Friday, April 18, 2008

Hamburger, pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity flop

Restaurant Widow posted the winner of your best hamburger contest last December. A friend passed the link along to me today, and I just have to add my two cents to what she has to say about the Greatest American Hamburger: The Kewpee!

Growing up in the Lima, Ohio area, I quickly learned Kewpee was the ultimate treat. The restaurant, a diner-style establishment, on Elizabeth Street provided an unusual counterpoint to the few family and upscale restaurants that dotted the landscape of Lima, Ohio in the 1950s. People would line up to place their orders and stand in line watching the expert flip hamburgers, his helpers dressed hamburgers and chatted as fast as their hands moved. It was an assembly line like no other carried off in a small galley type area. One side took care of the inhouse diners, the other side answered the phone and took carry out orders. Noon at the Kewpee on any day of the week saw the restaurant filled with executives to the janitors of every surrounding business. No one could be morose or sad in there. And if they were, Nancy or the cook or someone would say, "Hey, why the long face?"

If you wanted to go out to celebrate a special event, you went to the Milano Club. Anthony Brothers restaurant on the square provided great Italian and family food. It seems the only alternative to Kewpees were Italian foods. But it was Kewpee where you went to get the best hamburger around. The restaurant's ditty was accurate: "Hamburger, pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity flop."

Of course those who count cholesterol and pop Lipitor might read something else into that saying, but for me, Kewpee figures into a whole host of good memories. Beginning with 4-H. Every blue ribbon winner received a little yellow card offering them a free hamburger from the Kewpee. Many of the prize winning steer were purchased by Kewpee at the Allen County Fair. And sometimes they purchased other market animals.

Often we stopped at the Kewpee after 4-H meetings or on school outings or after shopping in downtown Lima. Nothing like Christmas shopping, running from J.C. Penneys, riding the escalator, tromping into Nesbitts and watching the tube system suck your money up to the office on the second floor and then return with the receipt. Maybe a stop at Dome's Nut Shop, but always, always, a stop at Kewpee for lunch.

When commerce moved to the malls, Kewpee built two new restaurants that were easily accessed on the way to or from the major malls in the area. Dates always seemed to include a stop at the Kewpee. Even the naked Kewpie doll on the front of the store caught my imagination as a child curious about bodies and baby making.

And when I started working my first job after high school, I ate almost every lunch at the Kewpee. It was not only my favorite, but the diner sat next door to my employer: The Metropolitan Bank of Lima. I got to know Nancy and the crew quite well in those days. And they were a bunch of happy employees.

I hope the recession doesn't ever stop people from visiting Kewpee. My best wishes to Mr. Shutt, the Kewpee owner. And if he ever wants to share the secret recipe for his hamburgers. I'm ready to write it down.

I eat my Kewpees with mustard, pickle and onion. Of course you can't stop there. Accompanying the Kewpee are fries, sugar cream pie and a chocolate frostie. Often I'd cut out the fries -- gotta watch my girlish figure.

My mouth is watering as I write this. My husband and I stop in at Wendy's every once in awhile and try to substitute one of their sandwiches for a Kewpee, but it just doesn't work. And like many of the people who commented on Restaurant Widow's blog, whenever we head back to Lima, we have to stop at Kewpee's.

For me. Kewpee and the Allen County Fair will be forever connected.

If you like to try out local restaurants -- the Kewpee is a safe bet for a delicious meal. If you want nutrition, order your Kewpee with the lettuce and tomato. Even those taste fresher.

According to history, Kewpee started in Racine, Wisconsin and continues to thrive there as well. If interested in Kewpee ephemera, check out the Racine Kewpee website.


nightsmusic said...

OH! Kewpie, Lansing!! My friend lives in Holt now but went to college at Michigan State and has remained in the area forever and Kewpie's is a favorite!!

I guess I never paid attention to the fact that they're in more places than just Lansing. :)

Anonymous said...

How can we ever forget them Kewpees. Going back to Lima made a stop necessary for me. My kids even liked them, but my husband never did figure out how they were any better then Wendy's. I don't know. The growing up in the 40 and 50's and that cool tun around drive way that moved your whole car. Everyone if I remember ate pickle, mustard and onion !!!! No place in Florida services this stuff dear cuz I know been looking for over 50 years now No !wonder I never like Micky D's and that catsup, lone pickle and mustard and onion mess !!!!!!cuz Rita the keeper of the family records!