The Burgers of Davis County 

Thin patties deliver big flavor'and that’s no whopper.

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Lured in part by the scent of grease wafting through the air, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Davis County lately. And I’ve struck black'well, brown'gold.

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You see, Davis County'and Layton in particular'is the burger capital of Utah. Yes, I know about you and your beloved Crown burgers. But I’ll put my Big Ben or Country Burger up against a Crown Burger or, yes, even an In-N-Out Burger, any day.

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In the beginning, there was Pace’s Dairy Ann in Wood’s Cross. The family-run restaurant, opened half a century ago by Gordon Pace, begot my favorite Pace family eatery: Pace’s Drive-In on Main Street in Layton. Chad Pace'Gordon’s grandson'runs the Layton and Clearfield Pace’s, but unlike Burger King, McDonald’s or Wendy’s, these are not cookie-cutter burger joints. Each is unique in that unlike most chain restaurants, the meat used for burgers is fresh, not frozen. Even the onion rings are made from scratch daily. Nothing is precooked. The proof is in the flavor.

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Since the three guys in front of me on my first visit to Pace’s Drive-In ordered it, I opted for a Country Burger and headed for one of the outside picnic tables to unwrap Pace’s second most popular seller (No. 1 is the $1.20 burger, or 5 for $5). I have no idea why the Country Burger at Pace’s Drive-In is called a Country Burger, and neither does anyone else. There is nothing country-fried, or country gravy, or country anything about a Country Burger. Except, that is, that it might very well be the best burger in the country.

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Normally, I like to sink my teeth into a thick, rare, juicy burger straight off the grill. Cheese is fine and maybe some slices of raw red onion. But that’s about it. So when I unwrapped that first Country Burger at Pace’s and saw what I’d bought, I prepared for disappointment. A Country Burger'like all of the best burgers of Davis County'is the anti-thick-and-juicy burger. But it’s fabulous.

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A Country Burger ($2.45 with cheese) begins with two thin hamburger patties. And when I say thin, I mean thin. The patties are only slightly thicker than a quarter and about the circumference of a beefsteak tomato. Stacked atop one another, they achieve maybe three-eighths of an inch in height. The meat itself isn’t the slightest bit juicy. The patties are cooked well-done, and yet have heaps of flavor, probably because they’re made fresh with no filler. They rest upon a thin, crispy layer of melted yellow cheese and are smothered in chopped lettuce, diced onion, sliced pickles, mayo, mustard and ketchup'the last of which I usually forego. It’s all wrapped up in an exceedingly neutral, thin, sesame seed bun; all the better to taste those lovely little patties and accoutrements.

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It just doesn’t get much better than a Country Burger. Except, that is, if you have the foresight to order a Coke with your burger or anything else you purchase at Pace’s; the $4.50 fried shrimp basket is a good choice, too. A Coca-Cola from the fountain at Pace’s Drive-In tastes like I remember Cokes tasting when I was a kid. The syrup-to-water ratio at Pace’s is spot-on, resulting in a rich, thick, sweet-tasting soda that’s almost impossible to find anymore. Skip the fries; they’re nothing special. But a Country Burger and a Coke at Pace’s is one of the best food-and-drink combos you’ll ever encounter.

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The Burger Stop, on Gentile Street in Layton, is straight out of Happy Days. It’s the ultimate late ’50s/early ’60s drive-in. But don’t get the wrong impression. The Burger Stop isn’t a faux rock-&-roll-era burger joint á la Johnny Rockets, ’50s Prime Time Café, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, etc. It’s the real deal. For starters, there are the auto shows. On the last Thursday of each month, the parking lot at Layton’s Burger Stop fills up with vintage rods and rides as the monthly Cruise Night gets under way. Cool cats and kittens are decked out in vintage pink and black, and the sounds of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Jerry Lee Lewis fill the air. Each of the Cruise Nights at the Burger Stop has a theme: Beach Bash, Xtreme Hod Rods, Casino Cruise and so on. If you happen to swing by the Burger Stop for October’s Cruise Night on the 25th, you’ll be treated to vintage cars, oldies music and a Halloween party to boot. Bring the kids.

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Unlike Pace’s, which is virtually atmosphere-free, the Burger Stop is decked out in chrome, red and black. The walls are filled with vintage hot-rod photos and, most important a painting of Elvis himself. Good time rock & roll fills the diner and the general gestalt of the place is Sha Na Na.

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So slick back your hair and order a Stopper ($2.89) The Stopper is roughly the same size as the Country Burger at Pace’s, except that it consists of one fresh burger patty about a quarter-inch thick and comes with lettuce, mayo, pickles and ketchup, also on a sesame-seed bun. This too, is a very good burger. I fluctuate as to whether I prefer the Stopper or the Country Burger. The Stopper is simplified, allowing to better taste the meat itself. On the other hand, the overall mélange that is the messy Country Burger makes the whole more than just the sum of its parts. Let’s call it a tossup. These are both bodacious burgers.

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I wonder sometimes how places like Pace’s and the Burger Stop manage to stay in business when forced to compete against the megafranchises'particularly when they’re selling 59-cent burgers, as the Burger Stop does every Tuesday. The only way I can account for the success of these family-owned eateries is hard work and good value.

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Now for the sad news. I’d planned to tell you all about the time-tested Big Ben burger at the Burger Bar near Hill Air Force Base. But when I stopped by to sample a Big Ben last weekend, I discovered the Burger Bar boarded up. The owners have retired after 13 years in business and the building is for sale. No doubt a Starbucks will emerge from Burger Bar’s ashes. Rest in peace, another independent American burger.

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BURGER STOP

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323 E. Gentile

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Layton

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544-8090

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PACE’S DRIVE-IN

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1090 W. 300 North

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Clearfield

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614-1392

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PACE’S DAIRY ANN

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1180 S. 500 West

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Woods Cross

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295-5192

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PACE’S

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344 N. Main

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Layton

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593-6936

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