Address: 1350 Bellefontaine Avenue, Lima, OH 45804 (map)
Distance off I-75: 0.3 Miles
Rating: * * * * *
I will start this blog with what is my favorite stop for hamburgers along this stretch of I-75, Kewpee Burger in Lima, Ohio. Located just off exit 125, this location is convenient and consistently delicious. If you are looking for a quick stop, this one is just a scant 0.3 miles off the highway.
Driving into Lima (pronounced like the much reviled bean, not the Peruvian city), which was made famous by Television’s hit show Glee, you may be expecting chipper students dancing in unison on well-groomed streets, singing sanitized versions of popular music. You will be disappointed. What you will find is a thoroughfare of corporate logos surrounded by a slowly progressing blue-collar decay. What the part of Lima directly off the highway might be missing in small-town charm is more than made up for in an explosion of affordable cheeseburger bliss.
The dingy, industrial, vaguely yellow building sits at the point of a fork in the road. Take either way; you’ll still end up at Kewpee. If you are looking for a Kewpee Burger with a more quaint and charming exterior, try the original location in downtown Lima. It has an art deco exterior and a giant Kewpee doll over the door. I find the food to be the same in either location, so if you are focused on the flavor, stick to the off-the-interstate location for a quick on and off.
Upon entering, waves of unpleasant nostalgia will wash over you as the interior will undoubtedly remind you of your school cafeteria. Several rows of fake wood tables line the seating area with attached chairs, each an off-red faux-Eames mid-century modern style seat that is so popular currently. Seating is definitely plentiful here as two of the outer walls have counter-style seats that face out through the windows into the parking lot with a stunning view of the neighboring Dollar General.
The long counter at the opposite side of the restaurant is where the food is ordered and it should be noted that line-ups can start at either end. Behind the counter you will notice two types of employees — young people who are working their first job and elderly people who may have been working here since the shop opened. No one in the restaurant is likely to great you with a smile, neither workers nor fellow customers, and everyone seems a bit surly. It’s as if they are unaware of the miracle of bun and beef that sits before them.
The cheeseburgers at Kewpee cost a mere $1.90. It’s as if the prices are also stuck in time. Kewpee locally grinds its beef daily and you can taste it in the burger. The flavor of the meat is so perfect, you can hardly wait to dive in. It’s a good-sized burger as well, and although they also offer a double on the menu, a single will satisfy most people.
Not only is the meat fresh, but the burger toppings are as well. Once, in the dead of winter, I had a tomato on my burger that was so fresh I almost broke down into tears of joy. It was as if the tomato represented the promise of a new spring.
Legend has it that a young Dave Thomas worked at Kewpee Hamburgers growing up and “borrowed” the menu when he opened his little burger chain called “Wendy’s.” So it should come as no surprise that the menus are similar: Burgers, fries, malts (Frosties) and chili. Walking into Kewpee it’s as if a Wendy’s location never went corporate and still tasted homemade.
The menu does deviate from the typical fast food menu. Making an unexpected cameo as a burger topping — green olives! Surprise! And the pies, my god, the pies. All homemade with a rotating seasonal selection. A slice is only $1.60. Last time I went the current seasonal pie was Raisin Pie. I didn’t realize raisins had a season, but it was so good I didn’t care.
And the fries? They’re ok. Nothing special. However, Heintz finally got around to packaging their ketchup in the BBQ sauce-style packages that you get with chicken strips. This was the first place that I saw this style of packaging. Why did it take them so long to figure out that this was the cleaner and more efficient way of delivering ketchup rather than having to rip open filthy packets with our teeth and having ketchup squirt out everywhere, on the table and on our faces and in our hair. Bravo for finally delivering the perfect dipping packet.
Also found on the menu is a vegetarian option of a “veggie sandwich.” Although I have not had this I would imagine it consists of everything you would find on a hamburger, but without the meat, rather than being a meatless gardenburger.
A word of warning for those of you who intend on using Kewpee as a pit stop: upon entering the men’s bathroom you will encounter another fork in the road. Turning left you will see an ordinary urinal and sink setup. However, turning right will result in an encounter with an open campsite-style stall with no door on it and no indication as to whether it is currently occupied. Hopefully this warning will help keep you from making a wrong turn.
Overall Kewpee has everything I look for in a stop on one of my trips — a quick on-and-off, delicious hamburgers, and consistency. Every time I have been there the burger quality has been top-notch. Hopefully you will find the same to be true when you visit.