Life magazine published an article in 1986 naming the section of U.S. Route 50 that traverses Nevada “the Loneliest Road in America.” The highway stretches across the nation, from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, California, but the Nevada portion has minimal population centers and even less traffic due to its big brother, Interstate 80, running parallel to the north.
While Highway 50 is lonely, it is also historic, being the same east-west corridor that the Pony Express once used. Along the Loneliest Road are several historical markers and interpretive centers at sites where Pony Express stations once stood. One station, at the junction of present day U.S. Route 50 and Nevada State Route 361, still stands and is now the Middlegate Station bar/restaurant/motel/mini-mart/gas station.
The sign out front advertises “Good Food” and the menu one-ups that claim with “Best Burger’s [sic] in the West.” For $14.95 you can get the Middlegate Monster, a one-pound burger that if you eat the entire thing, trimmings, fries, and all, you’ll receive a free t-shirt commemorating your feat. I ponied up for a bacon burger ($8.75, served with fries), requested cheddar cheese for an additional 50¢, and gave myself a tour of the building.
The interior was dark, which was probably a good thing as the place is old and dusty. The air hung heavy with the smell of grease. Nearly every square millimeter of ceiling space was covered with dollar bills (and a few other currencies as well) signed by the patron who had stapled it there – several of the dates reached back into the 1990s. At the far end of the bar was a mini-mart of sorts, selling Middlegate Station t-shirts and trucker caps, as well as road trip supplies for your Lonely Road journey. There was even a geocache tucked into a corner for GPS enthusiasts.
My burger was delivered wrapped in paper sitting atop a basket of fries. The first details I noticed were the thick curls of bacon hanging out the side of the bun and the hefty pickle chips – two beautiful samples of my favorite burger toppings. But my joy was quickly replaced by astonishment and wonder when I looked at the patty. The 1/3-pound Angus patty was devoid of any beef-like texture. The edge was smooth and the face wasn’t much different. I sampled a small piece of it without any toppings confirming the lack of beef-like texture and revealing the lack of beef-like flavor. The beef of this formerly frozen Frisbee was ground so finely that the final product more closely resembled a beverage coaster than something someone would want to eat.
Of course, I ate it anyway. And I’m happy I did. Combined with the savory bacon, thick pickle chips, good tomato, strong red onion, and non-cloying “house special sauce,” it made for a serviceable burger. The Kaiser-style bun was a bit bready, the lettuce pale and limp, and the cheddar was unnoticeable, but the larger let down aside from the patty was my serving of French fries. I received the runts of the litter. While my dining companions had fries that were long enough to hold ketchup, nearly none of mine were greater than a centimeter in length. Insult to injury. The location was interesting and the staff was friendly, but they definitely weren’t serving the best burger in the west.
Keeping with the Middlegate Station tradition, I signed a dollar bill and stapled it to the ceiling. The first person who takes a photo of themself with the actual bill at the restaurant and posts it to our Facebook fan page will receive a special Hamblogger prize!
42500 Austin Highway
Middlegate, Nevada 89406
Hours: Opens when they open, closes when they close!