Before going on a trip to Ann Arbor for the Iowa/Michigan football game last fall, I read about a little burger place there in Bob Wood's book that takes a look at the communities around the Big Ten Conference, Big Ten Country. From the description of the place, I couldn't wait to try Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger. We were with our friends, Scott and Marcia Schroeder, and Dave and Pat Heusmann, and since the game started at 3:30, it was a must to go to Blimpy Burger before the game. (Picture courtesy onesixtyk.com)
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger was opened back in 1953 by Jim Shafer, a guy who had run a small burger stand in downtown Ann Arbor. Shafer was called "crazy" by another store owner because he was selling hamburgers for 20 cents each. When the opportunity to move to a former corner grocery store just off the fringe of the University of Michigan, Shafer jumped at the chance. He decided to call his new place "Krazy Jim's" and had a drawn cow as a mascot. His motto for his burgers was "cheaper than food" because it was almost cheaper to have a hamburger than to make something at home. His place became a food haven for U of Michigan students who lived nearby in rental houses.
In 1969, a young student by the name of Rich Magner came to work flipping burgers at Krazy Jim's. Magner had some artistic talent and Shafer asked him to re-do the restaurant's cow mascot. Magner told Shafer, "I don't draw cows, I draw bears." So the sitting bear holding the burger in the logo came to be the new mascot for Krazy Jim's.
Magner left Krazy Jim's in 1974, but returned in 1992 buying the business from the then-retired Jim Shafer. He and his wife, Chris, whom he met while both were working at Blimpy Burger in the early 70's, changed the menu from the basic "burger, pie, coffee" place to one that featured your choice of one to five burger patties per burger, your choice of a regular bun, an onion bun, a pumpernickel bun, or a kaiser bun (with or without sesame seeds), then a myriad of toppings including six different types of cheese, and a slew of extras including a fried egg, bacon, green olives, salami or banana pepper rings. A University of Michigan math student once calculated that there are 2,147,483,648 different combinations you can have with a Blimpy Burger.
We arrived at the corner of S. Division and Packard (see map) right as Krazy Jim's opened for the day at 11 a.m. For the uninitiated in Krazy Jim's ordering procedures, there is a protocol one must go through in order to keep the line moving - a line that will sometimes stretch out the door during busy periods. The menu at Crazy Jim's is pretty straight forward and being one of the first in line that day gave us a little time to figure out what we wanted.
The inside of the restaurant is very small and sort of void of any real character. They have a few tables and chairs in the place. (The chairs were bought by Jim Shafer for $1.75 each from a department store that had gone out of business.) The flat grill is behind the counter and a couple three people are whirling behind the counter cooking the burgers and fried foods. (Pictures above courtesy Ann Arbor.com)
The shtick for the people working the counter and grills at Krazy Jim's is to have a fast mouth and a tart tongue. Before ordering, we had to withstand the playful taunts of the counter crew regarding our Iowa sweatshirts and jackets. A little black lady working the grill shouted out, "You Iowans been here before?" When we said we had not, she yelled out, "Hey, we have some Blimpy virgins in the crowd today!"
Since the burgers are only 1 1/2 ounce balls of fresh chuck beef ground daily at Krazy Jim's, you can easily order four for a burger, which makes it a 6 oz. burger. That's what I ordered - a quad. Actually, the protocol is that you order how many patties you want, they throw the round balls on the grill and mash them down. Then you get asked the type of bun you want (I got the onion bun for about 50 cents extra). The next question is what do you want grilled with it - bacon, onions, and mushrooms is what I ordered. And then right before the burger patties came off the grill, the little lady asked me what type of cheese I wanted on it. "Swiss, darlin'," I replied.
She said, "Sweet talkin' me ain't gonna get you this burger any faster." She, alone, was worth the price of admission. After the burger came off the grill, that's when you were asked what kind of condiments you wanted and I ordered ketchup, mustard and pickles. "Don't like puttin' ketchup on our burgers," the little lady yelled out. "But we'll do it for you Blimpy virgins!"
The burgers were placed on individual trays and the lady yelled, "Now, you do not take the burger off the tray. Keep 'em on your tray. When you're done, bus your own tables."
Here's a Krazy Jim's double burger (picture courtesy of A Hamburger Today.)
The burger, I have to say, was just magnificent. It had that great flat grilled taste to the meat, and the burger, itself, was very juicy. The grease from the meat was just dripping onto the wax paper with every bite. That's also probably why they don't want you taking the burger off the tray, so they won't have to come out and wipe up the grease that soaked through the wax paper. In fact, about the time we were finished with our burgers, a couple near us had the audacity to take their burgers off the trays and put them on the table. The lady screamed, "Do NOT take the burgers off the tray! Don't make me come out there and nail you up 'side the head!"
Everyone loved their burgers. Some of the people in our group got the onion rings - they're homemade and it's a three-day process of making. The first day, they're peeled and put into a cooler to draw out the excess moisture in the rings. The second day, they're sliced into rings and placed back into the cooler to dry out some more. The third day, they're battered and fried. They turn out to be sort of a misshapen mish-mash of deep fried onions. I was offered a couple and they were outstanding. Cindy got the French fries which are really just big, thick steak fries. They were crisp on the outside and mushy in the middle - perfect.
Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger was simply one of the best burgers I've ever had. Period. There are very few burgers that will ever top the taste of the burger I had at Krazy Jim's. But I'm going to keep on trying to find them. And that's what a good part of this blog is all about. (Picture at right courtesy Ann Arbor.com)
(Update I - In August of 2013, Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger was forced to close their doors due to expansion of the nearby University of Michigan campus. Rich Magner had leased the building from Jim Shafer's widow and she sold the building when the college wanted to expand. The Magner's had been looking for a place that was reasonable in price for them to buy and relocate the restaurant. As of the end of December 2013, that still hadn't happened. If I hear that they've reopened, I'll let you know.)
(Update II - Rich Magner found a place in downtown Ann Arbor and signed the lease of April of 2014. His official re-opening of Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger was on Friday, October 3, 2014. The original tables and chairs from the old place are at the new place and the same menu favorites are available.)