Ohio is the birthplace of aviation, but could it also be the birthplace of the hamburger? One of many origin stories for America’s favorite sandwich centers on two brothers from Canton, Frank and Charles Menches, who ran out of pork for the sausage patty sandwiches they were selling at a county fair in 1885. Their supplier, loathe to butcher more pigs in the summer heat, suggested they use ground beef instead.
To make the ground beef less bland, the two brothers added such ingredients as coffee and brown sugar that modern-day burger aficionados may find unusual. Today, Menches Brothers restaurants at three locations in Ohio still offer trailblazing burgers, now transformed to please contemporary tastes and offered in an astonishing array of 50 burger choices, including Reuben, Pizza, Ragin’ Cajun and Pierogi versions. Although the location of the brothers’ original restaurant in Canton was demolished, their burger heritage can still be sampled at another site in Canton (4887 Tuscarawas Street W) as well as in Massillon (235 Lincoln Way W) and Uniontown (3700 Massillon Road).
Burger legacies run deep in Ohio, which is also home to the headquarters of both Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers and White Castle. Dozens of other burger joints of longtime tenure also can be found across the Buckeye State, each offering its own delicious take in preparing their beefy specialties. With May being National Hamburger Month, there’s no better time for a burger road trip to these and other great eateries in Ohio.
Photo by Rich Warren
CRABILL’S HAMBURGER SHOPPE
Crabill’s is a family-owned and -operated dine-at-the-counter place with only eight seats. Here, you can watch slider-size burgers being cooked on a griddle right in front of you. At any given time, the cooks might be making up to a hundred burgers since locals regularly swoop in and scoop up dozens of double burgers at a time.
The proprietors’ “original” burger comes topped with brown mustard, relish and raw chopped onions that you can order as a single or a double. Cheese on top is another option as is ketchup, which it took Crabill’s 63 years after its 1927 opening to add to its list of condiments. You still can’t get mayonnaise; it might take another generation of owners to bring about that addition.
727 Miami Street, Urbana, 937-653-5133
Photo by Rich Warren
THE HAMBURGER WAGON
Long before food carts were the rage, the Hamburger Wagon—complete with large spoked wheels put to work each evening when the wagon is dragged a short distance to its storage place—began serving its burgers in downtown Miamisburg in 1913 in almost the same location where you’ll find the wagon today.
Simplicity reigns here: You’ve got your choice of a single or double burger topped with pickles, onions, salt and pepper. That’s it. You can forgo the toppings, but no others are available. As the amazingly succinct menu puts it, there’s “no stinkin’ cheese or sloppy sauces,” so don’t even ask. The burgers, complete with a signature crunchy exterior—thanks to a guarded secret recipe—and a moist interior, speak for themselves. Expect to find yourself getting back in line for more.
12 East Central Avenue, Miamisburg, 937-847-2442, hamburgerwagon.com
Photo by Rich Warren
With a giant, beaming Kewpie doll hovering above the main entrance, it’s impossible to miss Kewpee Hamburgers in downtown Lima. Kewpee’s was founded as a chain in Michigan in 1923, with the now independently owned restaurant in Lima established in 1928. Since then, diners from far and wide have savored Kewpee’s square hamburgers and frosted malts.
Although national chain Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers steadfastly disavows any resemblance of its fare to Kewpee’s, local legend has it that Wendy’s founder, the late Dave Thomas, was once spotted inside the downtown Lima Kewpee’s location, clipboard in hand and furiously taking notes, before he opened his first restaurant in Columbus in 1969.
Locals believe the flavor of Kewpee’s hamburgers, made with local ground beef, never frozen, exceeds all others. As the company’s slogan puts it: “Hamburg–Pickle–on–Top–Makes–Your–Heart–Go–Flippity–Flop.”
111 North Elizabeth Street, Lima, 419-228-1778, kewpeehamburgers.com
(Two other Kewpee’s locations exist in Lima at 2111 Allentown Road and 1350 Bellefontaine Avenue, but neither dons the iconic Kewpie doll.)
Courtesy of Miami County Visitors and Convention Bureau
K’S HAMBURGER SHOP
Everything about this classic diner in downtown Troy seems a throwback to the pre-World War II era in which it was founded. A neon sign exhorting passersby to “Eat” is the sole adornment of the exterior.
Inside, diners have the option of sitting at booths or at swiveling counter stools to watch their meals being cooked by 29-year-old grill master Michael Scheib. Wearing a white shirt, black tie and apron, and a paper cap worn askew, Scheib converses with the regulars while he prepares their burgers using local ground chuck steak. K’s has been owned by the Klein family since it opened in 1935, but Scheib aspires to one day own it himself; he’s been saying so since he was in first grade.
117 East Main Street, Troy, 937-339-3902, kshamburgershoptroy.com
MAID-RITE SANDWICH SHOPPE
After a fire broke out in this beloved burger joint in the 1990s, the fire chief mused that he’d have been run out of town had the building not been saved. Not to worry: The ground beef sandwiches (the meat is not formed into a burger) served here since 1934 are still being cooked, crumbled and steamed at high temperatures with a top-secret seasoning that tastes both sweet and savory.
First-time visitors are often startled by the thousands of gray, white, blue and red globs festooning the exterior walls of the shop, remnants of a decades-long tradition of diners affixing their chewing gum to the brick walls before entering; it’s a practice that’s…well, “stuck.”
Maid-Rite gives visitors the option of dining in, taking out, driving through or enjoying a nice picnic area in the back during the warmer months.
125 N. Broadway, Greenville, 937-548-9340, maidrite-greenville.com
THE SPOT RESTAURANT
With its red-and-white vinyl booths, vintage Coke signs and jukebox playing hits from yesteryear, this fixture on Sidney’s quaint downtown square transports diners to the 1950s. The sleek Art Moderne exterior accented by a distinctive neon sign resembling a vinyl record has sat on this spot since 1941, but its origins go much further back. In 1907, a man named Spot Miller began operating a chuckwagon at this location, but the city authorities forbade food sales from such an enterprise. Miller’s solution was to remove the wheels and add some awnings to create a permanent structure. The restaurant replacing it has become a destination over the years to everyone from the likes of actor Rob Lowe, whose grandfather once owned the restaurant, to President George W. Bush, who visited during his reelection campaign in 2004.
The beef for the burgers is ground on-site. Up to a thousand people per week order the Big Buy, a double-patty burger prepared with a house tartar sauce. Save room for the Spot’s made-from-scratch meringue pies.
201 South Ohio Avenue, Sidney, 937-492-9181, thespottoeat.com
Photo by Wendy Pramik
Since 1937, The Thurman Cafe in Columbus’ German Village has been known as a funky neighborhood tavern bedecked with license plates and hundreds of signed dollar bills.
Woe to those who want a simple cheeseburger here. The full page of nearly two dozen burger choices means you can order one with all the usual toppings or choose among variations such as the Macedonian Burger with sweet red peppers and feta cheese or the Hawaiian Burger with ham and pineapple. There’s even one with a shot of tequila drizzled on top. Those with especially hefty appetites can tackle the Thurmanator, a towering, almost-impossible-to-hold layering of two 12-ounce patties, sliced ham, lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, onions and three kinds of melted cheese.
183 Thurman Avenue, Columbus, 614-443-1570, thethurmancafe.com
Courtesy of Visit Findlay
WILSON’S SANDWICH SHOP
It’s possible to order a double cheeseburger at Wilson’s without saying the words “double” or “cheese.” You simply say “two with” at this venerable institution, open since 1936 and where the parlance of ordering also means you’ll say “hamburg” (yes, sans the “er”). A standard burger comes with onion, pickle, and mustard or ketchup, but if you also want lettuce, tomato and mayo, ask for a Special. Don’t worry—as long as you’re speaking English, the counter person will understand you (although they may well correct you).
600 South Main Street, Findlay, 419-422-5051
Budding Buckeye State burger aficionados can find more ground-beef greatness at Ohio.org by searching “burger.”