“Pickle and onion?” the counter man will ask when you order a hamburger, a double hamburger, or a double cheeseburger at Hudson’s, a counter-only diner that has been a Coeur d’Alene institution since 1907 when Harley Hudson opened a quick-eats lunch tent on the town’s main drag.
Your garnish selection is called out to grill man Todd Hudson, Harley’s great-grandson, who slices the raw onion to order, using his knife blade to hoist the thin, crisp disk from the cutting board to the bun bottom; then, deft as a Benihana chef, he cuts eight small circles from a pickle and arrays them in two neat rows atop the onion. When not wielding his knife, Todd hand-forms each burger, as it is ordered, from a heap of lean ground beef piled in a gleaming silver pan adjacent to his griddle. All this happens at warp speed as customers enjoy the mesmerizing show from the sixteen seats at Hudson’s long counter and from the small standing area at the front of the restaurant where new arrivals await stool vacancies.
Each patty is cooked until it develops a light crust from the griddle but retains a high amount of juiciness. One in a bun makes a balanced sandwich. Two verge on beef overload. Chef Hudson sprinkles on a dash of salt, and when the hamburger is presented, you have one more choice to make: which condiment? Three squeeze bottles are deployed adjacent to each napkin dispenser along the counter. One is hot mustard, the other is normal ketchup, the third is Hudson’s very spicy ketchup, a thin orange potion for which the recipe is a guarded secret. “All I can tell you is that there is no horseradish in it,” the counterman reveals to an inquisitive customer.
There are no side dishes: no French fries, no chips, no slaw, not a leaf of lettuce in the house. Other than the fact that a glass case holds slices of pie for dessert, there is nothing more to say about Hudson’s. In nine decades, it has honed a simple perfection.