In the early 1940's, Miller South Dakota was subjected to an addictive product that young and old alike could not resist. The pusher of this mind-altering substance was a lady named Betty Kramps, and she sold her wares without guilt at a place called the Pantry Lunch. My dad introduced me to the wonderful woman who cooked the hamburgers that everyone was hooked on. Betty had an everybody's-mother look about her that added to the appeal of the ten-stool café. I still don't know her flavor secret which caused all who indulged in these wonderful burgers to have such strong cravings for more.
Betty used her silver spatula to flatten the beef patties so you could almost read a newspaper through them, and the aged grill curled the edges to a crisp brown. The buns were placed on the grill to soak up a little grease and get toasted to perfection. I ordered mine with mustard and pickles or sometimes just dipped it in catsup. I added an onion when I was older and had become an experienced customer.
On Saturday nights a local man named Les Croll donned a white shirt, rolled up his sleeves and worked the grill to allow Betty to serve her blue ribbon chili and burger combination. The farmers and town folk alike lined up to place their orders for this never to be forgotten treat. The place had a jukebox but it was seldom played and just remained idle while the customers enjoyed the food and conversation.
My Navy career gave me the opportunity to travel the country, and I devoted some time in search of a duplicate of those delicious hamburgers that Betty served at the Pantry Lunch, but I failed to locate even a close substitute. McDonalds, Wendy's and Jack-in-the-Box would be even more prosperous if they could find the secret of Betty's burgers.
When I returned to Miller, South Dakota and discovered the Pantry Lunch had gone out of business, I suffered withdrawal symptoms and the habit has never left me. Oh Boy, I wish I had one of Betty's masterpieces right now.
© 2003 Maurice Karst
Early-day photo shows where Pantry Lunch was later located.
Gus agrees completely with Morrie on these terrific burgers! He recalls it was the place to go after the Saturday night movie for a Betty's Burger, a big bowl of chili and a large glass of the coldest milk. He believes the cost was about 50˘ or less. Is that correct, Morrie??
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