Humble BB's Diner serves up a unique burger

Our ongoing mission to find the best burger in Detroit

Jan 14, 2015 at 1:00 am

For many people, BB's Diner will be out of the way, but it's one of those busy Detroit restaurants that seems to continually churn out orders called in for pick-up. On the 4-degree day we arrived, it might have looked empty, but every few minutes another customer would come in to pick up another completed order, proving that the neighborhood had a genuine appetite for the food at BB's. Also, it wouldn't make sense to dine in: Even with a furnace presumably running and the grill going full blast, it was still a bit chilly at the counter at BB's; in fact, we took our order to go for that very reason.

BB's Diner is "home of the steak & shrimp," and actually offers much more than burgers, including turkey, lobster, catfish, salmon, pasta, and more, but the burgers are famous. As the menu attests, all burgers are handmade daily. And that makes sense, because BB's Diner looks sort of handmade itself. (Check out the 1-bys holding up the counter in front of the grill.) And that's not a dig. In fact, it reminds us of a rule we heard governing establishments down South: If the restaurant looks like a palace, the food will invariably be mediocre; the humbler a restaurant looks, the more fantastic the food will be.

So it is with BB's, mostly because the owners nail down the fundamentals: flame-broiling handmade burgers with an appealing gimmick or two. Done right, you can't miss.

At first, we were a little bit worried: The waitress didn't ask how we wanted our meat done, which would be cause for concern in other, more formal establishments. Here, however, it didn't matter: The expert grillmaster was going to make us a BB Burger the way it was supposed to be done. To offer advice would be like telling the conductor how fast you wanted the train to go.

You'll notice that these handmade burgers are rectangular, a trick we thought we'd only seen at the venerable Marcus Burger. They're also served on pitas and sliced in half, which we haven't seen before. Once the burger is done, the griller heats up a pita on the griddle to soften it up, shaking a bit of what looked like Parmesan on one side. The pita is sliced in half, making two "buns" to contain the burger, some chopped iceberg lettuce, ripe tomato slices, and a few quarter-rings of red onion. Then, the creation is showered with thick-cut fries from the fryer, which are given a helping of coarse-ground pepper. For $6.35, the BB Burger is plenty of food.

We drove back to the office with this treasure. (If we could do it again, we'd cut some holes in the top of the polystyrene box to let the fries vent their moisture.)

It was excellent and a little unusual. Flame broiling a rectangular burger gets interesting results, giving it a kind of uneven cooking that is appealing. The center is moist; the ends are enjoyably chewy. It was a tasty burger that went down so quick we couldn't believe it was a 12-ouncer. Maybe there's something about eating it in a pita that makes it feel daintier than it is. And the profusion of thick steak fries ensures you'll be able to get as full as you like; we simply couldn't eat them all.