Halfway between downtown Bloomington and Highway 37, where Kirkwood Ave swerves bizarrely and turns into South Adams Street, only to transform into 3rd Street after a tenth of a mile, you will find Hinkle’s Hamburgers. Luckily for us, Hinkle’s executes when making burgers far better than Bloomington does with city planning. Hinkle’s isn’t hard to spot with the large burger painted on the front of the red-roofed building.
A venerable institution established in 1930, this burger shack has been serving up steaming patties of ground chuck since the Greatest Generation. The simple appearance seems to hide what is apparently a lucrative business. We parked out back and came across two cars, a BMW and an Escalade, with vanity plates. Apparently owning a burger spot doesn’t hurt the bank account.
We use the term “burger shack” affectionately, for this lean-to quality of a structure would never pass code if built today, but has all the accoutrements you would hope for — random framed posters of Chicago, laminated newspaper articles heralding Hinkle’s fame and various awards, and a map of the local terrain just in case you feel like exploring after eating your burger. There’s even a letter from former IU president Herman B. Wells. You order and pay (cash!) at the counter, grab a seat and wait for your name to be called. The tables are old, the chairs are old and the whole place is the epitome of “no frills,” but isn’t that what you want out of an old, local burger joint? We do.
I opted for the double cheeseburger offered for the base price of $4.05, and then got “more luxury than a Hinkle’s owner’s car” by adding the combined mayo, tomato and lettuce for 50 cents more. The burger came wrapped in the traditional waxed paper. The patty was the old school burger shack style, pounded thin and with a crispy exterior from frying in its own juices and fat on a hot griddle. The iceberg lettuce added crunch, although little flavor or other texture, and was apparently tossed on the patty with little care — hanging off the side of the burger. The tomatoes followed the common disappointing trend, being mealy, light pink, and bland. [Neil’s question: Did you really expect more from the tomatoes at a place like this? I’m starting to worry about your tomato obsession.] [Chris’ answer: yes I do, and do not mock me Neil, or the great tomato god / pseudo-Christian action hero will smite you.] [Neil’s response: I have no idea what that is. I’m a little concerned that you do.]
The meat taste was salty, with nice traces of rich fat taste, but was otherwise bland except for the onion taste with dominates on this patty. [Neil explains why later, so read on.] As a thin patty, meat temperature only comes with one option: well done.
Overall, this burger meets all my expectations for an old-school diner / fast food burger of good quality. While there were no happy surprises, there were no disappointments either, hence our rating.
Regarding the sides: The fries were just a simple crinkle cut, and too expensive for the amount served. My chocolate milkshake was hand-dipped as advertised, and was the perfect compliment to this burger. My only complaint would be that they could have used more chocolate in the shake, it tasted a little too much like vanilla for my taste.
Hinkle’s makes fast food style burgers, and this is the first burger of this type that we have reviewed. I ordered the double cheeseburger and it comes standard with American cheese, grilled/charred onions and a couple pickle slices. The patties were thin and had a nice crust, so I assume that Hinkle’s uses the smash cooking technique. I love the crust that this technique generates, and if the smashing is done at the very beginning of the cooking process, then the burger will lose little of its invaluable juice. Chains like Shake Shack and Smashburger have built their success in part (though obviously not completely) off this cooking technique. The slight crunch of the crust creates a nice contrast to the gooey cheese and adds a different flavor component to the beef.
Hinkle’s sets its burgers apart by apparently cooking the patties on a flattop with onions. The burgers are then topped by these onions, which fall somewhere between grilled and charred on the cooking scale (much closer to charred). It shouldn’t be surprising for me to tell you that onion is one of the most (the most?) prominent flavors on the burger.
I have a few, minor critiques of the burger. First, it was small. Fast food style burgers are always smaller, but that’s why I ordered a double. A double should be just right, especially when paired with fries and a drink. This was not. I could have eaten three. Second, I think the pickles were superfluous. I guess that’s not really a critique as much as it’s a note for myself to ask for no pickles next time. I often sing the praises of the pickles in my reviews, but it just wasn’t as good in this case. I don’t know if it’s as much the pickles not meshing with the flavors of the patty, cheese and onions, as it is me just wanting to focus on those three, exemplary flavors, without being distracted by pickles. Lastly, we have to judge presentation. I can’t take many points away from a place like this, that doesn’t make a pretty burger, but there’s no reason why a fast food style burger can’t look as good as it tastes.
Sides: crinkle-cut fries and vanilla shake. You can always assume fries are mass-produced, frozen fries if they are crinkle-cut. Who would take the time to cut fresh fries like that? Exactly. Also, the portions of the fries are Munchkin-sized. Look at the picture (above). Even the venerable Lollipop Guild would have wondered where the rest of their fries were. Not worth the $1.50 (yes, the tiny bag of formerly frozen fries cost $1.50). The shake? DELICIOUS. But it better be delicious if I shell out $3.50. While it was great, I probably wouldn’t order it again. I just can’t justify the cost.
This was a tough burger for us to rate, because it is so unlike any of the other burgers we have reviewed. Neil probably tends to prefer fast food style burgers to restaurant or pub style, and also really liked the heavy dose of onions that Hinkle’s served with the burger. It added a twist that differentiates Hinkle’s from the millions of other fast food style burgers. Both Neil and Chris agreed that $4.05 seemed like a lot to pay for a double cheeseburger as small as the ones we had. It wasn’t tiny, but we expected a little more. However, when you compare this price to other burgers around Bloomington, then $4.05 is right on the mark or perhaps even a bit of a deal. With all that said, if someone said they wanted to grab a burger, and driving wasn’t an issue, then it is very possible we would suggest Hinkle’s. Good, simple burgers in a no-frills, local joint. The way it should be.
Raw Score: 4 / 5 burgers
Price-adjusted: 4 / 5 burgers
Price: $4.05 for the double cheeseburger; $4.55 with L/T/M
Gained points: Crust on patties, onions
Lost points: Size, veggies
Drinks: Are shakes drinks?
Date of visit: 10/11/12 (Antifascist Uprising Day in Macedonia)