Since 1937, Town Topic in Kansas City has been churning out burgers for the masses, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. What started out as a White Castle, Town Topic uses a flat grill and smashes onions into the top of the burger patty during the cooking process. When they're done, the patties are flat and crispy on the outer fringes with caramelized onions embedded into the meat. I've been wanting to try a Town Topic burger for quite sometime and I had the chance during a recent trip to Kansas City. (Photo courtesy of Serious Eats.com)
There are three Town Topic locations in the greater Kansas City area - the one on Broadway just north of Southwest Blvd. that I went to (see map), another one literally around the corner and three short blocks away on Baltimore (see map), and a third location in what was the old Valentine Diner in suburban Shawnee Mission, KS (see map). Only the Broadway location is open 24 hours, the other two close around 7 p.m.
The original Town Topic opened in 1937 as a White Castle just down the street from the current Broadway location. Owner Claude Sparks opened to little fanfare and rang up $21.00 in sales on his opening day. A few years later, Sparks said good-bye to White Castle and opened his first Town Topic diner four blocks north on Broadway in the Crossroads section just south of downtown Kansas City. The Baltimore Ave. location opened a few years later, and in the late 80's the Shawnee Mission Town Topic location opened. Today, Town Topic is still owned by the Sparks family with Scott Sparks running all three locations.
There's a somewhat large parking lot next to the Town Topic on Broadway. Actually, I think there are more parking spaces than seats in the little restaurant (I counted - it seats 13 with a stand-up counter along one window on which to eat). I was a little worried I'd be able to get into Town Topic as it was just before 1 p.m. and I knew that it was a pretty popular place during the day. But I was able to get in with no problems. I found a stool at the end of the counter and took a look at the menu on the wall behind the counter.
While burgers are the main item on the menu, Town Topic is also known for their breakfasts, homemade chili and thick milkshakes. I've been told that many a late night partier has downed Town Topic's "Truckstop Omelet" - a four-egg omelet stuffed with hashbrowns, cheese and your choice of sausage, bacon or ham. It sounds somewhat similar to a "Magic Mountain" that has satisfied the late night hunger cravings of drunks for years at Ross' Restaurant in Bettendorf, IA.
The burgers at Town Topic aren't very thick, so I ordered up a double cheeseburger with everything from one of the three waitresses working behind the counter that day. And because they aren't very thick, it doesn't take long for a burger to show up in front of you.
The crusty outer shell of the meat patty sealed in the juices and flavor of the burger. I'm guessing the flat griddle that the burgers are cooked on is probably close to 70 years old and it makes for some great flavoring to the burgers. The burger, itself, was pretty good sized (I'd read where they were the size of White Castle "sliders" - they were much bigger than that.) and they easily covered the somewhat average bun. While I still have a slight aversion to "smashed" burgers, I'm quickly warming up to the concept thanks to the taste of the burgers like the one at Town Topic. I'm glad I got a double as a single would have been overwhelmed by the bun.
And the burger was good at Town Topic. I can easily see why thousands of people have craved their burgers since 1937. The place is a local institution in Kansas City and full of nostalgia and history. While I'm not overly certain that I'd race back to Town Topic, I'm sure I'll go back at some point in time. And like it's been since the 1940's, the original Town Topic will be exactly the same on my next visit, whether it be later this year or in three years.