NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - It’s official: The Blazer Pub has one of the best burgers in America.
The North Salem mainstay received national attention recently with its inclusion in “Hamburger America,” a state-by-state guide to 200 of the country’s best burger joints by the self-proclaimed hamburger expert George Motz.
The Blazer Pub leads the New York section of the 471-page book with brief history of the restaurant: It was opened in 1971 by Tom and Emer Heavey and is named after a group of Irish fox hunters called the Galway Blazers and was bought by the O’Leary family in 1988.
It’s now owned and operated by Alice O’Leary Kerrigan, who inherited it from her parents, Richard and Rita O’Leary.
As described in the book, Motz ordered a Celsus burger with an addition of grilled onions during his visit. The burger pulls its name from Tom Heavey’s mother’s maiden name.
He said the burger was “delivered juicy” and raved about the combination of the “fist of beef, caramelized sweet onion, bacon and a cascade of gooey melted Swiss.” Though he typically will only order a burger for his research, he said he broke tradition at The Blazer Pub when the waitress described its homemade and award-winning cream of tomato and bacon soup.
“The soup was so ridiculously good that I literally laughed out loud, hard, in disbelief. It was that good,” he wrote.
The soup, Kerrigan said, has developed a cult following at the pub. They make a batch of the cream of tomato bacon every day along with a revolving slate of other soups.
The soups are so beloved that Kerrigan had to create what she calls a “soup list” of regular customers who get a personal phone call whenever their favorite soup is on tap.
“George Motz mentioned that we’re very much like ‘Cheers’–If we don’t know your name, we know you like a straw in your wine or extra mustard on your burger,” Kerrigan said.
It’s the family atmosphere that drew Kerrigan to leave her career as a special education teacher to take over the pub.
“I do enjoy it because of who I work with and the customers,” Kerrigan said. “We’re a well-oiled machine.”
Her employees, including sister-in-law Aran O’Leary, have been with her for decades.
At lunch time on a recent Thursday, customers started trickling in around 11 a.m. and the phone started ringing for take-out orders shortly after.
One couple who overheard Kerrigan being interviewed said they had come from Dutchess County after stumbling upon the pub a few weeks ago.
“We we’re so impressed. I told everyone in Dutchess County that I’ve met, ‘You’ve got to try this place’,” said Joan Skoak, dining with her husband, Mike. “It’s fantastic.”
On her first visit, she ordered the chicken soup and then immediately got an extra quart to take home.
This time, she went with the chicken fingers and fries with a side of coleslaw while her husband got the Blazer burger–an 8-ounce handmade patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and bacon on a hard roll.
Like nearly all the food and décor in the pub, the coleslaw has its own interesting backstory.
“My mother felt we should have coleslaw on the menu so she’d make it at home and bring it up here in a pot or whatever so people got use to having coleslaw on the menu,” Alice Kerrigan said. But if she was busy or out of town, diners were out of luck.
“We’d say, ‘Mrs. O’Leary is in Cape Cod, we don’t have it today,’ or ‘She’s playing golf today so no coleslaw’,” Kerrigan said. “I finally said Mom, this isn’t working, you have to tell us how to make it. That’s how we got the Rita B coleslaw.”
The family atmosphere among the staff extends to customers, which was obvious from looking around the room. Customers bring in memorabilia to hang up on the wall and every inch is covered with something to see, from sketches of the Mets 1969 team to police badges and college pendants.
There’s also artwork her parents have collected, such as a blanket woven with a scene of a fox hunt, echoing the scene featured on the pub’s placemats.
Couples are born all the time at the bar, too, Kerrigan said, including her own marriage to Kevin Kerrigan, a nationally acclaimed duck decoy carver.
“He would order a Killian’s on tap and a cheeseburger,” Kerrigan said of her husband.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the wait for a table at The Blazer Pub can be up to an hour, but it’s quieter during lunch hours.
But no matter what time you go, the Pub promises fresh, made-to-order food, as there is no freezer or microwave at the restaurant.
Kerrigan also recently added Reubens to the menu with Cape Cod, corned beef or turkey options. But that’s about all that has changed since they’ve been in business.
Kerrigan has a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude about the Pub.
“This place stays the way it is,” Kerrigan said.
“Hamburger America” is available on Amazon; The Blazer Pub is featured on pages 208-209.