Near, Far or Pack the Car: Best Burgers in the Midwest
What is it that makes food appealing, inviting, tasty? It's how a dish smells, feels, sounds, what it looks like and how it engages our taste buds. Road trips -- near or far -- have a way of introducing us to some pretty spectacular fare. Over the last couple of years, I have found through my travels, that not all staples are created equal. The hamburgers I am writing home about are at Petoskey Brewing Company, Oak & Alley, Farren's Pub & Eatery and are worth the cost of gas and then some.
Being mobile adds a layer of complexity and variables to food. There's more choice, exotic, local ingredients, plus weather, length of trip and mode of transportation to influence how you perceive the food. Driving to and through Michigan's Upper Peninsula in a Corvette convertible on an epic ten-day voyage, added some extra drama to meals during that adventure. Five days of topless driving in 90 degree heat, and we rolled into Petoskey, Michigan. We were road-weary, "tired" from "touring" wineries all day and hangry. Travel "tiffs" had crept into the itinerary and grub was needed.
We had plotted wineries, breweries and other stopping points along the way and the Petoskey Brewing Company was our dinner destination. Let's face it, nearly two years ago, the details have left me -- but that burger! Over the two years since meeting my destiny (the burger) I have thought about it, dreamed of it and spoken of it wistfully. The taste still lingers on my tongue! I talked about it so much, that Greg recreated it for dinner last month!
The olive burger is a standard, smashed burger with green olive mayo and Swiss cheese. I'm not a fan of Swiss, so there's a good chance I substituted feta or blue cheese, though I can't recall. I did dive into that mother burger like I hadn't eaten for years. Between the stellar brews and the entree, my dinner conversation consisted of "nom, nom, nom!" Our rendezvous was but a moment, Olive Burger, but I'll remember you for a lifetime.
Fastforward a year and change and I'm on a girls' weekend with my BGSU besties. Jo and Nicole humored me, and we met in Kosciusko County, Indiana. I say "humored," because I have written for the Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Bureau and it's a great way for me to mix business with pleasure. I'm not sure about those girls, but when I'm with them, I'm magically 20 years old again. It doesn't matter that the three of us have milestone birthdays this year, we always laugh, cry, (OK, I'm the one who cries) drink lots of wine and call it research for Jo, who's starting a winery.
We spent much of that Saturday shopping and stopped in Warsaw, Indiana for dinner, where we found Oak & Alley. The restaurant was hiding better than an egg at the community Easter celebration. We had to go all old-fashioned and actually ASK someone, but the payoff was worth it. We were greeted by a great waitress, fun bartender and craft
cocktails. O&A is all about the craft of everything they do. I ordered the taproot -- expertly grilled beef topped with beets, goat cheese, creme fraiche and dill on an artisan roll. I added a fried egg sunny side up for fun. Heaven. If there wasn't already a song about cheeseburgers and paradise this craft concoction would inspire someone to write it. Worth the trip to Warsaw, Indiana with or without your besties.
Then there's burger number three. In December, Greg and I were running an errand in Champaign, Illinois and decided to stop by Farrren's Pub and Eatery. If you looked up the dictionary definition of "hole in the wall," you would find a picture of Farren's -- tucked away in another alley. If you didn't know where you were going, you could miss it. Greg works in Champaign and this wasn't his first alley burger rodeo.
Farren's was voted 2018's best burger in Illinois by TripAdvisor. It's not fancy or foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's good and big. Not a little larger than the average, but the size of a dinner plate dahlia! I cut it in half before attempting to pick it up -- a two-hander. There aren't lots of bells and whistles to choose from on the menu, but when the burger is this good there doesn't need to be. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with the house-made blue cheese sauce and french fries that were golden brown and a touch crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
I hope your next road trip includes Indiana, Illinois and Michigan and a visit to one or all three of these eateries. Petoskey has snowmobiling, skiing, hunting and fishing no matter what time of year you visit. Kosciusko County is active all year long, but ramps up between Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends. Shopping, history and the lake life beckon. Champaign, Illinois has plenty of arts, culture, festivals and sporting events winter, spring, summer and fall. Why are you still sitting there? Grab your family, husfriend, girlfriend or besties and hit the road.