Nostalgia (and onions) keep people coming back to Greene’s burger joint in Farmington

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Greene's 24155 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington; 248-474-7980

This 24-hour eatery on the outskirts of Farmington has been open since 1957, and it seemed on the Saturday night we came that more than a few old-timers were coming in for a taste of the past. There's a certain magic that imbues burger joints of that era, with fluorescent lights illuminating all that white enamel steel. It calls to mind the American democratic ideal: Every stool gives you just enough space to enjoy your meal, with a loaded napkin dispenser always within reach. As with our democracy, your choices are few: With the exception of its breakfast offerings, the menu is so short that a waitress will only offer it if asked. Settle down into a stool at the stainless steel counter and she'll likely just lean on her order pad in front of you as if you know what you want. In this place, chances are you do, too.

The meat itself is almost insubstantial, as if whipped meat were smeared on the bun with a spatula, what we once jokingly heard called a "no-meedgie" due to its paucity of meat. Perhaps pile it on as a double or triple and you might get something approaching a regular quarter-pounder, though.

So what is it that keeps people coming back again and again? Aside from the joint's nostalgia factor, we're guessing it's the onions. Greene's onions are done very well, elevated to an art form. It's as though medium-sized onions were put through a mandoline and grilled until almost diaphanous. The effect is more aromatic than anything, but powerfully so.

Our vegetarian co-diner ordered the "veggie burger with cheese," which was, hilariously, a pile of those onions in lieu of a patty, covered with a melted American single. Our companion laughingly called it, "Veggie style: 1980."

Then there are the fries, which we consider mandatory with any burger. Now, we've always been puzzled by Krinkle Kut fries. A normal fry is a wonderful culinary creation, a potato given a julienne cut and then fried until it's a crisp skin with a creamy soft center. There's that brief blink-and-you'll-miss-it point where they go from golden to dark, offering a gamut of possibilities as the starches break down into sugars, as with a good well-done fry.

Not so with Krinkle Kuts. They're about as far from an organic potato as a fry can get. If your french fry must absolutely scream elementary school cafeteria, fine, but we'd rather have shoestring or steak fries any day. That said, Greene's fries its Krinkle Kuts within an inch of their highly processed lives, and when they're blisteringly hot, they make for a passable fry-munching experience. Better still are the onion rings.

We also got a bowl of chili, and it was pretty good. It came with two packages of oyster crackers, which the waitress practically tossed at us. We guessed it was probably Hormel, anyway. A nearby fellow diner overheard us and shook her head, saying dismissively, "It's not homemade." (Everyone's a critic!)

It's a simple, spare place, well-lit and churning out sliders. There's not even a television. The only entertainment is a jukebox that seems seldom played. And yet, the place does a brisk business. In the half-hour we were there, a dozen diners had their orders filled between the counter and the carry-out window. There's no doubt that the quick service helps. Our orders came within 10 minutes, and the waitress had her hand out, ready to give us our complimentary refill just as the straw was beginning to make gurgling noises in the glass. That's professionalism!— mt

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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