Time-travel diner

Aug 4, 1999 at 12:00 am

To borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor, Greene’s is the little hamburger joint that time forgot. At Orchard Lake Road and 10 Mile Road in Farmington, Greene’s reminds me of the farmhouses that get left in suburbia when the owner refuses to sell out to the big guys.

Opened in 1957, Greene’s is all white, baked enamel on the outside and all stainless steel on the inside. It’s like stepping into an oven. Even the window fits into the image. Must have been quite the place in 1957.

I got interested because Greene’s shows up on some of the "best restaurants" lists that I peruse. Quaint as it is, a reviewer would have to be downright un-American to dis the place. Gulp.

I stopped in for dinner and asked for a menu. The young woman at the counter shrugged toward the wall where the menu is spelled out in white plastic letters on a black background. Dinner options are hamburger or cheeseburger.

The menu tops out at $1.61 for a double cheeseburger. I ordered a cheeseburger and a side of onion rings and sat down at the counter to read my Metro Times (didn’t want to be too subtle).

The hamburgers are insubstantial, served on a melts-in-your-mouth bun. For a place named for a man named Greene, there’s not a green vegetable in sight, unless you count pickle disks. I ate dinner, and I was … hungry!

I ordered again.

After dinner I stopped for gas across the street and asked the woman at the cash register if she ever ate at Greene’s. "All the time!" she said. (I could hear the exclamation point in her voice.)

She went on: "When I was a teenager I worked at a place just like that, and I got hooked. I can eat three of those burgers."

"Yeah," I said, "they’re kind of small."

"But they have flavor!"

I guess. One enthusiastic reviewer gave Greene’s four out of four stars, noting that the hamburgers never taste dry. That’s what a heaping helping of animal fat will do. Are they better than the burgers at Big Boy across the street? Or at Wendy’s a couple doors down? No. But at least you get to eat in a stainless steel environment. And check out the take-out window. Instead of a drive-through, Greene’s has a walk-through.

Greene’s has atmosphere. That’s something that the decades have not improved. It’s the kind of place that people come back to week after week. They want to engage the waitstaff in conversation. They’re talking about who’s going to be cooking on Sunday if so-and-so goes on vacation. The guy wearing a baseball cap that says "Follow No One" is talking about hauling a garage from one location to another.

A few days later I went for breakfast with a friend. Breakfast is Greene’s specialty. Two eggs, bacon or sausage, hash browns and toast (white, wheat or rye) costs $2.90. It’s basically the only breakfast item listed, although moments later I noticed that all around us, people were eating other things — French toast, fried egg sandwich, oatmeal. On the way out, my friend commented, "That wasn’t very good."

"Yep," I said.