Cap'n Dave, No one gives a damn about wineburgers. Get the picture? This one, like all of your series so far, is a big flop. Please stick to the one-shot method--that's what you're good at. Now stop sniveling or get a real job. Snades

P.S. Thanks for all the good tips over the years. About a month ago I launched what I thought would be a simple little time-killing exercise called the Wineburger Wander. The plan was to visit several local dives that serve hamburgers cooked with red wine. It was going to be a sleepwalk. In, eat, out, write. Only secondarily did I expect to learn anything significant about the wineburger itself or its local history. But the wineburger, it turns out, is bigger than all of us.

My investigation of the wino phenomenon took me from ancient Rome to 16th Street, via New York City, Chicago, Iowa, and, as expected, Mars. Readers sent me tips that led to the unraveling of the wineburger saga, a truly cool tale. Through these letters, none of which I made up, I got to meet all kinds of interesting characters, and I learned a lot about the folks--Harvey Woodrow, Tom Tarbox and others--who put Phoenix on the wineburger map. A few weeks ago I wanted an excuse to eat grilled meat in dark places. Now I'm on the cover of New Times with a salad on my head. What I've assembled here will have to serve, at least until someone else wants to do it better, as the last word in wineburger lore. So. Welcome to the Official Celebration of the Wineburger Special Section. A team of Air Force skydiving experts will be landing soon with the game ball. Then Gordie Howe will come out of retirement to sing the national anthem. Then we'll start. Dear Cap'n Dave: Your pieces about wineburgers intrigued me. I would like to enlighten you about how this got started. During the Renaissance, the chefs of Rome had a very strong guild. A part of their contract had a provision that they would be entitled to all the wine they could drink while on duty. Being true Romans, lovers of the fermented grape and not able to resist free vino, it got so that by dinnertime most of the culinary goombahs were so inebriated that they couldn't tell the difference between their Asti Spumanti and a hole in the ground.

This prompted so many complaints about the lousy food, that the senators passed a law that prohibited wine drinking by chefs while on duty. Because they had access to wine for cooking purposes, they were closely watched to ensure that they would not imbibe. Now everyone knows that chefs are a very ingenious breed and in no time at all they invented "smart wine." The way smart wine is employed (or deployed) is that whenever wine was added to the food, a bit of it was spilled on the fire. (You must remember that they didn't have grills in those days.) As the alcohol content and essence of the wine rose from the fire in a cloud of steam, they would breathe deeply. Centuries later, when grills and electricity were invented, the chefs would merely spill the wine on the grill and momentarily turn the exhaust fan off so as to get the full benefit of the "snort" without competition from the exhaust fan.

I suggest that if you check the lineage of the grill jockeys who build wineburgers, you will find an old Roman skeleton in their distant past. As you travel from joint to joint, be on the lookout for grill masters who carelessly (?) spill wine on the grill and momentarily flip the exhaust fan switch off and on again. Listen for the heavenly sighs of bliss as they inhale deeply. What really irks me about all this is, you are paying for the wine and they are having all the fun. This was related to me by an old Italian who consumed more than his share of the vino. Subsequently, he was buried beneath an old vineyard. The vines are getting even!


Romans, eh? True or not, this theory, which arrived on one of the first notes sent in from readers, sparked the beginning of my investigation. The old Italian's story seemed comparatively believable and, narrative-wise, it was a great place to start. By opening this letter, I had traced the wineburger's lineage essentially back to premodern times. My next step was to take this admittedly shaky archaeology and relate it to the wine-soaked belly bombs they're serving today over on 16th Street, the heart of the local wineburger territory. Everybody knows that Italian food has wine in it. But how did wine make the big leap to burgerdom? Fortunately, another letter came in to clarify things. Dear Cap'n Dave, In regards to how the wineburger was made, I asked a knowledgeable friend. He said that one afternoon this man (known hereafter as Bob) was having a barbecue in his back yard. While sipping a large glass of wine and attempting to flip the burgers, Bob was hit with a soccer ball by his son. He dumped his wine on the burgers and called them wineburgers. Anyhow, Bob's burgers were a raging success and he started the trend. Later, Jim Scottsdale

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Cap'n Dave