leave your inhibitions at the door
It seems everywhere you look there’s a new “gourmet burger” place that’s sprouted up. When I was in NYC in April I went to both Bareburger and Shake Shack. Out in Cali everybody’s raving about Umami Burger. And it seems Five Guys is taking the whole country by storm – even invading our little hippie corner of Southeast Michigan. In addition to Five Guys there are a bunch more burger joints that have opened here recently. We’re not just talking about a bar or restaurant having a burger section on their menu. These are places where the burgers are front and center.
But none of these places compare to Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger.
They’ve been cooking burgers in the same location since 1953, you can easily call it an Ann Arbor institution. But it’s not just its longevity that makes it quintessential A2. With its hippie history, A2 prides itself on being “weird” and “counterculture”. People here don’t like following trends – at least those that are less than 10 years old. If you tell locals NO ONE wears frickin’ Birkenstocks any more, they do the opposite and buy some more just to spite you.
And it so it goes with Blimpy Burger, where just about every suggestion on how to make a perfect burger gets tossed out the window. I just Googled “the best way to make a hamburger” and the results were close enough to where I can say there’s a consensus on a few techniques. Let’s see how Blimpy Burger does:
- The best burgers are done on a grill. Not here – it’s on a griddle.
- Use coarsely ground meat. Ok, makes sense. This’ll make it steak-like. Blimpy’s double grinds their meat. When ordering, you select a double, triple, quadruple, or quint and they take out little pre-rolled 1.5 ounce balls of meat and put it on the griddle. They only make singles for kids, so adults start out with doubles.
- Don’t press down on the meat. As you press down, you compress the meat and squeeze out the juices. At Blimpy’s, as soon as those balls hit the griddle, they’re slapped down with a spatula to a super thin patty. As it cooks, they continue to slap it down.
- Avoid flipping over the burger often. Flipping it over makes it hard to get a good sear on the meat which leads to juices not staying in it. By the time the Blimpy’s cook serves your burger, it’s probably been flipped half a dozen times.
- Cook to medium or medium-rare. OK, this one isn’t necessarily a rule. Whenever you order a burger at a nicer restaurant they’ll ask you how you want it done. Medium or medium-rare is suggested so that juices aren’t cooked out of the patty. Blimpy’s? Cooked all the way through and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
In addition to the number of patties, you also have the choice of toppings, cheeses, and buns. This being the home of one of the best engineering schools in the world, of course someone calculated the number of different combinations. With the number of patties, cheeses, bun types, grilled items, and condiments, the total number of combinations is 2,147,483,648. That’s 2.1 billion. You can see the actual calculation on their site. Of course, me being the good Asian, I proofread the calculation.
So how are they?
You all know that I’m not down with sentimental choices. Just because something’s beloved by so many and has been around for years doesn’t mean I’m going to like it. In fact, that usually sends me screaming the other way. But these are good. DAMN good.
Bubba seems to have inherited my appetite as he’s graduated to the double. He ordered it with mushrooms and swiss..
I ordered the legendary Pepper Steak Bullet –
The burgers were still juicy and only slightly seasoned. All that flipping and smashing didn’t hurt it. I think what happens is because there are multiple patties, there’s more surface area for the juices (grease) to stick to. And it makes it crisper and crumbly – sounds odd, but it’s delicious. The Pepper Bullet with all its toppings is a harmonious mixture of flavors, textures, and temperatures. Definitely a must-have.
The sides are also excellent here. The fries are the big plank type and they have bottles of malt vinegar at each table, like classic fish and chips. We usually get the fried veggies – mushrooms, broccoli, carrots – to share. Or we get the onion rings, which take a full 2 days to make.
It’s a polarizing place, though. A lot of locals haven’t been there in years because it’s a “college kid thing” or they’re worried about it not being healthy. It’s also a total dump with rickety stools and tables. And the counter staff could be understudies to Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.
But I love it. It’s a great experience and burgers are one-of-a-kind. Best part? As their slogan says, “it’s cheaper than food.”
Anyone want to grab one with me? I’ll even pay for my own. What’s your favorite burger?