown.

photo from Wikipedia Commons
My mom never drove a car, so going downtown to go shopping was quite an event. We'd wait patiently for the taxi to arrive, and back in the old days taxis were built by Checker Taxi and were big! The backseat area was quite spacious and had kid seats that were round and folded down into the floor. 

photo from Wikipedia Commons
We would make the trip from our home to downtown and hit all the big stores. Sometimes we would have lunch at the King Ying Low Chinese restaurant, sometimes it would be a lunch counter and sometimes we would eat at the Younkers Tea Room.

photo from Pinterest- owner unknown
Younkers was quite an amazing place. The original dry goods store was opened in 1874 in Keokuk and later moved to downtown Des Moines in 1912. The Tea Room was opened in 1913 and became somewhat of a destination restaurant. Many many weddings, receptions and corporate events were held in that beautiful tearoom, with its gorgeous architecture and crystal chandelier. Famous for their sticky rolls and chicken salad, their real claim to fame had to be the Rarebit Burger. The Rarebit Burger was introduced to the world sometime in the 1940s and has been much loved ever since. The recipe is fairly simple- a savory cheesy rarebit sauce is ladled over a hamburger making it a rich and decadent fork and knife sandwich. Rarebit itself is a very old recipe, commonly served over toast for a lighter meal. Some brilliant chef at Younkers decided to go one big step forward and top a burger and created one of the best-loved regional foods.

You can prepare your burger however you like, but for this
recipe nothing beats a cast iron skillet.

Younkers' Famous Rarebit Sauce

1/3 cup cooking oil
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1 cup shredded American cheese

Place the oil in a saucepan, Stir together the flour, paprika, salt and mustard. Add to the oil and cook while stirring for one minute. Add the milk all at once. Continue cooking and stirring until sauce is thickened. Add remaining ingredients;  remove from heat and stir until cheese melts. Pour over prepared hamburger and bun. Makes 2 cups sauce.

Sadly, the downtown Younkers store closed in 2005 and the building was destroyed by fire in 2014, meaning the Tea Room and it's beautiful interior was lost forever. 

photo from The Des Moines Register
Now that we've talked about the rarebit sauce and burger, it's time to talk about MY version. Plain cheese sauce over a burger doesn't do much for me, and over bun top and bottom is a bit much, so I like to kick mine up with the addition of salsa and taco seasonings, changing the Rarebit Burger into a Queso Burger! 

Double-stacked cheesy spicy happiness
To make the queso sauce, melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons flour over and whisk over medium heat for a minute. Add 2 cups milk all at once, and continue whisking. Cook over medium heat until thickened. Remove from heat and add at least a cup of shredded cheese. Mild cheddar, Colby Jack, or even pepperjack cheese are all delicious. Stir until melted.

Spoon the hot queso sauce over the burger. I made double
burgers with queso between and on top of the patties.
Drain most of the liquid from 1 cup of salsa. Add to the cheese sauce and return to low heat until heated through. Use whatever heat level you like in your salsa.

Cook your burger to desired doneness and place on toasted bun bottom on a place. I made two thin burgers for each sandwich, placing one on the bun, topping with sauce, and repeating. Pour the queso sauce over and garnish with your favorite taco toppings. Toast the bun top and place it on the burger. I like to top mine with sour cream, guacamole, sliced black olives, sliced scallions and a bit more salsa. Sometimes I add a few slices of jalapeno.

You'll still need a knife and fork for this one!

1 comment:

  1. When I was a boy growing up in the 1950's I remember a little ice cream shop on Keo just north of University Ave. that had a hot fudge that was to die for years. I was able to conjure that taste up in my mind for decades, but am no longer able to do so...sadly. All hot fudge sauce varieties pale in comparison to the one I remember. Does anyone remember the name of the shop?