by Ann M.Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Rathdrum Prairie is a little bit off my beaten path, and it's not a place I often find myself at lunchtime. However, as Douglas Adams once noted, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." We'd received a tip that paradise in the form of a meat patty awaited us in Rathdrum. So, having nothing else on the calendar on a recent Thursday, Josh and I succumbed to the illusion of lunchtime and drove east to Burger Heaven in Rathdrum.

It's a nondescript smallish gray and blue building surrounded by asphalt along Highway 53 on the west side of Rathdrum, not far from Lakeside High School. The sign at the edge of the parking lot shows a cartoon guy in a baseball cap wrapping his arms around a gi-normous burger; beneath that is a smaller message board proclaiming, "Now open for breakfast." (Breakfast time: another illusion.) The parking lot was nearly empty, but it was early yet, and the few vehicles present were pickups. (Always a good sign.)

A wall of early video arcade games greeted us just inside the door; the main room -- with the ordering counter on one side -- held booths made of orange-and-blue hard plastic seats and woodgrain laminate tables. Historic photos from Rathdrum, Hayden and Coeur d'Alene dotted the walls. The ladies behind the counter are like your favorite aunties, the ones who always know your preferred kind of cookie and who always keep the jar full just in case you stop by. It was like a scene from childhood plopped down in the middle of a 1970s fast food place -- the kind of juxtaposition that often happens in dreams. Or nightmares. We didn't know whether to be comforted or terrified.

I pretty much ignored the overhead menu and went straight to the specials board, selecting the double bacon cheeseburger with fries. (I wonder if cholesterol is an illusion, too?) One of the aunties asked if I wanted everything on the burger, and I automatically said yes without inquiring for details. Josh picked the sourdough burger with onion rings. Neither one of us knew what to expect.

The first hint came when I got the soft drink that came as part of my meal. It was huge. The container -- I can't call it a cup -- held enough root beer for a family of four. I sipped at it daintily and barely dropped the fluid level below max. Confirmation of the generous portions came when one of the aunties delivered our plates to the table. Yes, real plates. It takes something stronger than paper to carry a burger this hefty.

I needed two hands to hold the double bacon cheeseburger ($6.75), but the aunties had thoughtfully wrapped a sleeve of deli paper around the back half of it to corral any stray bits of lettuce, tomato or onion and make it easier -- and neater -- to grasp. The two standard flat burger patties had a nice charbroiled flavor; they were covered with soft melting orange American cheese and thin slices of smoky bacon. The soft sesame-seed bun was grilled inside, adding a pleasing crunch to the sensation. The fries came hot -- crispy on the outside, light on the inside -- and served with a mayo-and-ketchup-y dipping sauce. Or maybe that was for the burger. I didn't ask.

Josh's sourdough burger ($5.80) came on round sourdough bread slices, grilled to just the right crispness. His single burger was juicy and tasty, and he thought the onion rings were great. "Not only did the breading hold together, but the ring actually came apart when I bit it, rather than dragging a slimy piece of onion out of the breading to drape across my chin," he noted. Clearly, Josh has some past onion-ring trauma to work through, and the aunties provided helpful therapy.

Being more adventurous -- not to mention younger and hungrier -- than me, Josh ordered a black raspberry shake ($2.65) and a taco ($2) as a chaser. The shake was fruity, sweet but not too sweet, with just a hint of tartness. The taco was stuffed to overflowing with a spicy meat mixture -- it was so full that the lettuce, tomato and cheese sort of rested on the plate beside it rather than on top. The meat filling had an odd texture, like there was a thickened sauce mixed in. One bite was enough for me, but Josh finished the whole thing. He's a trooper, that Josh, but later he mumbled something about sticking with the burgers.

Outside the window, the local ambulance stood by in the parking lot, awaiting any coronary emergencies. Inside, the aunties catered to their customers -- some regulars and some, like us, just traveling through. We suffer no illusions that the sandwiches at Burger Heaven are good for our hearts, but we know that an occasional visit with the aunties has to be good for the soul.

Burger Heaven, 13735 Highway 53, Rathdrum, Idaho, is open Tue-Sun, 7 am-9 pm. Call (208) 687-5882.

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