Thunder Hog Saloon
As you can probably guess, I put a lot of stock in user reviews of restaurants. Websites like Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Google play a huge role in where I pick to eat. Bad reviews don’t turn me off as much as glowing reviews turn me on and that’s exactly what I found when I logged on to Urbanspoon this morning.
The headline read, “Find Burger Heaven At….” That sounded to good to be true! There’s a burger heaven somewhere in Kalamazoo? Well, not quite. It’s in the Kalamazoo Urbanspoon directory, but it’s a little bit of a drive from the city. Still, the rest of that review made my mouth water. Lucky for me, J’s always up for an adventure.
So, we hopped in the car and started heading towards Leonidas in St. Joseph County. The bar we were looking for is the Thunder Hog Saloon on M-60 and near Fulton Road in tiny Leonidas. There ain’t much there, folks. Just the bar, a general store, the township offices and a few houses. We learned the hardway that if you follow Google Maps or the GPS, there isn’t even a gas station along the way. Fortunately for us, Mendon is just five miles to the west, so we didn’t have to call AAA.
When we made our way in to the bar, we had no idea what we were getting in to. The Thunder Hog’s sign probably boasts “Where Cultures Collide” and collide they do.
The Thunder Hog is a dive bar in every sense of the word. After you make your way in, the bar and dining area is to your right. To the left is a pool table and a stripper pole. Yup. A stripper pole. There’s a juke box tucked away in the corner and the only TV was turned to SPEED. There was a large group sitting at a table by the door, so we headed to an empty table on the other side of the room closer to the kitchen. There were a few guys at the bar shootin the bull with the bartender who yelled over and asked what we wanted. J asked if he had a menu. He said he’d have to look, but a few minutes later, he did produce one. I knew they were doing food because I could see into the small kitchen where there were a number of burgers on the grill.
When he brought the menu, he also brought a couple PBR’s…my beer of choice and I was happy to see a number of empties littering the bar. J got one too just because this isn’t the type of place you order a cocktail. There are liquor bottles behind the bar, but I wouldn’t want to be the one asking for a martini.
The menu is very basic. There are a handful of burger options, chicken strips, a grilled cheese, and appetizers. I knew exactly what I wanted, but I knew this really wasn’t going to be “J-Friendly.” She’s not a burger person and that really is their bread and butter.
Her original plan was just to order off the appetizer menu. Since the bartender/cook was getting around on a cane, I didn’t see the need to make him come back to the table. I walked up to the bar to put an order in. I started with J’s order. She wanted the Macaroni & Cheese bites, but when I ordered them, the cook looked up at me and said he’d check. He went to the freezer and started pulling bags out, but didn’t find any. She changed her order to the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Again, I got a funny look. He started pulling bread off the shelf and found the Texas Toast, so we were good to go there.
I ordered the 1/2 lb Bacon Burger w/American Cheese. He looked up from his notepad again and said “1/2 lb Cheeseburger ok?” I said sure. I didn’t really need the bacon anyway. I added on two orders of fries and went back and sat down.
Not long after placing the order, a huge group came in and kind of took over the bar. They were obviously regulars because two of the guys went behind the bar and just started grabbing beer. Like I said, the bartender was also the cook and all of a sudden, he got swamped. He was already working on burgers for the big group that was there when we got there. Then, this large group came in and everything got real loud. Our choice of table turned out to be a bad one. About a dozen people tried to gather around a table for six. They took the two extra chairs from our table and almost took J’s purse because it was sitting on one of the chairs. They didn’t even ask. They just sort of grabbed and J lunged for her purse. We couldn’t figure out if they just came from a wedding or what, but it was definitely somewhere that served liquor. Most were already slurring speech and bumping into our table.
The food took about twenty minutes to come up. It’s simple food, but there was so much going on that it took a while to make sure he wasn’t losing any money yet making sure he cooked everyone’s food.
We drove the 27.2 miles to Leonidas for the burger and I was not disappointed at all when that burger came out. I’ve talked so much on this blog about what makes a good burger. It’s not the sauce. It’s not the toppings. It’s the meat and the Thunder Hog did things right. I could see into the tiny 7’x5′ kitchen from where we were sitting and I watching the cook pick up a handful of meat, patty it out and throw it on to the well-seasoned griddle. The menu says the burger is a half pound, but there’s really no way to know for sure. It was never weighed out. If I were a betting man, I would say I got more than a half pound.
The burger was cooked absolutely perfectly. It had a little pink in the middle and it was ridiculously juicy. The outside had a good crunch to it from the flatop and the cheese had been steamed into the meat. It was served on an Onion Roll, but I seriously didn’t even notice. I was so lost in the burger I didn’t notice anything else….including the guy who stuck his ass in my face from the table next to us. Here we are, in a little bar, in the middle of nowhere and they do the one thing no one can seem to do right with the burger. They pay attention to the meat. Incredible.
J’s sandwich was a simple grilled cheese on two slices of Texas Toast. It was also cooked on the flattop and again, the remenents of previous sandwiches left hers with a great crispy crust. She said the sandwich was really good which made me feel a lot better about dragging her out there.
The fries were fresh cut…and yes, I watched him cut those as well. They were deliciously greasy, but a little undercooked. The outside was really good, but the middle was still a little raw. They would have been perfect had they been dipped again.
When we finished eating, I grabbed our plastic baskets and brought them back to the kitchen. I asked what the damage was and the cooked looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t know.” He got his wife, who had come in to help, to ring it up for me. The two sandwiches, two fries, and two beers cost $13.25. I handed him cash and told him to keep the rest. He tried to give me change back, but the food was too good. I wouldn’t even think about it.
The Thunder Hog Saloon is an interesting place. I grew up in small town bars and J spent some time in Idaho, so places like this don’t scare us. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The Thunder Hog isn’t for everyone, but if you’re up to it, my suggestion would be go on a Wednesday night. Burgers are a dollar as long as you buy a side. It’s totally worth the trip from Kalamazoo. It’s just a little sad I had to go so far to find such a good burger.