Monday, May 3, 2010

A Wild 48 Hrs in the Heartland

48 hours, 12 burgers and 750 miles of driving, that's basically what it turned out to be. The route for this stretch of research took me on a round trip starting in Cleveland. Follow this route - Cleveland to Columbus, Columbus to Urbana, Urbana to Fort Wayne Indiana, Fort Wayne to Detroit and then back to Cleveland to catch a flight out (I tried to time the trip to the airport with a quick stop at the Rock 'N Roll hall of fame but that never happened.)

I'm not going into too much detail since most of these joints are going into the book but I'll give a brief account of my wild ride.

In Cleveland I drove South to Akron to give Swenson's (above) a try based on many recommendations. It was excellent and the drive-in culture with carhops is alive and well in Ohio. I got the Galley Boy, which was a double on a very soft, yeasty bun with '2 special sauces'. I think the sauces were tartar and a ketchup thing and it hit the spot. I ate 2 of them.

I drove down to Columbus to visit Johnnie's and was joined by local EBT (expert burger taster) Jim Ellison (who brought me awesome vegan cookies from a local bakery - thanks for thinking about my health on the road Jim!). There's only one burger to get at Johnnie's but you choose your cheese. I chose the spicy pepper jack, apparently the fave among regulars. No one told me the burger was close to a pound! It was actually closer to 3/4 lb but what a beast..yum.

Next I dropped into Crabill's in Urbana just to say hi. I was headed to Sidney, OH and since Crabill's was on the way I had to stop. Marsha Crabill (above) was at the griddle (which is more like a tank full of glorious grease) and I had to have a few.

A short and picturesque drive through Ohio farmland brought me to the tiny city of Sidney and the vintage burger joint The Spot. A complete throwback with a burger on the menu that kicks some butt, the Big Buy (above). 2 patties, lettuce, pickle, cheese, and tartar sauce. The owner graciously offered to show me the square patty maker and I accepted. Fresh beef is basically extruded thru this vintage patty former, not pressed, making for a loose, crumbly texture.

More countryside and I crossed into Indiana headed for Fort Wayne. There I found a gem of gems - Powers Hamburgers. Situated near two stately downtown structures Powers was a perfect specimen of the Golden Age of the Hamburger, right down to the crispy waitstaff. Locals were treated like family, I was treated like a party crasher (maybe I asked too many questions). The burgers, true sliders to be exact, were phenomenal. Goes to show, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

On to Detroit and the upscale suburb of Birmingham where the well-preserved 1950s Hunter House also serves excellent oversized sliders. I started with a single for breakfast before realizing that the double (above) was the way to go (ordered one of those too, which was piled with steamy onions). Behind the counter were hanging signs of record holders that all seemed to be under ten years old, records for the number of burgers consumed in a single seating. Start 'em young, that's my kind of burger joint.

My last stop kinda freaked me out. Motz's Burgers in Detroit was a surefire failure right? Wrong. Not only does the place exist in a defunct White Castle and share my name, the burger is absolutely dreamy. Coincidentally, it's the pressed onion slider (above) that I make at home. How could this be? What are the chances? I was so relieved that Motz's delivered and they have a true spot in my book.

Next trip will be to Houston and San Antonio. Again, I'll be tweeting the trip so stay tuned.