Corktown has become one of the most popular neighborhoods in Detroit, with the development of spots like Two James, Sugar House, Brooklyn Street Local, and the Detroit Institute of Bagels making national headlines. With that, of course, come the growing pains. A recent, much-publicized spate of car break-ins, tensions between long-time locals and a newer influx of residents and businesses, and a City Hall that's slow to respond to the changing dynamic of the neighborhood make Corktown's evolution just as exciting as it can be frustrating.
Through all these changes has been Nemo's. This classic burger bar has served up a mean patty for the past 50 years. For a special Burger Week installment of Lifers, Eater columnist Serena Maria Daniels caught up with Nemo's manager Pat Osman to discuss how Nemo's burger fits into all of it and why that burger tastes so good.
What's the secret behind the Nemo's burger?
"No matter what, people are always going to want a good burger."
You mean, what am I allowed to tell you? Well, we've had the same meat wholesaler for 50 years . . . Rex Packing in Dearborn. I can't tell you the blend, but I can say they make a special blend for us and they've been doing it for 50 years.
You recently told Metro Times editor Michael Jackman that Nemo's is the best burger in town. How do you figure?
I can't pretend to know that, but for some of us who like going out to eat, like having a burger when they go out, I have no doubt in my mind we're it. We've been serving them for that long, so it must mean something.
What do you look for in a burger?
I look at if it's cooked correctly, it's juicy, if it tastes like a burger. There's not a specific taste, it doesn't have to be covered with 18 different items. If you want cheese, you get cheese, if not, then okay . . . Our lunch menu is different, we have a few more things on the menu, but if you want just a plain simple burger with cheese, we've got that, and here, it's fabulous.
What do you think of the new dynamic of Corktown, with all of the recent developments?
It's gotten younger, the whole area has more traffic and more people live here . . . There's a hope over here, and how many times have you heard that happening in Detroit over the past 20 years? Well it's happening a lot more lately.
How does that impact business?
We're pretty steady. We're up, we're down. That's the nature of being a restaurant.
There's been a lot of talk about crime here lately. How does that affect the neighborhood?
Yeah, it happens. I was working that night when [the guy from Deadline Detroit was in the neighborhood]. His [friend's car] wasn't parked here. It was parked somewhere else. It's too bad he got his car stolen. Anytime negative news like that happens, especially if it happens to someone with a public voice, you're going to hear about it. If this was a crime-free world, that would wonderful. But does that dominate what we think about around here, no it doesn't. The police are here, they have really adapted to what is going on here.
How does Nemo's fit in?
We get all walks of life here. Poking my head around the bar right now, I see some Canadian guys here, two guys I don't know who they are. Some union guys, two lawyers, two police officers here. Some neighbors are same as they used to be and some others are new to the block. We all fit in, everybody. One thing that will never change is that no matter what, people are always going to want a good burger. We're a classic burger bar. Everyone who wants a good burger will come here.