There’s a dangerous cult forming in London, one more pervasive than Mormonism and faster growing than Scientology. It’s based around the burger and it has the potential to have the entire city looking larger than that family off Jamie’s Food Revolution if left unchecked. Its followers worship a shadowy team of flesh fryers called The Meat Wagon that hold rallies in London several times a month and supposedly serve burgers so good you’ll fall in a catatonic state and never eat anything else. Kind of like the Infinite Jest of the fast food world.
I tracked them down at last weekend’s Towpath Festival (based around the canalside Towpath café) and found a sinister-looking trailer full of guys in camouflage aprons and dog tags. One was squeezing minced beef into a plastic bag while another squirted water onto a hot plate amid a fog of steam and chilli pepper vapours. A woman next to a coconut shell pirate face told us tales of jalapeño reductions and a queue of people that looked like Hot Chip stretched back into the road.
We waited 20 minutes for a ticket and a further 45 for our order to come through, during which time the men practised their dark arts, steaming Kraft cheese over the crumbly meat patties under metal bowls, sprinkling salt across the hotplate, lacing basic buns with French’s mustard and, erm, dancing to Tenacious D. (Yep, the boss singing ‘Fuck Her Gently’ while slicing baps kind of ruined the illusion). Everyone in the queue seemed to know them, or know of them, or had been touched by them, and had tales to tell of their globetrotting in search of the perfect burger – the elusive quest for fast food Nirvana.
Ours came through at 5pm, by which time they’d sold out (they’d only been open two hours). We tucked in. Somewhere in the background my Californian girlfriend was muttering about preferring In N Out, about not having to wait an hour for a burger, about Animal Style fries, and about other stuff, but I was in a trance. The loose meat fragments were going straight to my brain, the fake plastic cheese settling on my synapses and rendering resistance a distant dream. I was being converted. Somewhere in the back of my mind I could vaguely remember my previous beliefs – that a great burger needs decent (non-Kraft) cheese and an elaborate bun – but that life was slipping fast. There was no going back now.
All Hail The Meat Wagon. The Meat Wagon Is Great.