When the Wall Street Journal decided to do a feature story this month on restaurants that sold classic hamburgers, food editor Beth Kracklauer right away knew one place that had to be on the list — the Kewpee in Lima.
How that came about can be attributed to a tasty hamburger and a little luck.
“It was strange,” recalled Scott Shutt, who started flipping burgers at the Kewpee in 1979 and now is its president and general manager. “First, one day out of the blue, I get an email from the Wall Street Journal’s photo editor wanting to take pictures. Then about a half-hour later, I get a phone call from the food editor who wants to include us in a story they were doing.”
You bet, Shutt said.
But with his quick “yes” came a question: How did a national newspaper in New York City know about a hamburger joint in Mayberry-like Lima?
“She told me she had some friends by the last name of Watson who had family in the Lima area. They were traveling cross country when the friend told her, ‘We’re going to make a side trip here’ and they ended up at the Kewpee. She really enjoyed it and remembered us.”
The Journal’s story — “America’s Best Burgers: An essential guide” — was published two Saturdays ago. Like the hamburgers it featured, the story didn’t disappoint.
Reporter Eleanor Park put together a list of restaurants called “Keepers of the Flame.” The criteria to get on that list was simple: She wanted a sandwich you could hold with one hand. There were to be no behemoth burgers with complicated toppings. Preferably, the burger would be served in a restaurant that had a distinctive look from the outside; and inside, you would find vinyl booths along with tables and chairs that were bolted to the floor.
The Kewpee — where a hamburg with a pickle on top makes your heart go flippity-flop —was a natural.
“Here, we salute the people who keep the flat-tops sizzling at America’s most beloved burger joints,” Park wrote. “Drive on up. In a challenging moment for restaurants, their time-tested business model—portable, reliably good food at a fair price—looks better than ever.”
Others on the list included:
• Dick’s Drive-In in Seattle, where you can order hand-cut fries and a hand-dipped shake with your meal.
• The Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Say “a-plenty” when ordering your burger and it comes smothered in fries and onion rings.
• Hiram’s Roadstand in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Be ready for good-natured sparring between workers and customers as you await your food.
• White Hut in West Springfield, Massachusetts. If you want to pass as a local, say you want a “cheeseburg.”
• Bonanza Drive-Up in Cottage Grove, Oregon. It’s easy placing an order here. Just say you want an”original” and then enjoy.
• Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the special is a Juicy Lucy, two patties squeezed together with a molten-cheese center.
• Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Virginia. It’s famous for the “cheesy” — a hamburger with a scrambled egg and cheese on top.
• Pie ‘n’ Burger in Pasadena, California, where burgers are served on a buttered, toasted bun
• Zack’s Hamburgers, Charlotte, South Carolina, known for its double-cheeseburger and special sauce.
• Robert’s Grill, El Reno, Oklahoma, known for its onion-fried burger.
Eight of the 11 restaurants on the list have been serving hamburgers for more than 60 years, including Robert’s Grill at 96 years and Kewpee and Hiram’s at 94 years.
There’s a simple secret to that kind of longevity, Shutt says.
“It’s all about the basics. Put out good food and be true to your roots.”
ROSES AND THORNS: A man who made us smile walks off with a rose.
Rose: After 23 years of drawing one of the Lima region’s favorite comic strip, “Pluggers,” cartoonist Gary Brookins is officially retired today. Taking his place is Rick McKee from Augusta, Georgia. The email for submitting ideas will remain the same: email@example.com
Rose: The Lima chemical complex will see production halted at Nutrien Lima Nitrogen for 60 days starting next week, but that’s welcome news for the multitude of businesses in the Lima region that have been suffering through COVID-19. The maintenance turnaround is bringing 800 workers to Allen County to put in place $100 million worth of upgrades at the plant. Those workers will be eating in area restaurants, buying groceries, seeking out dry-cleaners, getting hair cuts and staying in area hotels.
Rose: Ohio Department of Transportation work crews stayed until 11:30 p.m. Friday night to open the bridge on state Route 117 between Lima and Shawnee Township. Crews will continue to finish the project during the next few weeks so drive carefully.
Rose: To Tami Fullen, of Lima. She’s become an advocate for families who have loved ones in nursing homes during the pandemic.
Rose: Production crews from the cable TV show “American Pickers” will be coming through the Lima region in October looking to make deals on old relics. The History Channel show features two men who earn a living by restoring forgotten antiques to their former glory.
Rose: To Barbara and Ronald Fullom Sr., who celebrated 60 years of marriage on Saturday.
Rose: The Allen County Fair will hold “Fair Food Bash” from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, giving the public an opportunity to satisfy their taste buds with traditional fair food.
Thorn: Suspected LSD, marijuana and two loaded handguns were confiscated by the Van Wert Sheriff”s Office when it executed a search warrant at a party of 150 to 200 people outside of Delphos. Several of the people were minors
PARTING SHOT: Maybe if we start telling people their brain is an app, they’ll want to use it.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.