Racine, Wisconsin: Kewpee Lunch

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[Photographs: Adam Kuban]

Wisconsin is a treasure trove of quirky mom-and-pop holdouts from another era. That's notable in and of itself, but the real beauty of these places is that Wisconsinites don't treat them as special-occasion destinations or museum pieces. They're just where you go to eat.

Racine's Kewpee Lunch is just that sort of place. It also happens to be one of only five remaining locations of a Depression-era quasi chain that once numbered more than 400. And how's this for quirk: It also happens to house a de facto kewpie doll museum that you can contemplate as you chow down on some great little burgers.

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See what I mean? People with pediophobia should send a friend in for take-out.

I'm not going to gush about the burgers at Kewpee Lunch. Not because they're not good (they are) but because they're just the sort of burger a good, solid everyday burger joint should serve. Kewpee is not wanking out over custom beef blends or obsessing over whatever it is the burger cognoscenti is obsessing over these days.

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Burgers are griddle-cooked to order from fresh-not-frozen beef, using the same smash technique Kewpee has probably been using since the place was founded in the '20s but which is now celebrated as if it were something new. Loosely packed, the patties had a nice sear on them and were just juicy and just salty enough. They're thin burgers, cooked to well-done if you don't order otherwise. They're not sliders (as I had mistakenly assumed they would be), despite having come from the White Castle era. They are fairly small, though — if you're hungry, go with a double ($2.70; $2.95 with cheese) or with multiple singles ($1.50 each; $1.75 with cheese). All burgers are served standard with pickles and raw onion. (The chain's slogan is "Hamburg pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity-flop!")

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These are unpretentious burgers done right — I envy the folks in Racine who call this their local.

Kewpee Lunch

520 Wisconsin Avenue, Racine WI 53403 (near 6th Street; map)
262-634-9601; kewpee.com

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