Solly's supplies the napkins. But you might want to bring a bib.
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Post-it notes form a halo around my computer screen. I mull over the words I’ve just typed. My index finger taps absently on the space bar. I’m reaching for my copy of Roget’s when a person slides soundlessly into my peripheral vision.
I try to cover my startled expression with a smile and return the greeting. Betty Quadracci doesn’t smile, but her eyes flash with amusement. The jarring thing about our late publisher’s mobility scooter was that it allowed her to move with such stealth. I suspect that was a quality she took some delight in.
“What are you working on?” she asks, her arms resting on the scooter bars.
The Best Burgers feature, I tell her, and we proceed to talk about her favorite incarnations of the American standby. “I hope Solly’s is on your list,” she adds before motoring off.
Chips, fries, pizza, burgers – I remember Betty relishing them all. Before the Travel Channel and Roadfood.com discovered Solly’s Grille, Betty Quad extolled the virtues of the joint’s ground beef. Owner Glenn Fieber says that, over the years, hers was a familiar face at the U-shaped lunch counter, but unlike U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a diner regular, Fieber never got to know her.
Fieber, who officially took the reins of the business from his mother in 1993, is rarely far from the grill. And little has changed since Solly’s opened in 1936. (There have been a couple of moves – most recently, from one Glendale location to another, 125 feet away from the previous one.) The butter burgers – named for the generous slather of Wisconsin butter that goes on the bun right before serving – are the kind of sandwiches you need to roll up your sleeves for. Obnoxiously juicy. Once that mass of churned cream melts, you have a buttery pool on your plate.
The Original Solly is a single patty topped with stewed onions ($4.29). You can top your patty with cheese (blue, if you want to be fancy) and bacon, or double the beef (to a one-third pound burger, $7.99). The crinkle-cut fries are obligatory, if only because a patty needs a partner. And come to think of it, you’ll need to wet your whistle, too. That’s where the hot fudge malt comes in.
As much as I like the burgers, I also dig Solly’s breakfast – for the mix-and-match options. Eggs with sausage, bacon, ham, hash browns, toast, or any combo thereof. The “Town Dump” happens when two eggs meet hash browns, kielbasa chunks, mushrooms, onions and melted cheese. The word “pillow” is what they’ve given to a grilled, butter-smacked Sciortino’s roll. It sure makes plain old toast seem, yeah, plain and old.
What I like best about Solly’s is the community around that counter. It’s just a burger, and yet, it’s a burger! And you’re all dripping with butter together. I’ve had meals with Betty over the years, but never rolled up my sleeves with her at the Solly’s lunch counter. Whether food or clothing or fine art, her tastes were refined. Yet she could still enjoy something as simple as a good burger.