I don't think I've been this excited about a major food find since stumbling across the Taqueria La Loma taco truck late last year. And I'm happy to be sharing this find with you, gentle reader, because I know that once you discover the magic of the food being served at this local Tallmadge gem, you just won't be able to get enough. Well, at least until your cardiologist tells you it's time to stop. This was the kind of place that I consider "destination" dining: A place with food so amazing that it'd be worth a day trip just to try it out. While my hope was that by publishing this, I haven't cursed myself by never being able to get a table again the next time I craved this undeniably American but universally popular cuisine, I knew that eventually the secret would get out.
But, I suppose I am ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
I first noticed Donnie's Burger Cafe after moving into my current residence in Akron a while ago. Since my home shared a border with Tallmadge, it wasn't too long after moving in that I had headed up to Tallmadge Circle, mostly to explore this new part of Akron. As I drove around the circle that first time, I noticed a building on the east side of the circle, but didn't give it much thought. In retrospect, I should've. Located at 23 Southeast Avenue, Tallmadge, OH 44278, Donnie's can be reached at 330-630-3296. At the time of this writing, there was no website available specific to this location; however, this Yahoo Maps entry has three testimonials of others' visits to the restaurant. I tend to take what I read on Yahoo Maps with a grain of salt, so I didn't pay them much attention. There was ample parking surrounding the restaurant.
Once inside, I was taken aback by the cuteness of my surroundings. I know I don't normally talk about a restaurant's "cuteness" factor, but by all accounts, Donnie's had a certain something that seemed unique all unto itself but also vaguely familiar. Unfamiliar with the ordering process, I took a seat at an empty table and waited for a server to come over. Almost immediately, I realized that Donnie's was not a full-service restaurant but one where the customer placed their order at the counter and then retired to an empty table with their food once it was plated. One of the first items I noticed was the quite large wall menu (of which I took a picture, but sadly turned out completely blurry and unusable) by the ordering counter. As customers approached the ordering counter, they would lazily gaze up, make their choices and pay for their meal. Once customers picked up their completed orders of food, they would seek out an additional station at the side of the restaurant for condiments, napkins, straws and other meal-related amenities before finding a table to enjoy their spoils.
Having now watched the ordering ritual thoroughly enough to understand it, I tentatively approached the woman operating the cash register. I asked her if the restaurant had any specialties ... menu items for which the restaurant was known. She described several of their burgers and a fried fish sandwich that she told me involved some type of Australian-sourced fish which was breaded and fried. She also added that they were particularly well known for their French fries. Knowing that I have had bad experiences in the past with poorly fried frites, I was hesitant about ordering their version. In the end, however, her positive attitude and the lack of any other appropriate side dish finally convinced me to give the French fries a try.
I placed my order for one of their infamous quarter pound cheeseburgers topped with a standard quotient of onions, pickles, mustard and ketchup. To complete my meal today, I went ahead and ordered the fries, too. After getting to my table, I managed to take a photo of my entire lunch:
And a close-up of the burger by itself:
And a shot with the crown removed:
And finally, a shot of the French fries that my helpful counter worker had talked me into:
As I sank my teeth into that first bite of burger, I was rewarded not only with an amazing beefy flavor, but also a complexity that I had not experienced since my last burger at Michael Symon's B Spot restaurant in Woodmere, Ohio. It was clear that this burger had been tested and refined many times by the kitchen staff as it was seasoned to the point where it would appeal to the masses, without need for anything else. I suspected Wagyu beef was involved somewhere in this burger blend, but since the menu said nothing about this opulent ingredient, I had to assume 100% grass-fed beef was the reason for this amazing taste. The toppings, perfectly dispensed between the top of the cheese and the crown of the bun, added a nice sweetness and piquancy that further enhanced just how incredibly tasty my burger was today. The combination of the bun, the burger, the cheese, and the toppings put this sandwich at the top of my very short list of favorite burgers.
Not to be outdone, I moved to my French fries next. I thought that the ketchup was a bit on the sweet side; in fact, I don't know that I've ever tasted ketchup that had such a unique flavor profile that was so specific to a restaurant. Then again, the kitchen staff at Michael Symon's restaurants make the "Lola" ketchup, so I suppose there are places out there doing it. That said, the fries by themselves were complete perfection. Crispy, creamy, salty, and fatty, these fried potato sticks would've made Escoffier weep with tears of joy. Clearly, Donnie's has thoroughly studied the art of frying potatoes as there wasn't a bad one among the bunch. I've been told in the past that fries of this nature MUST be eaten within seven minutes of coming out of the fryer. One minute too long and they needed to be tossed because the quality degraded too much. Fortunately, today's French fries had plenty of time left on their clock as they were sublime.
As I finished my meal today, I was struck at how accessible and truly tasty my meal was. In a perfect world, this was the kind of food to which every American should have access. In fact, should the restaurant decide to open other locations, I would be quite surprised if they weren't a huge success. I urge you, gentle reader, to try out this appealing and painstakingly perfected food as soon as you can. You certainly won't be surprised to find that you might be whisked away to your childhood, where the halcyon memories of great food still live.