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After Work: Hamburger Heaven, Palm Beach

...Everybody gets a Hamburger Heaven craving now and again. I spotted a thin man with any equally scrawny ponytail sitting at the counter beside a Palm Beach matron with a face no longer capable of registering subtle emotion. Both were enjoying their burgers. He was wearing a tee shirt that read, “I’m violating my parole.” She was wearing Chanel. I doubt that they knew each other...

Dona Gibbs enjoys eating and people watching at Hamburger Heaven in classy Palm Beach, Fla. Their burgers are delicious, their shakes whipped and served in the old fashioned way, their clientele a fascinating all-sorts mix...

And Dona has the tasty words to describe both food and folk.

Palm Beach, Florida is a small town.

Yes, the reputation is big but the town itself isn’t. And yes, it isn’t just any small town. It has a world class shopping street—Worth Avenue where you can dash in for the “it” handbag of the moment, buy a million dollar bauble or outfit yourself from head to toe in fuchsia and lime green, the official colors of Palm Beach.

It has more than its share of celebs. Rod Stewart seen at the Post Office. Jimmy Buffet, not wasting away in Margaritaville. Donald Trump, everywhere. European titles abound during “The Season.” Some specious, some not.

Money is flaunted because, “You only go around once.” Money isn’t flaunted because “That just isn’t done, don’t you know.”

Sunshine and palm trees attract all kinds. Actually, there are some quite normal people.

If you look carefully and are here for longer than a day or two, no doubt you will discover Hamburger Heaven, several blocks away from Worth Avenue and miles away in attitude. The burgers are thick, juicy, hand formed patties of meat done the way you order them. There are shakes too, made with real premium ice cream and real milk, whipped up by expert waitresses who give you both the big glass of the thick treat and the remainder as well, the extra ounces that didn’t quite fit in the glass. The old fashioned way to serve up a milk shake.

Any lunchtime you’re likely to find it packed with crowds waiting on the sidewalk.

Everybody gets a Hamburger Heaven craving now and again. I spotted a thin man with any equally scrawny ponytail sitting at the counter beside a Palm Beach matron with a face no longer capable of registering subtle emotion. Both were enjoying their burgers. He was wearing a tee shirt that read, “I’m violating my parole.” She was wearing Chanel. I doubt that they knew each other.

It’s stuff like this that makes it one of my favorite places to people watch. And when it’s not jammed packed I can eavesdrop too.

I’ve heard some great exchanges.

Waitress to small man who appeared to be in his eighties, ”What’ll it be?”

The customer looks around. He appears furtive, peering over his shoulder and scanning the street through the window.

He leans toward the waitress and whispers hoarsely, “I’ll have a chocolate shake, extra thick.”

He adjusts himself on the stool uneasily, drumming his fingers on the Formica.

The blender whirs and soon he’s got his shake in front of him.

He hunches his shoulders forward to hide the glass and container. Obviously, this shake is forbidden. Maybe by his wife. Maybe by his doctor. Who knows? They might walk through the door at any minute. It’s that kind of place.

He enjoys the shake with pleasure and four scoops of guilt.

Another time I was seated at the counter and overheard two men.

“Still got that big boat of yours?”

“Nah, sold it.”

Raised eyebrows from friend.

“Sold it?”

“Yeah, cost too much to run.”

Chewing. And more chewing from both. Friend gives his boatless friend a sideways look and reaches for the check.

“This lunch is on me, okay?”

“That’d be good, man.”

A human drama in four sentences. Filling in the unsaid wasn’t hard.

Note: This is not a PR piece but I must mention Hamburger Heaven’s unbelievable cakes. I say unbelievable because they are just that: unbelievable. They’re about eight to ten inches high, multiple layers slathered in butter cream frosting and they come in chocolate, vanilla and carrot cake. I’ve stared at these beauties showcased on their pedestals but I’ve never had room left to order a slice. And I’ve haven’t seen anybody else digging into one either. A waitress assured me that some people just come for the cake.

Gimme a slice of cake topped with delicious overheard conversation.

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