Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Flattop Grill is the Thrill at R & S Hamburgs in Traverse City, Michigan.

Traverse City has plenty of options for eating well. Last night, I took in an improvised play at Inside-Out Gallery, and a Jetstream kitchen called Sombrero Verde had me covered if I wanted to eat at the half bar, half art gallery, half performance center. Love the food truck movement that thrives in Traverse City. Yet, after living for months from random taco trucks that just park around Venice Beach, California, a trio of tacos from the Sombrero wasn't going to soothe my hankering for street food. 

The Sombrero looked cool; the Jetstream was outmatched by another design miracle that awaited on the eastern shore of the Boardman River. Some American genius in the early Twentieth Century replaced the kitchen in back with the griddle out front. The American diner flourished all over the Detroit, with familiar corner stops like the Telway and Bray's Burgers serving up sliders at all hours of the day and night.

The diner cook with his griddle and spatula makes me compare to the Japanese Hibachi chef and smile. America will be an old culture someday, and the diner cook will have apprentices. We'll tip them, same as we tip sushi chefs.

J&S picked up the trend in 1938, right around the debut of my father in the world. As his father could fish as well as any Michigan sportsman, I am confident that Edward Jacob brought his son Edward William to hamburgers at this lunch counter perched on the Boardman River, a cold water trout stream. 

Dad met mom while cruising Eight Mile, chatting her and her friends up at a place called Butter Burgers, a lost destination. They looked at the grassy spot each time we drove past. Dad couldn't pass a White Castle without turning to me and repeating the business lesson, "Know how White Castle hit the big time? The family built diners without any debt. No banks". Dad had no opinion that he shared on Harold and Kumar, proof I never visited him enough.

It wasn't a trip to the hardware store without a brief stop for a burger, which couldn't possibly spoil dinner. We didn't keep this habit from mom or grandmom; neither did we announce it. 

Six fireman share a table, and Joe has managed to serve all of them a hearty breakfast at the same time. Four of Traverse City's finest, men in blue, shared that table just a half hour ago. One waitress keeps the full diner happy, an achievement of efficiency that would make my brains melt if I tried to match it. She has a waitress folder to keep her tickets, and I could see her newborn pictured, taped to the inside front cover. My coffee cup has never once grown cold. She helped a regular who arrived pushing a walker, zipping up his jacket and putting his change in a top pocket. She wondered aloud when the winter coat was coming back.

Drive is the brand of the walker. I'll say. I saw him make his way from the nearby senior citizen center.

Time to pay up and buck up when I tip. She'll spend the extra dollar better than I would. 

The diner is a retreat. It might as well be a Zen center. Look at the mindful faces of patrons as a cup of coffee is nursed. During my last marriage, I could eject from an argument by saying, "Okay, I'm going to the Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Some nights, she would follow after an hour.

Yes, that's right. I had dinner at J & S and came back for breakfast.

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