Burger Quest: Plaka Café's burgers are the baseline of what a burger should be

Our ongoing mission to find the best burger in Detroit

Nov 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

There are great burgers, there are bad burgers, and both are memorable. But what about a merely "good" burger? They are forgotten. They get a lack of respect. Everybody can remember that awful burger they got that one time, usually from a place that didn't specialize in burgers, such as a pizzeria or an ethnic eatery. The patty was cooked wrong, the buns weren't toasted (or even warm), the toppings were incorrect, and the fries were Krinkle-Kut. We'll remember that abomination until the day we die, right?

But the good burger gets forgotten. It comes from the place that doesn't specialize in mouthwatering belly bombs, but shows a bit of care and love. Maybe it doesn't go up on the Wall of Fame, but it doesn't end up on the Blooper Reel either. It's the baseline of what a burger should be.

Such are the babies at Plaka Café, in the heart of Greektown. The burger deluxe is perfectly fine. We ordered ours, the usual, medium well, loaded, no cheese, with fries well done. Seven minutes later, it arrived. While nothing special, it had all the marks of loving attention: bun toasted on the inside, quarter-pound patty grilled until dark, with toppings including a leaf of iceberg lettuce, a large tomato slice, and chopped white onions under the patty. The bun was a bit big, but it ate well, and didn't fall apart. Sometimes, that's going to be enough to satisfy you. The other elements showed care as well. The fries were crispy shoestrings, the cole slaw was actually good, too. The pickle spear was a little small, but that's a petty complaint.

Here at Burger Quest, we're always chasing that holy grail: the greatest burger in metro Detroit. But every once in a while, it's good to bone up on the basics.

A couple weeks ago, we at Burger Quest dropped in at Clawson's Tavern on the Main for one of their "Perfect Burgers." We love eating burgers, but now we're going to have to eat something we hate to eat: our words.

It's all because our server gave us some bad information. The burgers are not frozen. We wound up having a long conversation about this with the tavern's owner, Tom Melistas, who has owned the place for more than 15 years. Melistas tells us, "The burgers that we get from Wolverine Packing are made specifically for us, because they're 100-percent all-natural, with no hormones, no antibiotics, and no steroids. They grind them for us every Monday."

So how is it that the patties look so geometrically perfect, like frozen burgers often do? Melistas explains that Wolverine forms the patties and seals them in airtight, airless Cryovac food packaging to keep out harmful bacteria. "They make the patty," Melistas says. "If I was to make the patty, the room temperature is warm, kitchen is 80 degrees, by the time you take it, patty it out, it's not going to be 40 degrees. ... So it comes in 40 degrees, and we put it in the cooler at 40 degrees, and then we put it on the grill."

Well, apologies where they're due, to Melistas and company. A server error mars an otherwise favorable review of the "perfect burger." We're at least happy to set the record straight.