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Can I just say: Burgers are among my favorite foods.

For that, food snobs must deem me a hillbilly. But I lack both the personal and professional budget for an onslaught of delicacies such as pate, lobster, and nine-layer chocolate desserts.

Besides, it's always been my contention that if a burger is done well, it will satisfy like nothing else.

So when a new book, "Hamburger America," came across my desk, I wasn't able to think of anything else.

Thumbing through this book caused instant burger hankering. Juicy, dribbling patties fit with caps of bubbling cheese, crisp onions, and pickle chips, cradled in plump, yeasty buns, put me in a trance.

With glazed eyes, I leafed through its glossy pages imagining random bites from the burgers featured.

As I turned to page 146, my bleary eyes came into focus: "The Missoula Club, Missoula, Montana."

That Missoula found a place on any map - let alone a stop on this U.S. hamburger trail - was impressive.

Admittedly, until a few months ago, I was one of the few locals who had never tasted a Missoula Club burger.

For a girl who loves burgers, never having made it to the "Mo Club" for a double cheeseburger bordered on criminal.

Call me crazy, but I don't typically walk down a street, see a tavern, and meander in hoping to find the city's best food.

Besides, there's something so scandalous about ducking into a place like that, mid-afternoon, when you've been out of college for 20 years. But the gauntlet of recommendations thrown down was too great, and "Hamburger America" sealed it.

So there I was, striding down Main Street, looking over each shoulder to see if the coast was clear. I slid into the Mo Club and hunkered down for a burger.

So well-touted are these burgers, in fact, word reached all the way to the Clinton camp.

Two hundred eyewitnesses can't be wrong when they say that former president Bill Clinton ducked into the Mo Club last Saturday night, after state stumping engagements, for a quick libation and burger.

For me, this stellar burger experience came months earlier - sans beer and the star-struck circle of hot twentysomethings.

But those are just details. I had nothing to complain about. I had 6-foot-5, 305-pound Grizzly footballer, and human bridge abutment, Colin Dow to keep me company.

Dow was working the grill that day and took my order. As physically imposing hosts go, I felt I had more to prove than some wimpy, single-patty order could muster, so I doubled up.

With house claims that patties are about 1/3 of a pound, according to the book, I knew my double-decker affair was destined for a two-month tumble in my intestines. I'm happy to report that fact failed to deter me.

Famished, I watched Dow tend the grill, then flag down a customer (who'd dared leave behind a third of a Soldier's beer), and command him to finish the foamy draught.

"Hey, where ya' going?" he shouted. "You know, no one leaves a 'Soldier' behind."

Practically on command, the lanky customer returned to dutifully swill the remaining suds.

I decided Dow must wear very big shoes.

Once my burger arrived, I dressed it, and took my first bite. Within a single bite, deliberations were over. This juicy, gorgeous, mess-on-a-bun Mo Club burger is about as good as it gets - here or in any other town.

Verdict: For $4.50, a trek from the Missoulian newsroom across the Higgins Avenue Bridge, and the pleasure of Dow's imposing, manly stature, this burger is about as good as it gets in Missoula. It may be called a "gut bomb" in other tavern-type establishments, but in this one, it's sex-on-a-bun.

And the burger wasn't bad either. Thanks, Colin Dow.

Other local burgers of note:

The Old Post

103 W. Spruce St

(406) 721-7399

Quintessential fries accompany great burgers. Two hundred bonus points for the most amazing herb-infused Green Goddess dressing you'll ever slather on a burger patty or side of fries.

HobNob on Higgins

531 S. Higgins Ave.

(406) 541-4622

Both organic beef, and veggie burgers, make it easy for shameless meat eaters and anemic vegetarians to finally break bread without fighting over who is more righteous. Sweet potato, or regular, fries are a treat. I order half of each and devour my beefy burger like a rabid dog on the loose.

Fuddruckers

2805 N. Reserve St.

(406) 721-4577

Missoula, warning! "Chain establishment recommendation alert." Fuddruckers is too darned good to omit. I only wish they rented tableside cots for hourlong snoozes once the plate is clean.

Nap's Grill - Hamilton

220 N. Second St.

Hamilton, MT 59840

(406) 363-0136

Charbroiled burgers are definitely my cup of tea, and I loved eating at Nap's when they called Front Street in Missoula home. The fries are yummy too. So Missoulians, next time you're driving deep into the 'Root, have one for old-times sake.

BABY BURGERS ROCK

Let's be honest, tiny food is just plain cute and fun to eat.

The embodiment of cute food, sliders are the answer to both flimsy appetites and flourishing waistlines. They are all of the burger taste with none of the bloat. The best of all time? The White Castle slider. This 87-year-old chain sells nothing but baby burgers in six- and 12-packs. Little square patties, dollhouse size onion pieces, and infant-sized buns, make eating White Castle burgers big fun - and big profit. To date, WC has sold around 500 million of these "little buggers" in more than 300 locations.

NOTABLE LOCAL SLIDERS:

Ranch Club

8501 Ranch Club Road

(406) 532-1000

Three perfect little Kobe beef sliders with homemade brioche buns make Homer Simpson's eyes roll back as he says, "Sliders. Ahhhhhhh."

James Bar

127 W. Alder St

(406) 721-8158

Beef, lamb and bison, plus wicked-good homemade aiolis of curry or fresh herbs.

For some, burgers in Missoula are an after-thought - a way to soak up a bellyful of suds. For me, burgers are almost religion.

Food columnist Lori Grannis can be reached at 523-5251 or lori.grannis@lee.net.

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