This is the second of two belated Kansas posts from December 2005. The first can be found here: Bobo's Drive-In.
THE COZY INN
Location: 108 North 7th Street, Salina KS 67401 [map]
Cost: 75¢ each
The Short Order: Sliders here are juicy, steamy, and mega-oniony. Don't act a fool and ask for cheese; Cozy don't play that. And, oooh, that smell it will saturate your clothes. Bonus: Plenty of cool Cozy merch available
You Want Fries With That? You can't always get what you want. Grab a bag of chips as a side; Cozy doesn't do fries
One hundred fifty miles east of Salina, Kansas, and the onion smell lingered on. Like the smoke from a dive bar in which cigarettes are still legal, the pungent fumes clung to my clothes and hair. Nearly three hours' road time behind me, the lights of my hometown on the horizon, and tears began to pool in my eyes: Did I already miss that cozy little burger joint out west or ... "J.B., CLOSE THAT DAMN BAG! I CAN'T TAKE THAT AROMA!"
My traveling companion, J.B., had just opened the gallon-size zip-top bag (right) containing a souvenir of our trip to The Cozy Inn. Despite being locked tight inside the sealed plastic, the commemorative T-shirt had nevertheless absorbed a concentrated dose of the Cozy's signature smell. (To re-create this odor at home: Go to your spice drawer, open the bottle of dried minced onions you never use, and snort the contents.)
While it may sound unappetizing, I think it's precisely that smell that beckons burger lovers both near and far to the Cozy Inn, filling their nostrils and noggins with a healthy dose of nostalgia. Need evidence? Look no further than the three-ring binder full of testimonials from devotees. It's kept on the counter, letters slipped into plastic sleeves for their own protection:
Yeah, you read that right: 1929. This place has been a Salina institution since 1922. Check out the neon sign in the photo at right: 83 years (as of December 2005) and counting the sign's neon gets reworked each year.
Despite an outsize sense of history, the burgers themselves are anything but large. The Cozy specializes in sliders. And though they come with a heaping throw of onions (no exceptions), they absolutely do not come with cheese. A word to those who are weak of stomach: This is not your restaurant. If nowhere else, Cozy's sliders have earned the right to be called belly bombers or gut busters.
While the strong onion dosage is a selling point, it can at times overwhelm these tiny hamburgers. And the water content of the aromatic slices can sometimes further mush-ify the small buns that are already moist with steam, having been placed atop the patties as they cook on the diminutive 18-by-36-inch cast-iron grill. About the grill: It was replaced at some point during the 1940s but the demanding clientele had a conniption and the owner quickly reinstalled the original.
As of publication, single burgers cost 75¢ but a patron with a good appetite should start with a half dozen. Or, if you're there with kids in tow, as were many of Salina's natives the evening AHT visited, you'd do well to order a sack of 30 for the family. It's never too early to start instilling a good measure of oniony nostalgia in today's youth.