The milkbar had everything a child could wish for. We didn’t want much — it was the simple things. A visit for takeaway burgers and chips on a Friday night after Mum and Dad finished work and were too tired to cook was an adventure!
Milkbars were pretty much the only shop you could guarantee would throw open the doors on the weekend when trading was permitted, and for a kid growing up in those times that was pretty exciting — and terribly important too.
In the searing heat of a Sydney summer, when my brother and I could barely walk up the steep hill to our local shops, we did so, dragging our little bodies under a scorching sun, knowing we’d find sweet relief at the milkbar. Then we’d burn off the sugar high with a run under the sprinkler.
As a teenager, the milkbar was just as important. It sustained us with portable treats for dawn-until-dusk beach days in the summer holidays, and was an inadvertent meeting place for boys and girls – a glance in our direction from a group of young surfers playing the ‘pinnies’ was enough to send us into blushing fits of giggles. As a surfer, football player and a travelling sales rep, my dad knew every milkbar from the city to the most northern tip of Sydney, and he wasn’t shy about sharing his knowledge. He knew which one whizzed up the best shakes, who grilled the tastiest burgers and who used the sweetest fruit in their pineapple crush.
Beef Burger with ‘the lot’
500g good-quality minced (ground) beef, with decent marbling olive oil, for pan-frying
1 small onion, finely sliced
4 pineapple rings, either fresh or tinned in natural syrup (optional)
4 streaky bacon rashers cut in half
4 small eggs
120g cheese (I like mild cheddar or edam for this burger), sliced 3-4 mm thick
4 hamburger buns, split in half
Softened butter, for spreading
Lettuce leaves or shreds
4 slices ripe tomato
4 slices cooked beetroot (beet)
Tomato sauce or Barbecue sauce for drizzling
Divide the beef into four equal amounts. Lightly compact each into a ball, then flatten each ball between squares of baking paper until they are about 6mm thick and 13cm in diameter. They may seem large, but will shrink a little on cooking.
Heat a little oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Gently sauté the onion over medium–high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until dark golden. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
If using fresh pineapple slices, give each side a good flash over high heat in the same frying pan until they are hot through and a little charred on the edges. If using tinned pineapple, just quickly warm through on each side. Cover and keep warm.
Meanwhile, put the bacon in another non-stick frying pan and cook over medium–high heat until it is as crisp as you like it, then remove from the pan and keep warm.
Cook the eggs in the bacon fat, over medium heat, until the whites are set and the yolks are still a little runny — or to your desired doneness. Remove to a warmed plate and keep warm.
Carefully wash out both frying pans. Heat your grill (broiler) to high so it is ready and waiting for your buns.
Return the clean frying pans to a fairly high heat and brush liberally with oil. When the pans are hot, season the burger patties on one side with fine sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and cook two patties, seasoned side down, in each pan for about 80 seconds, or until well browned. Season the tops of the patties and flip them over, then top with the cheese slices and cook for a further 70 seconds. Do be careful not to cook the patties longer, as the beef can very quickly dry out. This timing yields a nice, juicy, flavoursome patty.
While the patties are cooking, pop the cut side of your burger buns under the hot grill until very lightly toasted. Butter the buns and place the bottom halves on your work surface. Top each with a little lettuce, a slice of tomato, slice of beetroot, and pineapple, if using.
As soon as the burger patties are cooked, place them, cheese side up, on top of the pineapple. Divide the sautéed onion over the patties, then top with the bacon and the eggs. Give each a good squirt of tomato or barbecue sauce and top with the bun lids.
Serve immediately, with hot chips if desired.