Telway Hamburgers – Southwest Detroit
I’m going to piggyback off my last entry a little bit and talk more about regional food. While it’s true Detroit didn’t invent the slider, they have taken it over as something somewhat unique to the area. For some reason, there are a large number of hamburger places serving sliders that are not White Castle.
I was in Detroit late one night last week and wanted to find something to eat on the way home. Coney’s are always an option, but I’ve done that in Detroit before and wanted to find something else. What was suggested to me was a slider place about five miles west of Downtown.
Telway Hamburgers has been in Detroit for well over 50 years with the Telway Hamburger System being created in 1944. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of history online about the Telway. Some have said it was an old White Tower (not White Castle) restaurant while others say it was a small, local chain that copied White Castle. On a list of surviving White Tower buildings, neither of the Telway’s show up, but their design is similar. Whatever the history is, there are two left today. The second location is in Madison Heights on John R. Both are 24 hours and both serve the same simple menu of quick, greasy fast food.
It was a little after midnight when I pulled up to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Martin Road. The building is tiny and it does have the distinct look of a 1950’s slider joint…again, looking a lot like a White Tower restaurant with a white exterior an white porcelain on the inside.
There are two entrances to the tiny box. One takes you to a take out window that is right in front of the grill. The other goes in to a small, 8-10 seat diner with a lunch counter overlooking the kitchen on one side and stools up against a stainless steel counter facing the windows on the other.
I didn’t notice that there were two entrances at first and ended up in the carry-out area. I figured the hell with it. I could eat while driving.
There was one person in front of me waiting on food, so I stood back and looked over his shoulder to see the menu. There’s not a whole lot to choose from, but from what I had heard going in, there’s a lot of really good options. The coffee is one thing people raved about. It’s apparently better than most coffee chains, but I’m not a coffee drinker, so that wasn’t an option for me.
I ended up ordering four cheeseburgers and an order of fries. The cost was well under $10 and they only accept cash. I didn’t realize it right away, but the guy standing directly in front of me behind the counter was actually the cook. I could see his reflection taking out little balls of beef and smashing them down on the flat top. Like White Castle, Telway uses the steaming method with the onions to cook their burgers, but they don’t put the little vent holes White Castle’s frozen burgers have. They just smash the meat right down on top and then put the bun on to let it cook.
It took a little over five minutes for the burgers to be ready and a couple more for the fries. My intention was to sit and eat, but since I ended up in the carry-out entrance, I just headed back to the car.
I started in on the fries right away which were fresh out of the fryer. They were simple restaurant fries that were really crispy on the outside but soft and steamy on the inside. I could only eat a few because they were still so hot.
Once I got back on the road and heading towards I-94, I pulled one of the burgers out of the bag. They aren’t much to look at, but they turned out to be real tasty.
The sliders are built with cheese, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard, and pickle. I know it’s odd, but I don’t really like onions. Luckily, they were long thin strings of onion and there wasn’t that much on each one, so it was very simple to slide them off.
Each burger was a little bit smaller than the steamed bun and it was almost easy enough to eat the whole thing in one bite. The burgers had that distinct taste of fast food burgers with the ketchup and mustard plus a little bit of crunch from the pickle. There’s no doubt, these burgers are much, much better than their big name chain bretheren.
Telway Hamburgers is a place I’m not sure I ever would have found if I wasn’t looking for a 24-hour food joint. I’m glad I did because not only did I find a tasty late night snack, I also found a really interesting historical side to the Detroit Culinary scene in the abundance of slider places.