Dearborn, MI: Miller's Bar Serves a Great No-Frills Burger
23700 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn MI 48124 (map); 313-565-2577
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An iconic American burger. Big, beefy, well seasoned
Want Fries with That? Yes, you do. Crisp and potato-y. Onion rings are also great.
Prices: Burgers and sandwiches around $5
Notes: They've got a couple other sandwiches on the menu, but stick with the burger
You wouldn't expect to find a great burger on a 6-lane strip of commercial property sporting mostly strip clubs and Lebanese restaurants, but it's there. It's pretty easy to miss Miller's Bar, with its nearly windowless facade and was-once-probably-much-brighter signage, but it's worth stopping at. The interior is as old school as it gets. Glossy wood veneer booths, red leather banquettes, and no frills; You want silverware? Sorry—you can't even get a plate here.
Of course, that don't make the food any less delicious. Ordering is a simple affair. You could opt for the corned beef, but really, people come here for the 7-ounce burger. Just tell your bartender how well done you want it, and whether you'd like a slice of American or Swiss (go with the American, shaved off of a big fat deli block to order). A slab of freshly sliced raw onion comes on the side, along with a jar of pickles. You'll want to add the onions and pickles, but lay off the condiments until you've had at least your first bite. Chances are that you'll opt out of them because the meat is just that good.
Ground fresh every morning and delivered pre-pattied to the bar, the beef is definitely fattier than the 90 percent lean the bartender tells you it is. I'm never in town long enough to catch their names, but I imagine that the bartender go by Joe or Dylan, or some equally old-timey Michigander name. They're as integral to the atmosphere as the blacked out windows and wood paneling.
All the cooking is done on a single flattop griddle, where the burgers pick up a nice degree of browning, just as they've been cooked since the place opened in 1941.
In the last year, I've seen a couple troubling reports that some of the griddle cooks have taken to pressing down on the patties as they cook to speed up the process. Indeed, I even saw them doing it while my burger was on the flattop on my most recent visit. Nevertheless, the cheeseburger arrived at my stool on its little square of waxed paper—no plate—as juicy as I ever remembered it being.
Next time, though, I'll make sure to ask them to take their time with it.
Just looking at this thing of beauty makes tiny onion-scented tears of joy well up in the corners of my eyes. Have you ever seen a burger that plays its part so modestly but so well? There are certain actors who excel at playing the normal guy. The ones who make being the average Joe look so good that it makes everybody feel exceptional. This burger is one of those. It shows us how extraordinary a perfectly ordinary burger can be.
It's pretty obvious just looking at them how greasy they're gonna be. And I mean that in a good way. The steamed soft white buns have a faint slick of burger grease on their surface, and if you order your burger anything short of medium, you can expect to see some juices already beginning to saturate your bun. The cheese comes melted underneath the patty, forming a protective barrier and preventing total bun collapse.
Fries and onion rings are available, and both are worth ordering. With these side orders, you get the courtesy of a little cardboard boat to hold them in place. Ask the barman for a beer to wash them down and he'll ask you back whether you want a Miller, a Miller Light, or That One That's Not Miller. Despite the restaurant's name, you probably want to opt for the latter.
Occasionally your burger might come out a bit on the rare side of medium-rare, but with beef this tasty, it's a forgivable offense.
Yeah, I'd say it's forgiven.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.