A bevy of local spots to chomp on a hamburger
Published: May 18, 2011
Miller's Bar 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-565-2577; millersbar.com; $: 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.
Mister Spots 808 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-747-7768; mrspots.com; $: A longstanding Ann Arbor classic, Mister Spots has been filling the bellies of its loyal patrons for more than 25 years. Made famous for Philly-style sandwiches, all beef used is USDA choice rib-eye steak. Chicken options are equally satisfying and are served with the house special sauce. Though primarily a steak and hoagie joint, Spots does burgers well. Served on a Kaiser roll and made with Angus beef, the 1/4-pound burger is a deal at only $4. There is also a 1/2-pound version and both come with plenty of fresh toppings. Sides such as potato and macaroni salads are available, and fries come by the sack. The award-winning Buffalo-style chicken wings are fantastic, both boneless and traditional. If you like things spicy, try with the signature "suicide" sauce. Even former U-M and current New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can't resist a trip to Spots when in town. His autographed picture hangs on the wall with a message thanking Spots for getting him through school. That may not be an exaggeration; the food is that good.
Motor City Sports Bar 9122 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck 313-875-4710; second location at 21231 Mound Rd., Warren; 586-755-4750; $: This little joint may not look like much from the outside, but the somewhat rough exterior conceals an old-fashioned Hamtramck bar that harks back to an earlier age, when people poured in at the end of a shift change for burgers and beers. And what keeps them streaming in are burgers and fries that any restaurant would serve with pride. The burgers are absolute two-hander, three-napkin monsters, not too dry, not too moist, cooked perfectly to order. Each burger has a half-pound of beef on a puffy sesame seed bun. Seldom does something this good and satisfying come in a plastic basket on a bed of wax paper. And the fries are nothing to sniff at either: Thick, steak-cut fries topped with just the right amount of fine-grain salt.
Nemo's Bar and Grill 1384 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-965-3180; nemosdetroit.com; $$: Formerly in the shadow of the old Tiger Stadium, this place was a sports bar years before it was cool. The old-fashioned pressed-tin ceiling and sports memorabilia everywhere add to the atmosphere. Plus, the hamburgers can't be beat.
Old Town Tavern 122 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-9291; oldtownaa.com; $$: Old Town has been a tavern since 1898. 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.
Quickie Burger Bar and Grill 800 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-4555; quickie-burger.com; $: Open on weekends until 4 a.m., you'll find this campus staple packed with those looking for their late-night fried food fix. Beer-battered mushrooms and onion rings, sweet potato fries and sausage gravy-covered fries make the appetizers a huge draw. The burgers, however, are the main reason to stop in. Ranging in size from the 1/3-pound "Minor Cheeseburger" ($5) to the mammoth, full-pound "Double Major Cheeseburger" ($8), the burgers at Quickie are served on a whole-wheat bun with a secret sauce and a choice of five different cheeses. Extra toppings include egg, jalape�os, chili, peppers and sautéed mushrooms, among others. For a healthier option, veggie burgers, fresh salads and even a spinach and artichoke dip are available (and delicious). Beer, wine and cocktails are available along with shakes and malts in every variety with flavors such as mango and mint being especially unusual. And for those craving something off the griddle, breakfast is served all day.
Red Coat Tavern 31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300; 6745 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-865-0500; $$: In our annual reader's poll for Best Burger in Oakland County, the Red Coat comes out on top year after year, with its list of 20 add-ons, from burnt onions to olives to smoked Gouda, and five types of bread, including grilled rye or pumpernickel. The thick, juicy succulent two-handers require extra napkins. This place is crowded every day at lunch and dinner — and usually in between. There is a full menu, and not just bar food. Add the new location in West Bloomfield and you've doubled your pleasure.
Red Knapp's Dairy Bar 304 S. Main St., Rochester; 248-651-4545; redknapps.net; $: Excluding the prices, Red Knapp's Dairy Bar probably hasn't changed much since it opened in 1950. Small children sip their thick malted milkshakes made from hand-dipped ice cream and spin on the chrome stools that surround two U-shaped bars while traffic on Rochester's Main Street rolls by outside. The burgers are big and simple half-pound, hand-formed patties on bakery-fresh buns. The floors are checkered black-and-white and doo-wop music fills the space. This place is so '50s you might almost feel out of place without a ducktail and a pack of smokes rolled up in your sleeve.
Sidetrack Bar and Grill 56 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1035; sidetrackbarandgrill.com; $$: 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." The exact blend of fat and flesh, supplied by Hiller's and delivered twice a day, is ground to the owner's specs. It probably doesn't hurt that the cheeseburgers get two slices of cheese (nine choices). Then there's the location's history and ambience — a bar since 1850, the spot is a pebble's throw from the Amtrak tracks, still using the original, elaborately carved, dark wood bar. What's more, the adult beverage selection is top-notch.
Tap Room 201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320; taproomypsi.com; $$: 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.
Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield, Detroit; 313-831-9470; trafficjamdetroit.com; $: 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. They're serving a "Tex Mex Lentil Burger" ($8), "Catherine's Black Bean Burrito" ($10), or you can always try the "Jam Burger" ($8), a half-pound of ground round with lettuce, tomato and dressing. You can wash it all down with Traffic Jam's brewed-on-site beers or a Fruity Pebbles and Faygo Rock and Rye homemade ice cream.
Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; 313-833-2701; woodbridgepub.com; $: 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.
Thanks to editorial interns LaKeidra Bronner and Dylan Lawrence for their assistance researching this article.
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