Burger Quest: Grandy's Coney Island serves belly bombs 24 hours a day

Our ongoing mission to find the best burger in Detroit

The atmosphere of a burger joint usually provides about half the appeal of dining on a humble hamburger. From historic enamel-steel diners (such as last week's Greene's) to sleek, hip eateries that dabble in the beef patty, surroundings are nothing to sniff at. But what about drive-through burger joints? Shouldn't they get a closer look?

You could certainly dine in at Grandy's on Holbrook, but the majority of the establishment's late-night customers will be pulling up the AyrKing carousel at the drive-through. And though there are Grandy's locations throughout the city, this particular coney island does a brisk business, likely driven by its location across the freeway from Hamtramck, with its surfeit of bars and taverns. It's the perfect place to get that restorative late-night munch to soak up the booze.

How good can a drive-through coney island's burger be? Better than the coney dogs, for sure. They come wrapped in foil, which unfolds into a clean eating surface for those without plates. The bun is a serviceable piece of bread with sesame seeds on top. As Grandy's menu explains, before it's cooked, the patty is a third of a pound of ground beef. By the time it's clad in buns, it's still more than a quarter-pounder, just enough to really hit the spot. It comes with thinly sliced red onion, a pale tomato slice, shredded iceberg lettuce, and about a half-dozen pickle slices, as well as mayo on the bottom bun. The astringent crispness of the onion works in tandem with the tender bitterness of the pickle to create something quite interesting. The tension between the two creates the essence of the Grandy burger. The mayo adds a certain richness, although it can cause the contents of the burger to slide around a bit. For the most part, though, you'll just lose a bit of the lettuce, which is no big deal.

These are belly bombs, designed to be crushed quickly. In fact, experience shows that the Grandy hamburger demands to be eaten immediately. Since the burger is wrapped in foil, it will only last a quick drive home before the bun begins to take on moisture or the lettuce begins to wilt. For best results, eat while hot, within the first 10 minutes. This baby simply isn't going to make it for a long drive into the suburbs like a burger from a national fast food chain.

And, in a way, that's reassuring. Food probably shouldn't still be in mint condition when you get it out of a box after a long drive. That the burger needs to be eaten quickly almost makes us feel that Grandy's must be doing something right, using fresh ingredients, and making the best quick burger possible.

The fries, alas, are nothing to write home about. Again, they're best when they're hot, but with a strange bark I've noticed on some fries these days. I'll make a rare departure and recommend you get the onion rings instead.

The service at Grandy's is excellent. The waitress addressing you over the squawk box is likely to call you "hon'," for instance, and we've never gotten a wrong order or been denied any condiment. And that's remarkable, considering the breadth of the menu items on offer, from catfish sandwiches to the "21-piece shrimp and Texas toast" combo. Laugh if you like; at 2:15 a.m., it might just reel you in.— mt