I often read that food is love, but it’s also memory. I used to remember the names of tiny towns and colorful locals through the many photos I took, but I eventually discovered that my stomach had a better memory than either my brain or my camera. If I think back to a fantastic whole hog sandwich at the Skylight Inn or that time we had great bulgogi in Busan, I can reconstruct not just meals, but hours of detail, days of time. Such is the case with the burger shack of Murray Beach, New Brunswick.
When I mention New Brunswick, people often ask, “New Jersey?” No. Canada. New Brunswick is the Maritime province that borders Maine to the north/east. Few Americans have reason to go there, but I endured a torturous cruise there with my family in 2000, worked there as a book sales rep in 2004, then flipped a Camry and was almost beheaded on another ill-fated vacation to N.B. in 2006.
Yet for some reason I felt compelled to go back there with my friends, and together we found a great burger.
We’d planned a hiking-heavy road trip across the Gaspé peninsula, which is the part of Quebec that juts out into the Atlantic (also a strange and endearing place, should you have a week to kill and a rental car with unlimited mileage). On the way back to America, we planned to make a few stops in New Brunswick, since we’d be passing through anyway. On the New Brunswick leg of our trip, we had some interesting Acadian food in the town of Bouctouche, did a pub crawl in Moncton, and would find surprisingly good barbecue in Saint John.
Somewhere in that last weekend of our ten-day trek, we planned to camp at a beach, Murray Beach. We didn’t know that the waters would be a little too still; we just knew that we had scored a campsite right on the beach. And so, hungover from our Moncton Pub Crawl, we drove out of the city and into its rural surroundings, taking the cracking, thin, narrow blacktop that passes for a provincial road in New Brunswick.
That Friday afternoon, the road to the beach was full of bad omens. First, we passed the remains of a baby fox that hadn’t made it from one side of the blacktop to the other. Then there was a winter-battered barn that bore a pair of moose antlers above its doors, presumably as a defense against the inevitable:
Soon, the road turned to gravel where it was being rebuilt. What looked like a former City of Montreal dump truck, now relegated to work in the sticks, lumbered along a dusty patch, an obstacle to travel in either direction. In its tilted bed, it carried a makeshift water sprayer that poured thin streams of liquid onto the hot gravel in a futile effort to keep the dust down.
Just past this dump truck was the TAKE OUT shack, and it was love at first sight.
Whether they’re being facetious or serious, New Brunswickers will tell you that summer lasts either a month or six weeks. The rest of the year is known as winter. In fact, the time I experienced that awful car wreck, the motel where my then-girlfriend and I stayed afterwards was only open six weeks a year. The guy who ran it worked in a cardboard box factory, and he worked double-time in the summer alongside his wife to earn extra money. They lived in a trailer behind the motel, spending most of the year anticipating the busy season.
That says a lot about the Maritime climate. People there flock to the shore when they can, because a long winter is always right around the corner.
So it wasn’t hard to think of this nameless TAKE OUT shack as the kind of place that was only open for six or eight weeks of the year. We had to try whatever it was selling. There was something trustworthy about the shack — the pastel plywood, the adorably strange, hand-cut lettering, the general state of good repair, the couple cars that were always parked on the grass. It had to be good. We didn’t bother trying to consult the Internet for reviews — in fact, we didn’t even turn our phones on during that trip — or to ask for the locals’ opinion.
But we also had to set up camp. We checked into our campsite, exhausted, and pitched our tent.
Then we drove to nearby Shediac to eat our first lobster meal of the trip, stopping to shoot a group selfie at the World’s Largest Lobster.
On the way back, we passed by the shuttered shack, then drank at the tent.
We watched a storm moving along the eastern horizon, probably headed up to the rainy Gaspé, and we wondered if it would hit us. Then we passed out after attempting some more long exposure photos.
When we awoke, it was almost noon on a Saturday. We were starving, and everyone wanted something from the shack for breakfast. Fish? Chips? Burger? We still didn’t even know the shack’s name, hadn’t seen the menu.
But it was Canada Day weekend. Somebody mentioned this, and our hearts sank. If there were one weekend when everything would be closed, this was it. We checked out of the campground, a little nervous that we’d blown our chance to get TAKE OUT.
Back on the main road, we immediately saw the old dump truck at its Sisyphean task of summer dust control. Dust had caked over the windshield, and the driver was now standing outside the cab on the gas tank step just to see where he was going. He had one hand on the open door and one hand on the steering wheel, keeping the truck on the road as it idled in gear. Thin trails of water flowed on the dusty gravel behind the truck, minutes or seconds from evaporating. Somebody was working this holiday weekend, which was kind of depressing.
Or maybe the driver was just addicted to the smell of the fryolator grease coming from the shack. As we rounded a curve in the road, we saw cars on the grass there — they were cooking today!
We pulled right in and ordered up a round of burger platters from the front window, then waited for them to come out the side door. I have no recollection of any other items being on the menu. Inside the shack’s kitchen, it looked like 1982.
The burgers were fantastic; they reminded me of In-N-Out but better, with house-cut (shack-cut?) fries and homemade coleslaw. We ate them on benches overlooking the serene but still waters of Murray Beach. It might have been noon, or it might have been later, but it was a perfect start to our day.
Just thinking of that burger brings all this back, with a little help from the photos, of course. I have to wonder if others’ memories of Murray Beach are just as intertwined with blissful burger recollections.
It’s March now, and a few years later, and the TAKE OUT shack must be long-closed for the season. For locals and visitors alike, only memories can remain — at least until the fryolators and the griddle are switched back on for the summer.
Anytime I think of that burger, I get hungry. I set this post aside for months, and when I opened it up to give it an ending, I found this at the bottom of the first draft:
OF BURGERS TOO?
M&G Take Out, which is only open June through August, is located at 1839 Route 955 in Botsford Parish, New Brunswick.
Essay by Rob Bellinger
Photos by Rob Bellinger & Dan Meade
Publication date: March 19, 2016
Burgers consumed: June 30, 2012