Last of the Big Bucks Burgers
There was no burger like the Big Bucks Burger. In this, our Best Burgers issue, I’m reminded of a classic hamburger that didn’t make it back after Hurricane Katrina. It was the specialty item at Michael’s Mid-City Grill, located at the corner of Canal and N. David streets. Most of the fare on the menu consisted of sandwiches, grilled chicken dishes, salads and daily featured items – all at moderate prices – but then there was the Big Bucks Burger.
Its price increased gradually through the years but it started at $100. For your money you would get a burger and baked potato, just like what you could get for $7, but also caviar and a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. Plus, a photograph would be taken of you and and your party. It would be framed and hanged on Michael’s wall – a Big Bucks Burger eater’s hall of fame. Gradually the wall was filled with what must have been thousands of dollars worth of pictures. Some were particularly notable: The very first photo was that of Archie Casbarian, at the time the owner of Arnaud’s restaurants where the restaurant’s namesake once worked. Another photograph was of a man, wearing a bright red shirt, spending his late night with his family before shipping off to federal prison. Ironically the pursuit of big bucks had done him in.
It was whispered that the woman who had ordered a Big Bucks Burger, as pictured in one photograph, did so shortly before committing suicide. Most of the many pictures, however, were of happy occasions: people falling in love, celebrating milestones or just having a big night.
I will confess that I ordered a Big Bucks Burger several times, though always in jest. “I’ll have a dozen Big Bucks to go,” I would tell the server before quickly changing my order. In the back of my mind though, I did sincerely hope to order a Big Bucks one day when, as I told myself, “my ship comes in.” Unfortunately for most of that time, that ship, at least in reference to my career, was in unchartered water and never near homeport.
In 2003 and ’04, when part of Canal Street was closed for construction of the streetcar line, Michael’s was hit hard.
Katrina was a knockout blow. Today Café Minh, an elegant Vietnamese/Asian fusion restaurant occupies the space where Michael’s once was. The décor is totally different, but neighbors who remember Michael’s can still visualize the line of cozy booths and there is, in my mind, always an echo of the refrain of “Day-O” from Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat” song that I played many times on the jukebox. Because it’s a gourmet restaurant, Café Minh is pricier than Michael’s was – but nothing matches the Big Bucks burger in cost. If the chef ever considers Big Bucks spring rolls I’m in … at least once my ship arrives.