One of America's Most Important Hamburgers
Town Topic opened its doors in 1937, but the locations hamburger heritage is even older than that—the turrets on the corners of the little shack on Broadway betray the fact that it was once a White Castle. And the hamburgers they serve there, more than 70 years later, are a cultural relic from that era: Small pucks of beef are pressed in to a searing griddle with onions, while the bun is steamed on top.
This is the hamburger in its most primal form, the technique crafted by Walter Anderson and Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram at White Castle in Wichita, Kansas. I've reported extensively on the remaining slider joints in Northern New Jersey with their deep tradition of burger excellence, but none of those places, as classic as they are, has quite the heritage as Town Topic. I wonder if there is in fact a burger joint that has been serving sliders as long as Town Topic.
Dave and Shirley have been working at Town Topic for over three decades. They're not married, but they do finish each others sentences.
To observe the preparation of the sliders at Town Topic's open kitchen is to witness a historical re-enactment, and to consume one of the little burgers is to taste the past. Perched on one of the handful of stools at the Formica counter in the cramped confines of Town Topic with the smell of beef and onions swirling all about, one could be—but for the prices on the menu board—in almost any decade of the last four or five. There really is a timeless quality to the place; it seems blessedly unaffected by modern food trends.
The beef is an 80/20 ground chuck that's delivered fresh daily. It is served as a two-ounce patty for a single, but by far the most popular order is a double which, in the modern scheme of things, provides the best beef-to-bun ratio. A single, however, is more likely what was traditionally served in the war and pre-war era, a time of austerity and rationing.
The onions are pressed in to the patty with greater apparent force than at the slider joints I've eaten at in New Jersey. They become more caramelized and crispier than their East Coast cousins, in a fashion that evokes an Oklahoma onion burger. The bun is the perfect canvas for the masterpiece of beef and onion—squishy and spongy, it soaks up the juices while maintaining its form. The dimples left by ones fingers quickly re-inflate confirming the breads freshness.
Town Topic is one of America's best and most important hamburgers—by virtue of its historical significance, by virtue of the fact that it serve a perfect example of the hamburger in it most elemental form, but most importantly because it's simply delicious.
2021 Broadway St, Kansas City MO 64108