Between a pair of smooth-bricked buildings and two blocks down from the bulky Wells Fargo Tower sits a cranky old restaurant car with faded colors and shoddy lights. While Cossetta’s cops a $15M $10M face-lift and Mama’s renovates to perfection, the old car leaves its worn floorboards and torn-ass cushions intact. This old car has been on its corner for 70 years. It ain’t changin’, it ain’t closin’, and nobody in there gives a damn if the cooks make you cry.
The Basics: It’s right there on their website: 24/7/365. I didn’t ask, but I think that means they haven’t closed in over 70 years.
It’s tough to miss Mickey’s. It’s, you know, that huge car-looking thing that should be on a street but isn’t. It’s parked on W. 7th St., downtown, where no buildings will be threatening it thanks to its recognition on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983. Blow into THAT, urban development!
I finally stepped into Mickey’s two weeks ago with Smooth and her family. The first thing I need to tell you is, at peak hours, you’re probably waiting for a seat … and you’re probably going to be very, very close to somebody. We found seats on the row of stools directly facing the kitchen, and I’m pretty sure drops of sweat managed to ride from one end of us to the other. Remember: This was built for people 1940s-sized.
The car is straight out of a Rob Zombie flick. Nothing is spotless in this place. The interior, once red and white, has aged into a strawberry fade and dirty vanilla. On metal fixtures are stains that have outlived generations of cleaning innovation. It doesn’t look like the cooking surface has ever really been cleaned, but screw it – if a germ from the 60s wants to hang out in my system for a few, I’m cool with it.
Let’s get one thing straight: The staff is NOT happy to see you. They took great care of us, but they don’t bother with smile-forcing. We were frequently heckled by the cook working in front of us – everything from insinuating I’d cry if I didn’t get a milkshake (which I would’ve) to telling my brother-in-law “C’mon, wake up!” as he waffled over the menu. This staff out-anchors The Anchor Bar in Superior, if you can believe that.
I ordered the half-pound California burger with bacon – which, by the way, was barely more than the large burgers at Hardee’s. Other notables included Smooth’s breakfast sandwich, a cutesy little thing with a hole in the roof to accommodate the yolk blob; and my mother-in-law’s stew, straight out of your grandma’s kitchen, but no modern kitchens because they don’t make it like this anymore. So ecstatic was she that she photobombed a picture to point at it.
The cheeseburger took everything you love about a BLT and everything you love about a classic burger and put them together without adding anything stupid. They were probably serving this same thing in the 50s. It’s so awe-striking in its simplicity, you forget this once was the winning formula. It tasted classic, coarse but scrumptious, the way Skynyrd sounds on vinyl. You think you can taste something from 50 years ago in some bites … and you kind of hope that’s the case.
A grubby diner with a good story makes me borderline-psychotic with affection, and Mickey’s is king of the chessboard.
I pity Icehouse, where I had eaten a week beforehand – Mickey’s highjacked the #3 spot on my Burger Power Rankings from them before they could even have it in writing AND hip-checked them off the first installment of my “Take the Out-of-Towners Here” list on Urbanspoon. For now, I’m saying this cheeseburger out-punches anyone down here except Vincent and Victory 44. I know this insinuates bias on my part; while I ate this cheeseburger, it was difficult not to just be thrilled I was eating at Mickey’s. Then again, if the taste of smoked Gouda helps Vincent stay at #1, why is it wrong that the taste of 50-year-old char stains helped Mickey’s become #3?
There are people who get Mickey’s and people who don’t. Read the Urbanspoon comments and you’ll hear from people who don’t like it, one of which is a vegetarian (OF COURSE) and others anonymously avenging themselves for the servers’ behavior. You’ll also hear from the people who like it, who are addicted to the atmosphere and the unforgettable food within. A diner dubbed “Faye is Allergic to Milk” said it best:
“No WiFi, no salads, you must have at least 2 people to occupy a booth [or] they will kick you out and tow your car if you stay longer than a half-hour. Because of these reasons, I visit the place whenever I am in the area.”