I had originally heard about Bob's Hamburg in Akron, Ohio, several years ago, before I began writing this blog. As quickly as I learned of its existence, I forgot about it as well. Not because I didn't think it wouldn't be an interesting place to check out, but because at the time I was in the midst of dealing with the last few months that my grandfather was alive. It was right about that time that he started to go into that last serious decline that eventually led to his death in mid-2008.
It wasn't until I engaged in a fairly recent conversation with a newly acquired reader that making a stop at Bob's came back to the forefront of my mind. I had asked her about some of her favorite burger places and one of the spots she named was Bob's Hamburg. Being in a much less preoccupied state of mind than I was two years ago, I added it to the short list of places to review. The problem I had was that Bob's was a breakfast and lunch place. And since I am currently working in Cleveland during the week, it was apparent that a Saturday lunch visit would be the most likely time for me to try them out.
I arrived at Bob's Hamburg shortly after 11 AM and was surprised to find the lot almost completely empty. Perhaps the breakfast rush had come and gone and the lunch rush had yet to materialize. Regardless, I parked in the rather large lot (compared to the size of the restaurant itself). Bob's was located at 1351 East Avenue, Akron, OH 44307 and they can be reached at 330-253-2627. There was no website associated with the restaurant at the time of this writing. While call ahead and carry-out was available, there was no delivery service.
Here was a shot of the outside sign and the restaurant itself:
Once inside, it became apparent that this was the quintessential diner from the 1950's. There was stool seating at the lunch counter to the left and about a half dozen booths to the right. While no trace of a "diner car" existed on the exterior of the restaurant, the inside just screamed with the kind of charm that chain restaurants can't deliver. Center stage at the counter was the burger grill, the very one that has existed since 1931. At roughly four foot by two foot square, it was dedicated to doing just one thing: grilling burgers. Additionally, the broiler under the grill was there to toast buns. Everything else came from what I am guessing is a second kitchen in the back of the restaurant.
I picked up one of the paper menus and began to photograph it:
Ironically, if you look at the third photo, all of the burgers are called "hamburgers" and "cheeseburgers" instead of the more colloquial "hamburgs" and "cheeseburgs" that the sign out in front of the restaurant would suggest. I'm not sure why they didn't continue the tradition on the menu. Looking at the menu, I decided to go with a single bacon cheeseburger with "everything" and an order of onion rings. After placing my order, I began watching the young woman manning the burger grill:
As with my experience at Powers Hamburgers in Fort Wayne, IN, she seemed to be the master of her domain and the number of burgers that occupied the grill at any given time varied from completely full to just one or two. The longer I sat and observed, the more I realized that almost all of the fried side items came out of the back kitchen at a much quicker pace than the burgers on the front grill. In fact, my onion rings arrived an astonishing ten minutes before my burger:
As soon as I saw these, I had a sneaking suspicion that they were homemade. I tasted them and my inclination was confirmed. These had a very delicate coating of batter on them. In fact, they were almost too delicate, because if I wasn't careful, the coating fell off just a bit too easily. The onions themselves were nice, although one of the onions was a bit difficult to chew; perhaps it was either too old or it had been one of the outer leaves of the onion. While there was a bit of the fryer grease at the bottom of the cardboard container, it was fairly minor and didn't affect the greasiness of the rings.
I watched as my bacon strips arrived at the burger station from the back kitchen and the woman on burger duty quickly assembled my bacon cheeseburger. Here was what she placed in front of me:
"Everything," in case you were wondering, gentle reader, was shredded lettuce, mustard, onions, pickles, and a "special sauce." I decided to leave the raw onion off of my burger, but as I was to discover later, there were actually two other onion options. The first of which was caramelized onions, which seems pretty standard for a burger topping. The second option, which honestly looked like brown rice, was reconstituted dried onions. Apparently known for their sweeter disposition than the raw onion, this was actually dried onions that were soaked in hot water until plump and then drained. I asked the young woman about this and she said that it's been a very popular option since they opened, eight decades ago.
Alright, so how was the burger? Actually, quite good. I wasn't able to taste the meat by itself since it was covered from edge to edge with a slice of American cheese. Between the bacon, pickles, American cheese, and special sauce, if the burger had any sins, they were successfully covered up. The toasted bun added a nice textural contrast to the softness of the meat and cheese. As I ate the burger, a bit of the special sauce dripped out of the bottom of the bun. I swished a bit of water in my mouth to try and cleanse my palate before I dipped a finger in to taste it by itself. It wasn't quite as thick as a commercial ketchup, but it almost had a BBQ sauce-esque taste to it. I was picking up hints of coriander and cumin. While definitely a tomato-based sauce, it was neither ketchup nor BBQ sauce, although it reminded me of both.
Having finished my lunch, I paid the just over $5 check, thanked the ladies working behind the counter and strolled out into the for now, still cool Akron afternoon air. Bob's was a simple place and served simple, but tasty food. While I've had better burgers, Bob's version was no slouch and if you are into authentic diner ambiance, then Bob's might just fit the bill perfectly. I recommend you check them out.