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Redamak’s: A Legend Revisited

By • Jul 25th, 2009 • Category: Burger Blog

The Michigan city of New Buffalo describes itself as “a modern but quaint shoreline resort community.”  It’s located in the very corner where the states of Indiana and Michigan meet up with Lake Michigan.  There are just barely over 2,000 residents.  It’s the kind of place that’s absolutely hopping for half of the year, and positively dead for the other half.   It’s a summers-only lake town on whose streets you’ll find ice cream parlors, bicycle rental shops… and one hell of a great cheeseburger.

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Redamak’s is, at its very core, all about tradition.  George and Gladys Redamak started the roadside diner in the 1940s, their version of the American dream.  It was small and busy, never trying to be anything more.  After George passed away, Gladys passed the business on to another couple, Jim and Angie Maroney.  The Maroneys had been vacationing in New Buffalo for years, and were regulars at Redamak’s.  They had always joked with Gladys, asking her to sell the place to them.  In 1975, she took them up on their offer.  Now in its 34th season, Redamak’s is without question, New Buffalo’s most famous resident.

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But like every small town’s most famous resident, Redamak’s does have its quirks that the rest of the world just has to deal with.  Like not accepting credit cards.  And the fact that they simply shut down each year from just before Halloween… until spring.  Think about that for a second.  For a full one-third of the calendar year, you simply can’t get the best burger in town.  Want a cheeseburger in November?  Nope.  Sorry, come back in March.

I first tried Redamak’s in the early 1990s, when my wife and I were just dating.  We lived in neighboring towns about an hour away, and often ventured into New Buffalo for some beach time or a change of scenery and were quickly won over by what the signs proclaim is “The hamburger that made New Buffalo, Mich. famous!”

My wife and I married and moved away in 1994.  I hadn’t been to Redamak’s in 15 years.  When we came back for a family vacation, we made a pilgrimage to see if it was as special as we remembered.

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Friends who still live in the area swear by Redamak’s, so I was excited as we made our way down the vaguely-familiar highways leading into New Buffalo.  But I was also very nervous.  What if, over the years, I had, in my head, simply built up an average cheeseburger into something much more?  What if my glorified and overhyped memories didn’t live up to the reality?

The place looked the same, despite a few upgrades.  They added air conditioning and a paved parking lot in 1995, to the protests from some that they were becoming “way too modern.”  An enclosed patio has been added.  But the key elements were still there: the old-fashioned sign with the hand-drawn logo, the kitshcy bric-a-brac hanging on the walls, the round menus… and yes, the slamming cheeseburgers.

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The burgers start out as 5-and-a third-ounce patties.  And for a menu that boasts 39 side items (!!!), the burger selection is refreshingly basic: you can get a plain hamburger, a cheeseburger (American cheese), or a Swiss burger.  You can get any one of them as a single, double, or triple.  That’s it.  Nine choices. You can get them dressed with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and onions if you wish, but they don’t even have lettuce or tomatoes to offer you.  They do have extra-cost toppings (like grilled onions, round bacon, no-bean chili, mushroom, jalapenos, or green olives) so you can “build your own legend,” but those are the only ingredients you have to work with.  No ham, no shrimp, no fried eggs, no Krispy Kreme donutsNo extreme burgers, just extremely good burgers.

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My wife got the single cheeseburger and made noises while she ate it that I typically like her to reserve for more private moments.  I got the double Swiss with mushrooms, and it was every bit as outstanding as I remembered.  Served piping hot, wrapped in wax paper, and nestled in a wicker basket with some outrageously tasty onion rings, it was a trip down memory lane.

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I couldn’t help but be struck at how a place like Redamak’s so effectively taps into our sense of nostalgia and simplicity.  Here I was, sipping ice-cold red cream soda, re-creating a date from fifteen years prior, eating a breathtakingly simple cheeseburger made the exact same way it has been for 34 years in the exact same kitchen on quite possibly the exact same griddle.  It was a great reminder of how the best things never change.  It wasn’t the biggest burger or the most extreme burger I’ve ever had.  Hell, it wasn’t even the best burger I’ve ever had.  But it may have been the happiest I’ve ever been eating a cheeseburger. Sometimes, you can go home again.

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