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Long ago, I had made a wrong turn in my search for a burger joint and by accident, spotted a quaint general store inhabiting the corner of Roycroft Ave and Colorado St in Long Beach. I didn’t think much of Ma and Pa’s upon first drive by, maybe a convenient store for the local neighborhood where residents would run in for some butter or eggs. It was apparent though, that the grocery had some history and I would put it on my long list of things to check out at a later date. It wasn’t until I did a little research that I found out that they sold more than cola and boxed cereal, offering patrons an assortment of prepared foods like artichokes, chocolate dipped strawberries, acclaimed jerky and even burgers that I decided Ma and Pa’s would make the shortlist when I was visiting my parents again.

It was a perfect April day as we (my mother and I) pulled up, the umbrellas were in full bloom and the picnic tables were inviting. Inside, the owner greeted us and we took in the shaded space. He shared with us the hundred-year history, highlighting the décor of artifacts like saws that once belonged to locals and dated scales that were repurposed for aesthetics. We took it all in and placed our order for two cheeseburgers as well as an artichoke and jerky for later. We were told about the patio in back, which is where we waited for our lunch.

Roses were in bloom, healthy and vigorous—my mother noted—as we meandered through the garden on the way back to the patio. We talked about remaining errands left on the agenda before the lunch was brought out to us. Minus the bacon, I had requested everything on the California burger.

Unwrapping the parchment paper, I noted a generous use of sides from iceberg lettuce to avocado. The patty followed suit, hand-formed and about a half inch thick. The presentation wasn’t photogenic but it was surpassing my expectations. The first bite reminded me of In-N-Out, but as I delved deeper into the thicker patty the cooking time (well done) was disappointing. Well-seasoned and definitely fresh as the beef had just been ground before we arrived, the burger had some obvious pluses but carried a few minuses as well.

My mother touched on the same things when I asked her opinion on that sandwich. She said the portions were large and obviously fresh but it wasn’t her favorite. We had both satisfied our curiosity about Ma and Pa’s, giving them a fair audition on a beautiful day. We thanked our host for the history lesson and for the hearty food as we took home our bundle of goods. There was a surprising star in our midst as we headed back on the road; the jerky was spectacular, tender meat with a lip of fat that was peppered delicately and exploded with flavor. Though the burger failed to captivate me quite like the jerky, it was fair. In the future, return trips will be exclusively for the homemade dried meats.

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