One of the guys from Ovation Audio Video in Indianapolis was telling me about some of his favorite burger places in the area during a recent trip out to the Circle City. He sort of sheepishly said to me, "Actually, one of my favorite burgers is a place that a lot of people around here sort of turn up their nose at. It's called 96th St. Steakburgers." It turned out that it wasn't far from Naked Tchopstix, the restaurant we had eaten at the night before. Prior to me leaving Indianapolis, I stopped off at 96th St. Steakburgers to give one a try.
Indianapolis native Kevin Stitle is the owner of 96th St. Steakburgers which is located, coincidentally, on 96th St. on the far northern side of Indianapolis (see map). Stitle is in his mid-30's and is involved in a number of civic endeavors in and around the greater Indianapolis area. Stitle had two other locations around the Indy area - one in Plainfield and one at the Indianapolis International Airport - but both have since closed down.
The original location on 96th St. is still in business and seems to do some bustling business. I was in there after 2 p.m. that particular afternoon to get a burger before I left town. It wasn't all that busy when I was in there since it was well after the lunch time rush, but it was still busy enough that I had a little bit of a wait before I ordered to peruse the menu behind and above the counter area.
96th St. Steakburgers is just basically a burger joint that serves made to order burgers. The menu is very basic - they have burgers made out of ground steak and that's about it. They have single and double steakburgers with or without cheese. You can stylize your steakburgers Monster-style with grilled onions, Mustard-style where they grill the bun with yellow mustard on it, or a Wrap-style for the diet conscious out there who would rather have their steakburger wrapped in lettuce rather than on a bun.
They also have a grilled cheese and dill pickle sandwich on the menu, as well. French fries are available along with soft drinks, milkshakes, and three different types of cookies. 96th St. Steakburgers milkshakes and burgers have won a number of local "People's Choice" awards over the past few years.
I ordered up a simple double cheeseburger for my lunch. I got a bottle of water to go along with it. A basic order for a very basic burger place. Since the burgers are made to order, you get a numbered receipt, go find a place to sit and wait for your number to be called. The interior of 96th St. Steakburgers has sort of an industrial look to the place. The table tops and seats are made of wood, but the frames are pure metal. The chairs are heavy and difficult to scoot across the painted concrete floor. I tried to move my chair out from the table, but it got caught up and fell backward with a tremendous metal bang when it hit the floor. It got the attention of the dozen or so diners in the restaurant.
About 10 minutes after I ordered my burger, my receipt number was called. They serve the steakburgers in an open topped wrapper. When I took it out, I could see that they smash the meat on the grill, similar to what they do at Smashburger and some other places I've been to over the past couple of years. I used to think that smashing the meat patty down on a flat top grill to press out the juices from the meat was bad, but I'm beginning to like that taste isn't all that bad. It leaves kind of a crust around the outside of the meat patty.
A piece of lettuce and a tomato slice came with the usual toppings on the burger. The meat, although it was smashed down, was still pretty juicy. It had a nice crusted outer shell to the steak patty that actually held some of the juices within the burger. The bun was like and flaky and helped with the overall taste of the burger. The two patties weren't all that thick and I would say the total weight of the cooked meat was well under 8 oz.
But it was pretty good. I don't think it would have made even a high honorable mention on my current Top Ten Burger List, but the burger on its own was worth the stop. I haven't had many burgers in the great Indianapolis area, but I'm sure there are ones out there that are better than a 96th St. Steakburgers.
I called up the guy at Ovation Audio Video who recommended 96th St. Steakburgers after I left and told him that while they weren't the best burgers I've ever had, they were still pretty good. He acknowledged once again that the taste isn't for everyone. He said, "I just sort of like that crunchiness to the meat. I try to make sirloin burgers in a grill pan at home and they don't taste as good as the ones at Steakburgers."
96th St. Steakburgers is nothing flashy - either with its menu or with its atmosphere. It's almost void of any personality in the place. But when your goal is to make the best of one thing, your focus should be on that one thing. There's no tenderloins, no onion rings, no chicken sandwiches. It's steakburgers and that's about it at 96th St. Steakburgers. I've been by the place many times during my trips to Indy in the past and I'll probably stop back in at some point. But I know there are many other places that probably have even better burgers around the greater Indianpolis area. My goal is to find a couple of those before I make it back to 96th St. Steakburgers.