Every burger joint has a story. Whether it's a family-run business three generations deep or an upscale slider joint appropriating a historic space, we find that we spend a fair amount of time in our "burger column" talking about the history of these places — and with good reason. Burger joints rely on repeat business, and, even when the burgers are great, there's usually at least a little gimmickry involved. Every decent burger joint has a trick or a tale, such as the rectangular burgers at Marcus Burger, the 10-pound "Monster Burger" at Mallie's Sports Grill & Bar, or the 85-year history of Motz's.
At Dearborn's Famous Hamburger, it's a little of both. The tale is amazing. In the late 1960s, Hussein Hider returned to his native Beirut from the United States and opened a burger joint called Famous Hamburger in 1970. Unfortunately, a 15-year conflict known as the Lebanese Civil War was in the offing, and in the late 1980s, Hider's son Feisal brought his family to the United States, with the dream of establishing a Famous Hamburger location. In 1998, that dream became a reality. In 2005, the restaurant relocated to its present Schaefer Road location. Now there's one in Canton, and there are plans for another one in west Dearborn, at Howard Street and Michigan Avenue.
If the mini-chain is a growing concern, a large part of that is owed to the tricks of the trade Famous puts into its burgers. We've enjoyed a few over the years. They're a tribute to the really wonderful things Middle Eastern cooks can do with halal beef. Complex, full of ingredients instead of additives, a patty is elevated to something like a meatloaf, only more succulent.
Famous is one of those places that serves all sorts of burgers — "the Juicy Lucy," the "California Avocado," "the French Croissant," the "Fish Burger," the Crispy Chicken Burger," and many more — but, purists that we are, we went simple. We ordered the classic burger, medium, which came with tomato, shredded iceberg lettuce, red onion, and sweet crinkle-cut pickle slices. It came with a goodly pile of what appeared to be hand-cut fries.
We'll get to that burger, but, man, are those fries good. It's either a tough science or a fine art to get the inside of the fry creamy and the outside crisp enough to shatter, but they do it well here. Little bits of skin on the end would seem to suggest they didn't come frozen in a bag. Great fries.
The burger is excellent. It's comparable to M&M Cafe's "Maurice Burger," but with less vegetable matter. This finely ground burger, made from chuck, is enriched with spices. Juices spill out of it. It's a pleasure to eat, and almost impossible not to inhale. Also, the bun is not too big, and, since a couple months ago, each "handcrafted artisan bun" comes emblazoned with the logo of the restaurant. (All those social media meal photos presented too tempting an advertising opportunity?)
We spoke to the general manager, Moe Hider, and asked what spices we saw in the burger. The dark flakes visible on the medium patty. Were they pepper? That was our guess.
"You can have as many guesses as you want," he told us with a laugh. "I just can't tell you anything. I'll lose my job."
Given the winning ways of the Hider family's secret recipe, we certainly respect such tight-lipped practices. Guess we'll just have to keep coming back for more. — mt