Sandwiches can mean so many different things to so many different people. A PB&J can be very nostalgic. A hotdog can put you right back in the ballpark. A sandwich from leftover turkey the Friday after Thanksgiving can warm a heart just like a mother’s hug. Then there are Roman Sammies like the Red-Headed Stranger that make you do a back-flip, rip off your shirt, grow a mustache, and howl at the Harvest Moon.
I got the best present of my life early Christmas morning when I was four years old. Like many other kids that grew up in the 90s, I had to wait impatiently in the hallway while my parents tried to figure out how to put the VHS in the camcorder without taping over the latest episode of Seinfeld that they had to miss because they were taking my oldest sister to her peewee cheerleading practice.
Normally, we were not allowed to enter the room until the camcorder was properly placed to capture the look of pure joy on our faces when we saw the little bit of Michelangelo on our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toothbrush rearing its head in the opening of our stockings. This particular year I had the great fortune of accidentally getting on my sister’s shoulders and straining my neck around the corner to coincidentally catch a glimpse of a bicycle wheel when my Dad slid through the cracked door to get a backup tape from the closet. Finally, the suspense was over. I was getting my very own bicycle. No longer was I going to be spinning out on my Batman Big Wheel plastic tires.
I had been desperately wanting a bike. It was hard to hold back my excitement. I knew what a bicycle was—I asked for it. I knew that my life had reached a whole new level of freedom with my own means of transportation, but nothing could prepare me for this bike. That door opened, I bull-rushed past my sisters, and there it stood. There before me was my wildest dreams manifested. My bike was a black, two-wheeler completely covered in brightly-colored flame patterns. It blew away any expectations I had of what a toy could be. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It would be sometime later, but I got to relive this experience all over again when I ate a Red-Headed Stranger.
The Red-Headed Stranger’s origins stem from a Harvest Moon Café special on a weekend that Willie Nelson was in town for a concert. The idea was to create a burger that Willie would want if he came into the restaurant late at night after his concert—but what was created was a burger that the whole world should want at any time of any day.
The Red-Headed Stranger experience all begins the first moment you walk off the street into Harvest Moon. The whimsical ambience puts off a vibe right out of the gun that says, “This ain’t your Mama’s southern restaurant!” Hidden in the menu full of comfort foods taken outside their comfort zone is a hamburger with some spunk. A Black Angus patty, wicked pimina cheese, BACON, onion straws, and candied jalapenos—sounds exactly like my kind of sandwich. After ordering, I sit back and anxiously await what I am sure is going to be one of my favorite sandwiches ever. But, just like with my flame bike at four, my expectations have yet to reach the creativity of Harvest Moon.
I see the sandwich come up in the kitchen window and my jaw drops. As the server walks the sandwich over, everyone in the restaurant is suddenly aware of the Red-Headed Stranger’s presence. Patrons are leaning out of their booths to get a better look mouthing the words “what is that?” but no sound is heard over the Jock Jams soundtrack that seems to radiate out of the RHS’s buns. I sit and stare at the burger for a while, partly out of admiration and partly because I am unsure even how to begin eating such a massive sandwich. Eventually, I settle on what I have discovered to be the best strategy, and that is just diving in head-first with no strategy at all. One bite and I am like a four-year-old blazing through the neighborhood on a bike with flames with no regard to training wheels or speed limits.
The beauty of this sandwich is that I would gladly order each ingredient by itself. The beef is perfectly cooked. You should have no reservations when eating this sandwich so be prepared to order it medium-rare or medium. The wicked pimina cheese is drool-worthy. It has a great sharpness of cheddar along with a mellow creaminess. Throw in some chipotle spice and your taste buds explode. The bacon tastes like bacon, which is the highest compliment a food can receive. It is thick-cut and crispy enough for texture, but tender enough for flavor. The onion straws add a saltiness that begs for another bite. The candied jalapenos are the rock star. A perfect spice from the peppers with the sweetest sweetness plugs the Red-Headed Stranger into some amps to really rock out. The sandwich is sweet, salty, meaty, cheesy, gooey, yummy, and every other thing good that could be in a hamburger. It is all you ever wanted, and it is all you never knew you wanted.
I would not describe the Red-Headed Stranger as a sandwich, hamburger, or even food—it is an experience. It is the experience of riding on your first roller coaster that goes completely upside down. It is singing Bruce Springsteen at the top of your lungs with the windows rolled down. You know that empty feeling in your gut you get when jumping off the high dive? It is like that, but the emptiness is filled with a delicious sandwich. In my opinion, the Red-Headed Stranger experience should be the biggest tourist attraction in the area.
This sandwich has a swagger and appeal that will draw you back over and over again. Every time a friend comes to visit, I take them to the Harvest Moon Café or the Moon Roof Bar and order for them. They always thank me. The Red-Headed Stranger is the experience of waking up on Christmas morning to a bicycle covered in flames. This Roman Sammie is the loudest and the coolest. In a city with a full house of great sandwiches, the Red-Headed Stranger is the Uncle Jesse.
Whatever you are doing, stop right now. It is not important. Go eat this sandwich.
Try one for yourself:
Harvest Moon Café
234 Broad St
Rome, Ga 30161