The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

This summer, John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/Mlive.com

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 551 S Division St., Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as MLive.com and AnnArbor.com, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo. 

The Secret to Morel Mushroom Hunting in Pure Michigan

Morel mushroom season is well underway in Pure Michigan! Like most mushroom hunters, guest blogger Joshua Nowicki prefers to keep the locations of his favorite spots to himself. We were able to get Joshua to share some tips and tricks of the hunt with us today.

Read about his adventures below and let us know if you’ve been morel mushroom hunting in Michigan this year. And don’t miss the Mesick Mushroom Festival, coming up this weekend in the “morel mushroom capitol.”

Elusive and delicious, morel mushrooms are a wonderful spring time delicacy in Pure Michigan. When you add hiking and the recent opening of trout fishing, you have more than a weekend of outdoor fun awaiting you. 

For me, it has become an annual tradition to spend at least a couple of weekends searching for morels somewhere in the thousands of acres of National Forest and State Forest land that surrounds the Cadillac area. Like most people, I will not tell you the location of my favorite spots, but I can give you a few tips on where you might look.

There are a variety of different theories on locating the best place to find morels. The easiest way for someone just getting started is to keep your eyes open as you are driving around and look for people slowing walking through the woods carrying mesh bags.* Though you are not likely to find a large quantity of morels in easily visible or popularly frequented areas, it is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the type of terrain that the mushrooms are likely to grow in and possibly talk with someone who has experience with mushroom identification.  

Morels are very unpredictable as to where they will grow year to year. I have found them in fields, forests, the edges of paved road and even in landscaping wood mulch in busy metropolitan areas. To make it more complicated, in places where I have found many one year, I will not find any the next. That said, my favorite areas to look include old orchards and areas that have been logged or been burned sometime during the last several years.

Once you have a location, the hunt really begins. I like to walk slowly scanning about a five to ten foot section of ground with my eyes. My father’s method, however, is to walk at a good pace with his eyes focused out about twenty or thirty feet. We make a good team with these two methods; he tends to find the largest morels and I find the smaller ones. When he spots a mushroom, I will often search the surrounding area and locate several small ones that he had overlooked. As for the time of day that I like to go, I have found that the lighting in early morning and evening makes for the best contrast for actually seeing the mushrooms. A friend of mine even carries a small wood carved morel and continually glances at it in an attempt to train his eyes to identify the morel mushroom shape.

When you have found a morel, be sure to pinch or cut the stem at the ground level. Please do not pull it from the ground; leave the root system intact.

Some weekends, I divide my time between morel mushroom hunting and trout fishing in the area’s rivers. Fresh caught trout with morels and ramps/wild leaks cooked over a campfire makes for a truly delightful day. 

After a tiring day of hiking the woods or when the weather is not cooperating, I head to downtown Cadillac which offers a variety of unique shops and locally own restaurants. 

Northern Lower Michigan also has several Mushroom festivals including the Mesick Mushroom Festival (May 10-12, 2013) which includes a flea market, craft show, “Biggest Morel Contest” and variety of other activities and events. A little further north, Boyne City hosts the National Morel Mushroom Festival (May 16 – 19, 2013) which includes a carnival, music, seminars on morels, food and much more.

A few additional words of advice:

  • To avoid picking and consuming false morels, I recommend that you purchase a good mushroom identification book or better yet, go with someone who has experience with finding morel mushrooms.
  • Be sure to carry a compass and/or GPS.
  • Dress appropriately for walking in the woods, keep your skin covered and wear boots or closed toe shoes.
  • Beware of ticks.
  • Do your best to avoid trespassing. 
  • Have fun, morel mushroom hunting is a wonderful family activity, kids are great at spotting morels.
  • When you find a good area, please let me know where it is; I will be sure to keep your secret. ;)

*Mesh bags are encouraged in order for the spores of the mushrooms to be dispersed as you continue your hunt, and therefore hopefully increase or maintain the morel population.

Have you been hunting for morel mushrooms this year? If you’re willing to share your tips or favorite locations, post them below!

Joshua Nowicki is a blogger for the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council, graphic designer and photographer. Joshua’s interest in photography began while working in museums, photographing artifacts, exhibits, and events. After moving to St. Joseph, Michigan in 2011, he started taking nature photographs to encourage his friends and relatives to visit and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the area. Joshua’s inspirations range from Lake Michigan and wildlife to sculpture and architecture. You can see more of Joshua’s photos at http://www.facebook.com/startvisiting.

Ann Arbor Restaurant Week 2013 – Michigan’s Largest Restaurant Week – Starts Sunday

With a record 55 restaurants participating, Ann Arbor’s Restaurant Week is the largest in the state of Michigan, taking place January 20 – 25. This is the prime time to try some new flavors and make the trip to Ann Arbor for some of the great food the area is known for. To prepare, we decided to talk to some of the rock stars of restaurant week in Ann Arbor. See what they had to say below and let us know which restaurant(s) you’ll be visiting next week!

Chef Duc Tang: Pacific Rim by Kana

Cuisine/Cooking style: I would describe our cuisine as ‘contemporary Pan-Asian’.  The menu reflects my interpretation of various Asian cuisines that I grew up eating.  

Fun Fact:  I have a masters degree in theology.  

Career highlight: I am proud of our great staff and of the fact that they consider Pacific Rim the best restaurant to work for.  

Menu Recommendation: For the winter weather, I recommend our hearty Asian-braised lamb shanks with coconut-sweet potato puree.

Where would you eat for Restaurant Week if you weren’t cooking? Mani Osteria & Bar.

Chef Brandon Johns: The Grange Kitchen & Bar

Cuisine/Cooking style: Straight-forward, seasonal cooking; we are known for our serious and thorough commitment to local sourcing, use of quality products, our whole animal, nose-to-tail cooking approach, and our talented pastry Chef, Melissa Richards. 

Fun Fact: The kitchen stays open until 1am on weekends.   

Career Highlight: We have won the Edible WOW Local Hero award twice for our dedication and contributions to the local food movement.

Menu Recommendation: The chicken and spicy chicken sausage hash.

Where would you eat for Restaurant Week if you weren’t cooking? Mani Osteria & Bar or Mercy’s Restaurant at the Bell Tower.

Chef Brendan McCall: Isalita (and Mani Osteria & Bar)

Cuisine/Cooking style: I am a flavor first chef.  I want flavors to be punchy and upfront while keeping the food approachable.  Then we work in a twist or little surprise that adds a layer of discovery to each dish.

Fun Fact: Many of the dishes at Isalita were inspired by a trip that Adam Baru (co-owner) and I took to Mexico City this past summer.

Career Highlight: I’m most proud of the staff culture that we’ve created at Mani Osteria and have continued in Isalita.  Creating great food is only one ingredient to a successful restaurant.  

Menu Recommendation: We are launching petite enchiladas during restaurant week that will become a permanent part of the Isalita menu from then on.  One is a coconut braised chicken in red chili sauce and the other is a shrimp and crab enchilada in roasted salsa verde.  

Where would you eat for Restaurant Week if you weren’t cooking? Pacific Rim has been a long time favorite of mine since I moved to Ann Arbor 13 years ago.  However, Raven’s Club has recently made major menu changes that, in my opinion, place it at the forefront of the growing restaurant culture in Ann Arbor.

Chef Eve Aronoff: Frita Batidos

Cuisine/Cooking style: My style is full flavored with a lot of textures and contrasts – while still maintaining balance and harmony of the flavors.  I am based in French philosophy and technique, but am influenced from cuisines around the world – N. African, W. African, Cuban, and Vietnamese.  I’m committed to Slow Food Movement – working with local farmers and purveyors, following the seasons, making food from scratch and encouraging the warmth and conviviality of cooking and dining.

Fun Fact: There are actually a lot of ‘light’ dishes on the menu!

Career Highlight: Being invited to go to the James Beard Foundation to create a multi-course menu for the foundation members, as well as being selected to represent the Huron Valley Slow Food Movement to go to Terra Madre.

Menu Recommendation: I’d recommend trying the ‘Eve’ menu we are creating. This will include some of the favorite dishes from Eve (her previous Ann Arbor restaurant).  ‘Inspired Nachos’, Pots de Creme  - as well as a dish which was extremely beloved but extremely labor intensive so we made it for special occasions – Seafood and Prosciutto Lasagna.

Where would you eat for Restaurant Week if you weren’t cooking? Mani Osteria & Bar or Pacific Rim.

Chef John Fischer: Gratzi

Cuisine/Cooking style: Our focus is regional Italian cuisine with emphasis on the north. 

Fun Fact: We’ve featured different regions of Italy as our culinary focus each month for the past 10 years.

Career Highlights: At Gratzi, we’ve won numerous awards over the years, including ‘Best Italian’ in AnnArbor.com’s reader poll for three out of the four years, as well as Open Table awards for two years running. We also have five wine spectator awards of excellence.

Menu Recommendation: For the first time during restaurant week we are offering regional preparations instead of regular menu items. I hope folks take advantage and try something new.

Where would you eat for Restaurant Week if you weren’t cooking? I’m always way too busy to go out during restaurant week, but Downtown Ann Arbor has so many choices for dining it’s hard not to find something to like.

Set restaurant week prices are $15 for lunch and $28 for dinner (if you’re on a budget, over half of these restaurants offer 2 for 1 deals with at these price points). Peruse the menus at www.annarborrestaurantweek.com, and make your reservations early!