Hunter House Hamburgers
35075 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-646-7121; $
What makes this place attention-worthy is that it's probably the last holdout of the old Woodward Avenue in chi-chi Birmingham. Instead of the upscale shops and eateries along pedestrian-oriented Old Woodward, this place was meant for car traffic, with unmetered parking in the lot, and seems to draw lots of families bringing their kids in for a taste of the past.
Though it was founded in the 1950s, it's no coincidence that the family that owns it bought it in the 1980s, just as Birmingham was really beginning to take off as an upscale suburb with eating and dining options. Many people forget that Birmingham was a quiet bedroom suburb for many years, and that sale of alcohol by the glass was forbidden until as late as 1972, a holdover from Prohibition that left the city high and dry for 56 years.
The patties don't have much flavor on their own, instead deriving their flavor from the onions, pressed into the patty while it's still on the grill. In fact, if there's a single ingredient that sums up the burger, it's onions. It's actually delightful to drive up to the place, park in the blacktop lot, and smell the grilled onions wafting out of the building! And those who love onions will probably be delighted. The patties are very thin, and the moisture in the burger comes from the grilled onions they lavish the burgers with. Those who object to thin patties can order a double, which comes with two patties, approximating a hamburger from a fast-food chain. The burgers are served on moist hot buns, with a glistening sheen on them.
And the fries aren't tasteless krinkle-cut or all-crunch shoestring, but a pleasing medium. Slathered with chili and squeeze-cheese, the chili cheese fries will earn a thumbs-up from any serious chili-cheese-fry junkie. Even seldom-ordered items show some attention to detail, such as the chili, which comes not with ground beef but actual chunks of meat in it. It may be the best chili you'll ever eat with a plastic spoon!
Signs over the grill offer a dare of sorts: Laminated sheets of paper describing who's been able to eat the most in one sitting. And the setting is priceless: white enamel steel, stainless steel counters, the black-and-white tile floor, old details like Pepsi-Cola signage, parking meters and old fuel dispensers give the joint a sense of history. The gumball and sticker machines by the door attest to it being a family joint where many parents bring their tots. All in all, it's a fitting shrine to a lot of things people in our meat-and-potatoes town still love: Car culture, red meat, the trappings of the 1950s and friendly, down-home service.
Anchor Bar 450 W. Fort St., Detroit, 313-964-9127; $: Enjoy waxed-paper-wrapped burgers, sandwiches and bar food with chunky crisp steak fries and creamy coleslaw sides. For a modest $5.75, you can have a cup of soup and then select a go-with sandwich from among ham, tuna, turkey, chicken salad and grilled cheese with bacon. Among other items on the menu are Reubens, a steak sub, buffalo wings, popcorn shrimp and, for the few kids who wander in with their folks, chicken fingers. This is primarily a beer-and-shot joint with a several TVs generally tuned to sports, two pool tables, a jukebox, and a venue for some of the liveliest and occasionally profound conversations that you will ever hear.
Bagger Dave's 2972 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley, 248-543-3283; $$: Bagger Dave's, which seats 108, is more a full-service restaurant than its fast-food, drive-in and take-away competitors. That said, Dave's burgers, fries and sandwiches are often delivered to the table wrapped in paper bags. (That's where bagger comes from.) Unlike most burger joints, you can purchase bottled beer ($3.50-$4.75) and wine ($5-$6.50) by the pour while you enjoy the sophisticated jazz playlist. Finally, the woodsy up-North interior includes a kiddy-pleasing electric train running above the two dining sections. Burgers are 3.5 ounces — one costs $3.29 and two $4.29 (turkey burgers are a dollar more), and a generous helping of hand-cut double-fried Belgian-style Idaho fries is priced $2.19 a bag.
Blarney Stone Pub 27253 Woodward Ave., Berkley; 248-541-1881; $: Irish pubs, which have long been a feature of the American drinking scene, have become a worldwide phenomenon, flourishing in such unlikely venues as Moscow and Tokyo. And so it makes sense that the Blarney Stone's everyday menu is all-American pub grub. The appetizers, which average around $6, are dominated by scores of familiar deep-fat fried items, many of which are available in the hefty Pot of Gold sampler that includes serviceable renditions of potato skins, chicken strips, mozzarella cheese sticks and onion rings. Try the order of five flavorful burger sliders ($5.95) — with pickles, onions and a tomato-mustard sauce. There are 10 other burger varieties, including, again for the health-conscious, bison.
Cheeseburger in Paradise 13883 Lakeside Circle, at Lakeside Mall, Sterling Heights, 586-532-9828, $, Taking its name, of course, from the Jimmy Buffett munchies anthem, the place is suitably decked out in mass-produced tropical fish art, palm-thatched trellises, seashells and regulation tiki bar stuff. They concoct all manner of fun boat drinks using Hershey's syrup, lots of flavored vodkas, rums and sticky liqueurs, garnished with baby bananas, pineapple and other fruit sculpted into freaky creatures, including a parrot wearing Ray Bans. As for the food, you can find its like in most cookie-cutter chain links.
Comet Burger 207 S. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-414-4567, $, Comet Burger's concept of the '50s is pink vinyl and stainless steel chairs, Formica tabletops decorated with little boomerangs (you'll recognize them when you see them), album covers on the walls, lots of TVs, and, of course, sliders and malts. The malts alone are worth the trip. As for the sliders, they're sliders, but grilled onions improve the flavor considerably.
The Emory 22700 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-8202; $$: A highlight of the lunch and dinner menu is a plate of sliders. These little celebrations sport a heap of sweet caramelized onions and a side of au jus for dipping. For something slightly lighter, try the crisp cherry walnut salad — slightly lighter only because it's topped by a mound of bacon bits that's about the size of a softball. On the side are potatoes, baked and then flash-fried crispy on the outside and sprinkled with large chunks of onion and pepper. The other side of the plate is reserved for avocado slices and mandarin orange wedges. Wash it down with a creation from the well-stocked Bloody Mary bar and it's certain the rest of the day will unfold in your favor.
Famous Hamburger 10041 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-945-0002; 3424 Fairlane Dr., Allen Park; $: The hamburgers at Famous are a sight better than fast food. Come for the fries or for the bargain steak (a special), or because the meat is halal. Or, come just because it's a friendly place. The location at Warren and Wyoming is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Dearborn. The Allen Park shop is no-frills, and their heaping orders of French fries will challenge even king-size stomachs. The friendly cooks will ask how you liked your meal, and they actually seem to care. They offer a dizzying variety of options.
The Gathering Place 3985 John R Rd., Troy; 248-689-2039; $: How do you explain the staying power of the exceedingly plain Troy establishment at the corner of John R and Wattles? It may have something to do with the deep-dish pizza, commendable burgers, and 16 sides from the deep fryer. As one would expect in a bar and grill, the Gathering Place features an array of drafts highlighted by the Pabst Blue Ribbon ($3).
Jacoby's 624 Brush St., Detroit; 313-962-7067; jacobysdetroit.com; $$: Jacoby's is one of the best places downtown for a great, no-frills, all-American (well, they are also noted for their fine German food) lunch — a wonderful place for a burger and a brew before a Tigers game or a show. Those burgers are said to be superb; but what about lunch for those of us of the vegetarian persuasion? Well, Jacoby's has one of the finest, tastiest garden burgers we've ever tasted — and we've tasted a lot in our lifetimes. Don't know exactly what they do to make it so special or so darn tasty, aside from the cheese on top (we always go with melted Swiss) and the incredible buns — but it's their secret and we're certainly not complaining. In fact, at least two MT editors claim they could subsist on nothing but these. Comes with a pickle and a side of french fries — though, lately, we've been substituting a terrific garden salad (you have numerous other choices, including Jacoby's famous potato salad, etc.) for only a buck more.
Jake's Crossroads Bar & Grill 2704 Oakwood Blvd., Melvindale; 313-928-9639; $: It may not be the best burger you ever ate in your life, but with 7 ounces of Black Angus beef and a crusty, it's definitely one of the finer bar burgers out there. This basic neighborhood blue-collar bar also serves up a tasty, enormous steak sandwich, plus nightly specials like Wednesday's huge plate of meat-sauced spaghetti and Friday's beer-battered cod. All are way above your barroom average, with extra-large portions and prices that could attract even those who aren't barflies.
Joey's Meat Cutter Inn 2638 Orleans St., Detroit; 313-393-0960; $: Good-size burgers for $4.50, or $4.75 with cheese? And they're not stingy on the meat, gigantic and hearty. If you have enough cash you can shoot for higher things: stuffed chicken breasts, baby back ribs or whitefish. Or, you can choose to spend those extra sheckels at their bar; they mix their drinks generously.
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger 551 S. Division St., Ann Arbor: 734-663-4590; $: Where Packard meets South Division lies arguably one of the best burger houses in the country, where they're made on the grill right in front of you. And it's an Ann Arbor institution spanning six decades, right down to its R. Crumb-influenced menu. It's $4.30 for Jim's ultimate cheese sandwich, and just $5.62 for the veggie burger. A half-pound burger costs just $5.10, or $5.70 with cheese. (Then there are the unique fried goods, like fried cauliflower.) The burger stop's slogan? "Cheaper than food." Cafeteria-style setting means no tipping; read the "instructions" before ordering; open until 10 p.m. every day except Sunday (8 p.m.).
Miller's Bar 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-565-2577; $: Classic, no-frills practices survive at Miller's, where table service has been paperless for years — all on the honor system. Unless you want to be known as an outsider, don't ask for a menu or a tab. Just order the burger and a beer. When you're done, tell the bartender what you got. The system works, in part, because the prices are so reasonable, there's hardly any reason to lie.
Nemo's Bar and Grill 1384 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3180; $$: Formerly in the shadow of the old Tiger Stadium, this place was a sports bar years before it was cool. The old-fashioned pressed-tin ceiling and sports memorabilia everywhere add to the atmosphere. Plus, the hamburgers can't be beat.
Old Town Tavern 122 W. Liberty, Ann Arbor; 734-662-9291; $$: Old Town has been a tavern since 1867. The brick walls covered in old photos and playbills, the wood floor and tin ceiling radiate its history. The menu is reliable and there's always great burgers and a Bell's beer on tap. Grab one of the two window tables and people-watch or, if you're part of a big group, pull the tables together in back, under the giant painting of the naked lady.
Red Coat Tavern 31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300; $$: In our annual reader's poll for Best Burger, the Red Coat comes out on top year after year, with its list of 20 add-ons, from burnt onions to olives to smoked Gouda, and five types of bread, including grilled rye or pumpernickel. The thick, juicy succulent two-handers require extra napkins. This place is crowded every day at lunch and dinner — and usually in between. There is a full menu, and not just bar food.
Red Knapp's Dairy Bar 304 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-4545; $: Excluding the prices, Red Knapp's Dairy Bar probably hasn't changed much since it opened in 1950. Small children sip their thick malted milkshakes made from hand-dipped ice cream and spin on the chrome stools that surround two U-shaped bars while traffic on Rochester's Main Street rolls by outside. The burgers are big and simple half-pound, hand-formed patties on bakery-fresh buns. The floors are checkered black-and-white and doo-wop music fills the space. This place is so '50s you might almost feel out of place without a ducktail and a pack of smokes rolled up in your sleeve.
Sidetrack Bar and Grill 56 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1035; $$: This joint's burger has had laurels heaped upon it by burger aficionados, local papers, even GQ magazine — named one of 20 hamburgers "you must eat before you die." And just $5.50 will help you check that one off your life list.
Tap Room 201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320; $$: Downtown Ypsilanti's oldest drinking establishment has an atmosphere that's relaxed and casual, catering to a diverse clientele. It can get crowded and rowdy on a weekend night, where throngs gather amid the original woodwork and tin ceiling. With dozens of kinds of bottled beers and nine drafts, you'll find the right beer to go with that broiled 1/3-pound burger.
Telway Diner 6820 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-843-2146; $: There's just something about all-night diners. Telway, on Michigan Avenue west of Livernois, is the kind of place where the waitresses had tattoos before everyone else. It feels like it would be easy to become a regular; with only seven stools, right on top of the workspace, you can hardly avoid getting involved in conversations. Nobody's in a hurry for you to leave after your 45-cent hamburger. In the fast-food genre, Telway is a hell of a lot friendlier than McDonald's, and some of the food is better.
Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield, Detroit; 313-831-9470; $: Although not even close to being vegged-out, Traffic Jam and Snug restaurant has some pretty interesting food of their own, not to mention, much of it is made in house. Try the Great Northern bean and vegetable Burger ($8) or the Jam Burger ($8), a half-pound of ground round with lettuce, tomato and dressing. You can wash it down with Traffic Jam's brewed-on-site beers or a Fruity Pebbles and Faygo Rock and Rye homemade ice cream.
Vinsetta Grill 28028 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-543-2626; $$: Diners are permitted them to build their own burger of beef, turkey or veggie with a dazzling array of choices. You can have your patty in a traditional bun or in a bowl with greenery and add one cheese from 10 options that include feta and horseradish cheddar and four toppings from among 20 that range from prosaic onions or tomatoes to unusual dried cranberries or hard-boiled eggs. And you're not done yet, because you can also select from among 19 sauces, with peanut, roasted garlic aioli, and soy-ginger glaze among the most intriguing. The owners estimate that — also considering a grilled-chicken "burger" variation, choice of bun and additional "premium toppings," they offer as many as 300,000 possible individualized burgers. All three burgers are thick and juicy, with the pricey and complicated veggie burger — corn, mushrooms, scallions, bell pepper, spinach, carrots, spinach and potatoes — a bit looser in consistency than its meatier counterparts. The perfect accompaniment would be the grill's signature French fried sweet potatoes ($3.79) cooked without trans fats.
Whistle Stop 501 S. Eton, Birmingham; 248-647-5588; $: Cheese and meat omelets, pancakes with fruit, cinnamon rolls, French toast ó sounds like a breakfast winner. Equally traditional lunch items include tuna melts and Maurice salads. Weekend breakfast specials, served all day, are a tad more adventurous, and everything is made fresh on the premises, including the breads and bumpy cakes.
Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; 313-833-2701; $: The most popular items on the menu (as on all menus) are the burgers. They're a succulent half-pound of certified Angus, dressed up with white cheddar or goat cheese or caramelized bacon or portabellas, delivered rare if you ask for rare. The "Stevers McFever" is their superior black-bean burger: The patty holds together well with a convincing-looking finish to it. When it's topped with sliced avocados, marinated tomatoes, caramelized onions and — for a fine-dining accent — a balsamic glaze, it approaches the perfect burger. What's more, it's not only vegetarian but vegan.