Burgies, Alpena

When I ask where you would go to get a great burger, you would probably say “Alpena”. What was that? No, that is not the answer you would give? Well, let’s see if I can change your mind.

Dinner time had arrived after my hiking and biking extravaganza in northeast Michigan. I rolled into Alpena, exhausted and hungry for a bite or a dozen. I was glad I had mapped the location of Burgies beforehand, because it would be an easy place to miss. Small and non-descript one could easily drive past none the wiser. (It’s the block southwest of the Alpena county building, in case you’re keeping score at home.)

Burgies

Burgies

The reviews on Yelp had been outstanding, which was the reason I had decided it was the dinner stop for HikeFest 2016. I squeezed into the small dining area. I’m not a large man, despite my love of food, but things are tight inside, so suck in your gut as you move around. I went a tad early, which probably also helped.

The waiter was super friendly and helpful, THE combination of attributes to have as a waiter. He brought over my Petoskey Brewing Horny Monk, which wasn’t an easy choice – Burgies has several craft beers on tap. As the knight said to Indiana Jones, choose wisely. I did.

2016 is the “Year of the Olive Burger”. Though a beef olive burger wasn’t on the menu (it was a turkey burger), they switched out the meat and I had a sizable burger topped with beautiful olives sitting before me in a short period of time.

Olive burger

Olive burger

What a great looking burger. It didn’t look nearly that nice after I was halfway through it – it was a scary sight, a true burger disaster. We’ll leave it at that. No pictures were taken of this even. You’re welcome.

The Burgies burger tasted even better than it looked. It was perfectly cooked (medium-ish) and not a hint of toughness. It has a good ratio of olives to mayonnaise, an important ratio for an olive burger. The large slice of Swiss complimented the burger nicely. And who knew arugula wouldn’t be disgusting on a hamburger? It added some crispness and a hint of bitterness that made the burger more interesting.

Can’t leave out the onion rings. The breading was not at all doughy, and was cooked just right. The onions were perfect onion ring material, firm but very easy to bite through – no gnawing required. You know those onion rings where, after biting them, you’re left with a big string of onion in your mouth and hollow tube of breading in your hand? Not so with the Burgies onion rings. Easily among the best onion rings I have had.

Everything about my experience at Burgies was excellent. I’ve seen many 5-star reviews, and they are certainly warranted. If you are anywhere near the pinky area of Michigan, it is worth a visit. In fact, you should visit. If you are a burger-lover, I would question your sanity if you didn’t.

BJ’s Bar and Grill, Morrice, MI

Morrice is not known for… well, anything that I can think of. I’ve visited the little town (less than 1,000 residents) several times as a turn-around spot for my cycling route, but never for any other reason. But I decided to visit Morrice’s one bar to see what it was all about. Thus, I arrived at BJ’s Bar and Grill after work.

I was the only one dressed in black Dockers, and I was instantly out of place. I got the occasional looks from the people at the bar, the “who is that guy?” look, but it wasn’t unfriendly, just curious. I sometimes get that look at home, too.

BJ's awesome interior

BJ’s awesome interior

I liked BJ’s from the start. Small, local, with all kinds of beer paraphernalia on the walls. It reminded me of my college dorm room, just without so many people I didn’t know. Most of the time. What I also liked about the place was that their one-page menu was taped to the wall. No messing around with handing out menus, just look at the wall. Convenient.

I had hoped they had an olive burger, because 2016 is Scott’s Year of the Olive Burger. And they did! And voila, I present to you, the BJ’s olive burger:

Olive burger!

Olive burger!

OK, it doesn’t look like much. But it tasted pretty good. The burger was fine, nothing outstanding, perhaps a little dry. The sauce was full of olives and didn’t lack for mayo. That helped balance the dryness of the burger to make it a wash. The bun was grilled, which you often don’t get in your finer establishments, but at BJ’s, you do. The fries were hit or miss. Some were quite good, the perfect mix of crispy exterior and soft interior, but others were nearly soggy.

And I will not leave out the beer. I’m usually a bit of a beer snob, but I went for a $2.50 20 oz. Budweiser. And not just because Peyton Manning was going on and on about it during his Super Bowl speech (he owns Budweiser distributorships, so he was giving himself free advertising.) At BJ’s, a Bud just seemed like the right thing to drink.

Admittedly, there is not a lot of choice in Morrice. You have a BJ’s, Country Kitchen, and a pizza place. But I liked the food, liked the atmosphere, and really liked the inexpensive beers. If you’re in Morrice (and who isn’t at some point… don’t answer that), check it out.

Jumbo’s, Owosso

One finds themselves in Pittsburg, MI for three reason. 1) You’re going to Perry. 2) You’re going to Owosso. 3) You’re going to a Steelers game and wildly lost. I was in Pittsburg twice yesterday, first for reason #2, then for reason #1, spending a grand total of 20 seconds in the town. And that was enough.

But enough about Pittsburg – that’s probably the most that’s been written about that town in the past year. The real purpose of this post is to talk about the third olive burger I’ve had this year, at Jumbo’s in Owosso, the crown jewel of Shiawassee County. I had walked through town to see what were the most promising establishments in the downtown area for a burger, and this seemed like a good choice. After all, the restaurant had “burger” written all over it:

Jumbo's, Owosso

Jumbo’s, Owosso

There wasn’t much to think about once I got inside as far as what to order. I was in an olive burger mood, and an olive burger I did order. It was a good-looking burger, and the fries matched it in food appeal. The fries looked beer-battered, but they may have been milk battered, or wine battered – they were cooked in something tasty and unhealthy, that’s for sure. The pickle was pretty ugly, and though it looked past its prime, it did its species proud in the taste department.

Olive burger

Olive burger

The beer you see in the top right corner was a Fat Tire. Though good, I should have gotten the $2 24oz. PBR. Regrets, I have a few…

The burger was decent, though not outstanding. It had plenty of olives and plenty of mayo, the latter is a good thing on an olive burger. I put a small amount of blame on the less than stellar burger on myself. I ordered it medium well when my heart was telling me medium. So it was a little dry. That probably didn’t affect the taste much, which didn’t really stand out above an average burger, but it probably would have been better had it been cooked less. The fries were the star of the plate. They were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and full of those carbohydrates that I so love about potatoes.

Jumbo’s was a decent place, and I’d visit again. It’s got that small-town, local feel, probably because it’s a small town, locals bar. They didn’t have a lot of beers on tap, and those were mostly the Bud Light – Bud variety, but they had more than Nick’s in Durand, so that was an improvement over my last restaurant experience.

Goodbye R Club

I had written this a few months ago and it got lost in the shuffle. If you hadn’t heard, the R Club closed last month (December 2015). But I wanted to write this post from my last R Club experience.

The breakfast burger at The R Club, Lansing

Most meals are made better with multiple meats in the mix. That’s why I like my burgers with bacon. And if you add egg, that’s like a potential meat. And it’s also like breakfast on your burger. And add cheese, too? Yes, you should do that, because it would make even more better, and more better is better than less better.

So when I saw the bacon, egg, and cheese burger at the R Club, of course I would order it. And it was burger-rific. It was cooked to my liking (if it hadn’t been, there would have been hell to pay) with every bite full of something good. Interesting flavors are really what I’m after in a burger (perhaps that is why I like olive burgers so much), and the combination of all these good tastes really worked.  The fries were tasty as well, and the water was non-poisonous, a feature I like in my water. It was lunchtime, but service was fast and close enough to friendly to matter.

I wasn’t surprised at my good experience at the R Club. I’ve been there many times, both for lunch and for complaining about work (not my current job, BTW, and that ain’t no lie) with equally annoyed coworkers. They have a good menu with lots of choices and easy access to the freeway in case you need a quick escape, in case you need to stop at Speedway to get something for you anniversary. Doughnuts, gift cards, Hostess Ding Dongs – they have everything a spouse could want.

Go, eat the breakfast-like burger, and be happy.

B Spot, somewhere west of Cleveland

Technically, it was Westlake. But, when I talked to my wife that night, all I really knew is that it was somewhere around Cleveland. Thus, Westlake will always be “somewhere west of Cleveland”.

But somewhere west of Cleveland was nicer than I expected. I have come to change my opinion of the area. When I used to hear Cleveland, I would think industrial wasteland and burning rivers. (Yes, I know that second one was a long time ago.) But a few trips to the area have given me an appreciation that there are some really nice spots in northeast Ohio. I’m an especially fond of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

B Spot was located in one of those nice spots, in an outdoor mall called Crocker Park. But it was more than just a mall. In addition to nice shops and restaurants, there were apartments above those, and it felt like a bigger version of a small town. I even relaxed next to a fountain while listening to a band.

Crocker Park

Crocker Park

I was the first one of our group at the restaurant, and I had the important job of getting a table, which I did with extreme prejudice. Whatever that means. During my wait, I enjoyed a beer from New Holland – even though I was in Ohio, I still wanted a taste from faraway Michigan. Their beer menu was solid, including a description of the beer, and the price, which I appreciate.

B Spot Burgers, Westlake, OH

B Spot Burgers, Westlake, OH

Many good burger choices awaited me, but the Fat Doug called me, a burger topped with coleslaw, Swiss and pastrami. It had two meats, which on a burger is better than only one meat. I really couldn’t taste the pastrami – I could visibly confirm that it was in there, it simply had a mild flavor. The coleslaw made a nice showing, though. The burger itself was perfectly cooked, and when they said a little bit on pink, they were right-on.

Fat Doug at B Spot

Fat Doug at B Spot

As an aside, I kept calling the “Fat Doug” a “Hot Doug”, probably because I’m still grieving at the closing Hot Doug’s near Chicago. I believe this is the “denial” phase.

Back to the food. The burger didn’t come with any sides, but our table ordered fries and onion rings, and both were excellent, with my slight preference being the fries. Perhaps I just like rosemary, or maybe it was the superior crispiness of the fries. Either way you choose (I’m not judging here), you’ll be happy. Onions and potatoes can live happily together. And I have to give a special shout-out to the pickle bar. It’s like a salad bar, but with pickles. I didn’t make that up, either.

The burger at B Spot was be-licious (you’re welcome for that). This was my second experience with a Michael Symon restaurant, the first being the incredibly good Roast in Detroit. We have a nice outdoor mall in Lansing – perhaps Mr. Symon wants to delve a little farther into Michigan?

Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers, Farmington Hills

What better way to top of a day of computer classes, hiking, and a trip to Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum that with a great burger. A freakin’ great burger, if their name was to be believed. I drove past it the first time, having the subtle decorations of a goth McDonald’s (is that what it used to be, by the way?), but was able to notice it the second time I drove by. That is my dedication to going there that I turned around to eat there. I hope they’re appreciative.

Freakin' Unbelievable Burger

Freakin’ Unbelievable Burger

They not only sold apparently unbelievable burgers, they also had beer! Well, that is a nice option. I didn’t get one, but glad to know that I could. No, instead, I need the energy boost of a Coke to go along with my olive burger. Normally, this is my go-to burger, but there were a few options that tempted me away from my love. But I stayed faithful. And I went with the original, double patty burger, not the single patty version. Another good choice.

Freakin' olive burger!

Freakin’ olive burger!

I’m glad I did. See, the burger looks good. The patties were not large, but you put two together, and you’re in a good place. Really, go with the two patties. Honestly. The olive sauce was decent – better than I make at home, which is one of my gauges on goodness. Plenty of cheese and fries. I most certainly didn’t leave hungry. It was an all-around good meal, the burger cooked just how I like it, though they didn’t ask – they just knew.

And the staff! They were quite friendly, and I’m pretty sure they would have fed me had I asked them. I didn’t, because that would have been weird. And they have a chandelier!

 

Freakin' Chandelier!

Freakin’ Chandelier!

So if you better believe you can get a good burger in Farmington Hills, and even though it looks like it, you don’t have to be a leather-clad biker to go there. It probably wouldn’t hurt, but leather or not, Freakin’s is the choice.

Harper’s, East Lansing

East Lansing in December is a magical place. Well, not so much magical as quiet. With the students gone to places far and wide, locals like me return to see what they have been missing.

I had a hankering for Harper’s. I hadn’t been there for several years after my wife and I had some mediocre meals. But time heals all culinary wounds, and I was back for more. I entered the restaurant and first thought it was closed. There was hardly anyone there, but indeed, they were open, the better for me because I don’t like crowds.

I had spotted the burger / beer special on their website. $5 for a burger, $2 for a craft beer – yeah, I’ll try that. And being the green olives fan that I am, I requested said fruit be on there, too. Here is what I got, and I apologize for the shadowy picture – I’m self-conscious of taking flash photography in restaurants. Though I do it, I think taking pictures of meals is a little weird.

Burger at Harper's, East Lansing

Burger at Harper’s, East Lansing

So you’ll notice that the number of olives is a little low. There were exactly 11 olive slices on the burger. Yes, I counted them. And the mustard packets. Packets. At a restaurant. At a hot dog stand, I expect packets. At nicer breweries, I don’t expect that. But it did have a very nice bun (which, by the way, was also the best tasting part of the meal).

Taste-wise, it was un-good. Overcooked and dry, you’ll find a superior burger off the McDonald’s value menu. I would complain about the size, too, but in this case, less is better. The fries were at times dangerously close to good, with a nice spice applied to them, but they were just too inconsistently cooked. Some were like sticks, others like noodles.

The beer was the best part of my experience. The pale ale had a nice, even hop flavor that overshadowed the underperforming burger. I was pleasantly surprised by that, and the service was fast. Well, I was about the only one there, but still…

An aside about the brewery itself. The place looked old and unloved. Scuffed floors, broken glass in a wine rack – little things that added up to a look of neglect. I really wanted to like my Harper’s experience. I remember fondly going there in my 20s and having drinks with friends, even seeing the crowds go by during some of the famous Cedar Village riots. Oh, good times those were.

If you are looking for a good burger and beer special, try Red Cedar Grill in Williamston. I may return to Harper’s in the summer to have a beer or two on the patio, but unless I hear of vast improvements in the quality of food, no more meals at Harper’s.