The Chuckbox in Tempe is crazy-friggin'-good — but then, you already knew that. What you may not know, supervisor Paul Marquardt does. He's worked at the simple, trend-resistant, survivor of a burger joint for 371/2 of its 38 years, starting when he was a "Mill Avenue punk looking for a job." Here's Marquardt on 10 things you didn't know about the Chuck:
1. They were rejected by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: "I talked to a research guy a couple of years ago. He said a lot of people said they should visit us, but I guess we just weren't that interesting to them."
2. For the first 18 years, it was all burgers: "About 20 years ago, we went crazy and put a chicken breast on the menu. Then 10 years ago, we added a garden burger. Oh, and chicken strips. Other than that, same food."
202 East University Drive, Tempe
3. The secret? Mesquite charcoal: "Not too many other places do charcoal. Most use a flat-top or gas grill. Charcoal is expensive and hard to work with, but we think it's worth it."
4. The must-order Tijuana Torpedo is a mystery: "It's been there from the beginning. No one knows who named it or who created it. It's two patties with jalapeño jack cheese inside and a green chile on top."
5. The owner, Frank, is strictly low-profile: "He'd shoot me if I gave anything more than his first name. He's like a cross between Letterman and Carson — smart and funny. He was doing the grill-in-front-of-you thing since the beginning."
6. The staff's been there forever, including general manager Ponce (32 years), who, when I asked him what he liked, he replied, "Girls": "Our 'rookie' has been here five years. Big Juan, one of the cooks, 30 years; Tony the busser, 23 years."
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7. They used to have a salad bar: "The carnivores didn't care too much for it."
8. The deep-fried zucchini, mushrooms, beer-battered onion rings, and fries are frozen: "I'd like to tell you they're done here, but they're not. Now you're going to print that and no one's gonna want them anymore." (Not a chance. Get the zucchini.)
9. They use "Magic Dust": "It's our secret recipe of spices that you see the cooks shaking onto the burgers. They've used it since the beginning and no one knows where it came from."
10. No, there will not be a Chuckbox food homage to Town Lake's dam bust: "But, hey, now you've got me thinkin' about it."