Update: thanks to everyone who pointed out my egregious misspelling of "Kewpee." I have corrected the mistake, and I regret the error.
I think I might have mentioned at the outset of this burger hunt that I originally wanted to separate our best burger hunt into 2 categories: best "fast food" or greasy spoon hamburger, and best "gourmet" burger. I mean, you really can't compare say the Rossi Burger with a White Castle. But I was vetoed, so every burger has to be evaluated on its own merit.
One great benefit to marrying a boy from Lima was my introduction to the Kewpee burger. At first, I was a little incredulous, but I became a convert. Husband's family has a tradition: every Christmas Eve, his grandparents go to the Kewpee and pick up a giant bag to go. Typically, Husband and I straggle in after a night of work and the long drive, and we put a few Kewpees on a plate and pop them into the microwave. A bit of a novelty for us, actually, being that we don't own a microwave and would typically never eat fast food more than 10 minutes after purchase, but the Kewpee is different.
The Kewpee space (not the cute uptown one, but the one on Bellefontaine), leaves a little to be desired – there is no piped music, and you actually feel a little like you're eating in the cafeteria of a steel mill. I'm only happy that the smoking ban has passed since our last visit. All of the workers wear all white, in the old-school style of hamburger joint.
What separated the Kewpee from other fast food joints is their use of fresh, never frozen meat. Furthermore, the meat is grown locally, so it's perfect for those who are watching their food miles, if not their waistlines. The burgers appear to contain no fillers – the patties fall apart much more readily than their lesser counterparts in other fast food restaurants. Also, the burgers are square.
That brings us to the (perhaps) apocryphal story that Dave Thomas originally offered to franchise the Kewpee, but the owner refused, so Mr. Thomas took the concept and made Wendy's. The owner of the Kewpee has always kept the chain small and manageable, which has enabled them to keep the quality in tact.
The Kewpee is the quintessential fast food burger – there's nothing gourmet about it (except its use of aforementioned fresh and local beef). It's grilled on a flat top and the condiments are slapped on at eye-popping speed by a remarkably efficient 16-year-girl. The burgers are wrapped in the charming white wax paper wrappers bearing the cute Kewpee doll and the Kewpee trademark phrase "Hamburg, pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity-flop." The burger is nicely sized, just right for one, and comes topped however you like it – Husband's family prefers mustard, pickle, and onion (scathing, white, uncooked onions which make the whole fridge smell gloriously stinky) and the condiments are always generous. I get the feeling they aren't going around berating the employees and reminding them "only one pickle per!!" They always have about 5 pickles, which combined with the mustard and aforementioned onion, can make you think twice about eating one on a date.
The Kewpee offers things other than the burger, of course, such as good chili, and cold cheese sandwiches. The little old lady in line behind us ordered a "degreased burger on whole wheat bread." Hmm. Degreased? Why bother? There are also homemade pies on the menu, and during the large Christmas Eve rush, lots of whole pies were going home to happy families.
I realize my picture of the Kewpee burger is a little lackluster, but it was 24 hours old, at the bottom of a giant bag full of Kewpies, and had been reheated. Just goes to show the power of a good burger.
Fries are a little blah, which might give some credence to the Wendy's rumor, because Wendy's has the worst fries in fast food land.
At any rate, the Kewpee is a Lima institution, and I envy them for it.
Info: Kewpee Burger (several locations) 1350 Bellefontaine Ave in Lima. 419.229.1385. If you go, I might recommend going to the uptown version, which has a much more charming atmosphere. The "frosted malts" come in old fashioned milkshake glasses with metal handles.