Empire Falls and Brownie Burgers

The Connection. A good portion of Empire Falls takes place in a small burger joint called Empire Grill. Granted, they probably don’t cook up too many adorable little brownie burgers, but I think you can see the connection.

Brownie Burgers. There isn’t a recipe for something this silly. I saw a picture on Pinterest, and I knew immediately that these things would be gracing the dessert table at my 4th of July BBQ. They’re pretty difficult to mess up, and they were a big hit, so I highly recommend making them before the summer’s through. Here’s what you do:

Buy instant brownie mix, instant cupcake mix, sesame seeds, and large yellow, green, and red tubes of frosting.

Make the brownies and the cupcakes. (You’ll want to make the brownies in the largest recommended pan size. I think it’s 9X13.)

Right after the cupcakes come out of the oven, sprinkle them liberally with sesame seeds. Let the cupcakes and the brownies cool.

Slice the tops off of the cupcakes and set aside. Then use a small cookie cutter to cut out small circular brownies—the brownies should be a little smaller in circumference than the cupcakes. If you don’t have a cookie cutter, use whatever you have. We ended up using a champagne flute, because we’re fancy like that.

Next, take the yellow frosting and pipe a thin circle around the base of the cupcake. Place one of the brownie patties directly in the center, and then squirt little blobs of green and red frosting around the brownie’s edge. (Don’t go crazy with the frosting.) Place the top layer on and voila! You’re done.

I’m usually a stickler for making everything from scratch, but I had a number of reasons for using store-bought items this time: (1) I was making a ton of other things for the BBQ; (2) it’s impossible to get a good, vivid red with most food coloring, but the stuff in the tube looks awesome; (3) I happen to love brownies from a mix; and (4) this is not a classy dessert. It should not try to be a wholesome, healthy thing. Plus, it’s precious enough without making everything from scratch, isn’t it? (But don’t let me stop you. If you would like to do things the old fashioned way, I’d be love to know how it turns out.)

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (483 pages) ♥♥♥♥♥

“Not giving a shit, she decided, is like the defrost option on a car’s heater that miraculously unfogs the windshield, allowing you to see where you’re headed.”

The Plot. Miles has been slinging burgers in a small town in upstate New York for most of his life. Try as he might to get out, the town and its rich, motley cast of characters have gotten a firm hold on him. This is one of those character stories, and the plot is in the setting as much as anything else, so I won’t dwell on it.

Who should read it. Anyone who likes John Irving, to start wtih. It’s a good, fun, downright enjoyable book. You could argue that it’s not much of an intellectual read, but it does a compelling job of putting the reader in touch with working class America. I think there’s probably value in that.

Why I liked it. It’s got a great sense of humor and it’s heartfelt. The characters feel like old friends. The beginning actually takes longer to get its hooks into you than I would have excepted, but once you’re acquainted with the town the pages fly by. Also, the book sticks to your ribs and stays with you. I read it a few years ago, and I still remember the characters, with all their quirks and foibles, and they spring to life again whenever I find myself in a little ol’ rundown town like Empire Falls.


  • Nobody’s Fool, another book by Russo, is also a great read, especially if you like Empire Falls. I might have recommended it instead, Sully being one of my favorite literary characters of all time (he’s every bit a Falstaff of our age), but I couldn’t remember if burgers played as prominent a role. Regardless, both books are great.

4 thoughts on “Empire Falls and Brownie Burgers

  1. The hamburger brownies are adorable, and I liked that book a lot! I found it a little easier to stomach than most of Irving’s books (characters are perhaps a hair more likable, a hair less profoundly screwed up), though there are definitely similarities in their settings and style.

    • So true! I didn’t think about that. Although I suppose you have to give Irving credit for pushing the envelope and shaking things up. You know, he goes there, and most of the time the voyeur in me loves to watch even while I cringe. But Russo’s definitely easier to swallow and probably better for your character as a whole.

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