Burger Quest: Motz’s Burgers is one of those places where people come for a burger and leave with a T-shirt to prove it 

Our ongoing mission to find the best burger in Detroit

One of our tests of a great burger joint is the smell that wafts through the air from the grill vents. And anybody walking from a parking spot toward the door of Motz's Burgers will feel that delightful sense of anticipation creeping over them, given the aromas of cooking beef and masses of grilled onions. But the pleasures of Motz's Burgers go well beyond the smells; it's a feast for all the senses, from the period sign to the stainless steel counter, where cops, drivers, technicians, and other working folks, mostly male, step up to order the joint's sliders, mostly to go, all while orders pour in from downtown.

You simply can't get this kind of burger-buying experience from a joint that's less than 85 years old. Around lunchtime, on the Friday we show up, a crowd of folks stands in the air-conditioned room waiting for the staff to announce that their orders are ready, while a hardworking cook churns out a steady procession of burgers as old-fashioned checks march along above.

In fact, it's a genuine pleasure to watch the cook at work. Long before the conceit of the "open kitchen," patrons of burger joints have long enjoyed watching their food as it's made. And the cooks at Motz's have burger-making down to a system. The cook takes refrigerated balls of beef and tosses them onto the grill, setting them up in a grid reminiscent of dough balls on a cookie sheet. The beef balls are generously showered with onions sliced so as to produce strings of the aromatic root vegetable. While they grill a bit, the buns are taken down and arrayed on the counter, then the balls are mashed down onto the grill, mixing with the onion, and then given a flip. Finally, all the buns are stacked atop the little sliders, covered briefly with a clean towel to work in the right amount of steam, heat, and essence of onion. Then the buns are given pickle, mustard, ketchup, and whatever condiments are required, and go on for final assembly.

This means that the sliders that arrive before you on wax paper in a little red basket are hot — so hot, in fact, that you'll likely have to cool down your shoestring fries with a squeeze or two of ketchup for something to munch on while they cool a bit. But they're worth the wait. Every bite is slider perfection, from the slightly greasy buns to the soft beef to the strands of onion each bite pulls from the burger. Though Motz's makes a bigger, 8-ounce burger, they're rarely ordered, often sitting alone on the side of the grill while the sliders take main stage.

We chat briefly with Tony Milosavljevski, who tells us his parents bought the joint when Old Man Motz died in 1996. In fact, the restaurant never even served fries in Motz's day, which clues you in on just how good these delicacies are.

Perhaps the best thing about taking a seat at Motz's is the banter. It's one of those family-style businesses where the jokes fly back and forth, with facetious bellyaching and jocular familiarity with customers. You can see why it's one of those "burger destinations" where people come for a burger and leave with a T-shirt to prove it.— mt

More by Michael Jackman

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