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Smitty burger returns to the Washington State Fair menu

The Smitty burger at Marcia’s Silver Spoon in Tacoma.
The Smitty burger at Marcia’s Silver Spoon in Tacoma. Staff file, 2014

The Smitty burger is coming to the Washington State Fair.

No, not that Smitty burger. The other Smitty burger.

The original fair Smitty was a round burger, piled with onions, and served from the 1950s until 2009.

The booth where it was served was called Smitty Burger, and it was operated by Don Baldwin and Doug Bartlett. Longtime fairgoers will remember the booth where the Extreme Scream now sits, until it was displaced by that ride to the Restaurant Building in 1998. In 2009, Baldwin and Bartlett grilled their last Smitty, closed their concession, and Marlowe’s II took over that space with its own burger stand.

It’s at that very Marlowe’s II booth where that other Smitty burger will be flipped during this year’s fair. That’s the Smitty burger made regionally famous by the long-gone Kings Drive-In and a handful of other restaurants, some of which still serve it (see box).

You can spot that Smitty burger because of its oblong shape. Think of it as a burger hoagie. It’s built on a sturdy French roll with an oblong patty to match. “It’s got to have fresh chopped onions like the original,” explained Russ Roeser, of the fair’s Marlowe’s burger stands. “And the lettuce, tomato and the orange sauce, the special sauce. It’s kind of reminiscent of Thousand Island, but it’s not Thousand Island.”

And don’t forget the pickles.

The family started serving their version of a Smitty as a trial run during the Spring Fair and it was such a hit, it found a permanent home on the menu.

The suggestion came from Roeser’s wife, Bonita, who was a big fan of the Smitty burger at the old Kings Drive-In. She remembers hanging out with her classmates from Lincoln High School at Kings, where her order included a Smitty. Bonita, a 1980 Lincoln graduate, said “the bun and the sauce” made the burger her favorite.

Russ and Bonita went on a full-scale Smitty burger reconnaissance mission to recreate that burger from Bonita’s memory. They ate at nearly every restaurant that still serves the old Smitty. The Mountain Tavern in Tacoma made their favorite.

They borrowed a few ideas “and we put our flair on it,” said Russ. The addition of sweet pickles was the family’s touch. He also beefed up, so to speak, the patty, opting for a thicker 5-ounce burger patty — in the traditional oblong shape, of course.

They take an extra, but necessary step with their Smitty. Not only do they grill the French roll, but they butter it first. “It’s got to have that touch,” said Russ.

This will be the 39th year at the fair for the Marlowe’s stands, which were named after Russ’ father, Marlowe Roeser, who died earlier this year. Marlowe Roeser was such a fixture at the fair that his memorial service was held at the fairgrounds. More than 500 people attended.

In the earlier days of the fair, Marlowe Roeser and his father, Jack, worked at a boat ride unofficially called the Tunnel of Love. (Its real name was the Old Mill.)

Marlowe and Jack opened their first stand near the Blue Gate in 1977. “It was called Salads on the Go,” said Russ, who has worked the fair every year since his parents and grandfather started the business. So, too, has his sister Judi Moore. The family’s youngest generation also works at the family’s fair stands.

In the early days over by the Blue Gate, they shared the space with Bavarian and soup restaurants. Those businesses moved out, and the Roeser family expanded and took over the entire space. In 2009, they duplicated Marlowe’s in the Restaurant Building. Eventually, the menu evolved to what it is today — a collection of burgers, chicken sandwiches, fish and chips and now the Smitty burger.


Find it: Marlowe’s concession stand near the Blue Gate, or at the Marlowe’s II stand inside the Restaurant Building, Friday (Sept. 11)-Sept. 27 at the Washington State Fair.

Find a Smitty outside the fair at: Marcia’s Silver Spoon, Goofy Goose, Lucky’s Drive-In, Amp Coffee (formerly Jubilee) and Mountain Tavern in Tacoma; Don’s Drive-In in Puyallup.

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