Editor's note: Burgermeisters! Here's another excerpt from George Motz's book Hamburger America. George and his publisher were kind enough to allow us to run them here, along with George's beautiful photos. Eat up!
A visit to Blimpy Burger can be a daunting but rewarding experience. Part theatre, the cooks behind the counter engage in a sort of Soup Nazi berating of customers that do not follow the cafeteria-style rules of ordering. "Just answer the questions I’m asking you," grill cook Brian told a group of newcomers the first time I visited. In reality, the rules are there to help you, not scare you. They are there to allow the cooks to get your food to you fast, which is a good thing because you'll need this burger in your mouth as soon as possible.
Blimpy Burger is on the edge of the University of Michigan campus, surrounded by student rental houses with mud lawns. For students, the positioning of this decades old greasy spoon could not be better. The interior of Blimpy Burger is wholly utilitarian and the opposite of a comfy dive. A low, drop ceiling and greenish fluorescent lighting give the place a construction trailer feel. A collection of vintage cast-iron swivel stools bolted to the floor service most of the tables.
The fresh chuck that is used for Blimpy burgers is ground in the back daily. When you ask for a burger, you tell the grill cook how many you'd like (up to five, a "quint") and he'll grab that number of one and a half-ounce-balls of beef. The balls are tossed onto the hot griddle and smashed together creating a sloppy, misshaped, flat patty. The burgers are pressed and pressed until they can get no thinner, flipped pressed some more, then tossed on a bun. You'd think these guys had pressed the life out of your burger, but relax; you are in good hands. The result is a glorious grease bomb—a pile of loose, griddled meat that is crunchy in parts and soft in others. The meat is so loose it's practically pebbly. Mohawked grill cook Brian told me laughing, "These things are held together by hope.”
The choice of roll for your burger, toasted on the griddle, includes pumpernickel, onion, or Kaiser, the latter offered with or without sesame seeds because, as Rich explained matter-of-factly, "Some people have diverticulitis." The onion roll is hands-down one of the best I have ever eaten, soft and tasty and able to soak up the copious amounts of grease a Blimpy burger produces. "Onion rolls most places suck," Rich told me bluntly, "These really are great rolls."
A group of healthy-looking sixty-somethings were enjoying their burgers the last time I visited and told me, "This is where we celebrate our birthdays. We've been coming here for over fifty years." When one of the grill guys, Skinny, heard that, he blurted out, "And they STILL don’t know how to order their burgers."
Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger
551 South Division Street, Ann Arbor MI 48104 (map) 734-663-4590 Mon. to Sat., 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sun., Noon - 8 p.m.
Hamburger America is available at Amazon and comes with a DVD of George's movie of the same title.