When we’re looking for a good, simple restaurant in a city, we ask a cabbie. When we want to find a diner on the road, we ask a trucker. Truckers approve of Emma Jean’s Holland Burger, a well-preserved mid-century roadside eatery on old Route 66. It has stayed in the family for generations — true to its mission of serving huge portions of homespun comfort food.
Many come for breakfast, which is all the classics done well. Ham steak is an especially good way to go. The size of a hubcap, juicy, and griddle-toasty, it delivers eye-opening levels of salt. That makes it a good boost for the somewhat restrained biscuits and gravy.
Breakfasts come with unusual potatoes dubbed “country fries.” Somewhere between hash browns and home fries, they are fluffy and not as crisp as typical breakfast potatoes.
Our favorite breakfast item: Brian cakes, which are large buttermilk pancakes made with thick batter. They are just sweet enough, but also capture a taste of salt from the griddle.
Breakfast is satisfying enough, but the main reason to detour to Emma Jean’s is to eat a Brian Burger. It is a thick patty of coarsely ground beef sandwiched between Texas toast that has been encrusted with Parmesan cheese and grilled golden. The burger is topped with an Ortega chili and four slices of gooey white cheese that melt into a lovely sauce that makes mayonnaise seem vulgar. The cheese is advertised as Swiss, but is really a white American melting cheese: ideal for a burger, holding this one together both literally and figuratively. The Brian burger belongs on every burger hunter’s hit list.
Another great application of gooey white cheese is the Trucker’s Sandwich. This is crisp, fried-to-order bacon, Ortega chili, lots of the cheese, and house-made tri-tip roast beef. The beef tastes somewhere between pot roast and typical sandwich roast beef, the meat tender and tasting faintly of celery. The sandwich comes on golden griddled sourdough cut into three sections.
The Brian burger and Trucker Sandwich come with fries, but onion rings are better. They are memorable sandwiches, a good showcase of Chef Brian’s decades of master griddle work.