Crabill’s Hamburgers, Urbana
Posted by cmh gourmand on September 13, 2009
727 Miami Street
There are several different routes you could choose to head to Crabill’s in Urbana, each will take you through small towns, past farmers stands and involve at least one major freeway. The one way trip will cost you an hour and a quarter or slightly more of your time. The journey is worth the effort for a taste of hamburger history.
Three generations of Crabill’s have used a special spatula to smash small hamburger balls into mini hamburgers since 1927. The first burgers were cooked in a hamburger buggy. As business grew a small six seater stand became Crabills. This hamburger hangout took a brief respite for a few years but was brought back in the tradition of the original. The third generation of Crabill’s opened as Crabill’s on Wheels and used the momentum to rebuild the business to open the new stand. The location today is not the original but it does have the six stools from the much smaller 1929 edition of Crabills.
The menu is as small as the building. Choices include hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double burgers (suggested), chili dogs, a few other items and homemade pies. There is a drive through window which does a brisk business all day. The true Crabill’s experience involves finding an open stool inside and watching the hamburgers grilled in front of you from the counter.
There is an old school approach to hamburger toppings that goes back to the 1920’s: mustard, relish and/or onions. In 1990, ketchup was added as an option. Burgers are ordered, grilled quickly and dressed right in front of you. A typical experience is to order a few, love them, observe that they seem to disappear quickly and then order a few more. There are several regular customers that just walk in and are served without ordering because their tastes are so well known to the staff.
For the sake of diversity, I also sampled a chili dog. Homemade chili is served (Ohio style) on a slightly toasted bun with a bit of sear to the hot dog. In my opinion, that is the proper approach to hot dog creation, not bad for a place with an eighty plus year history of “hamburgering”.
There are also other traditions here. Large scale consumption of hamburgers as in 33 hamburgers in 45 minutes in 2007. The owners and staff are friendly and clearly have fun doing what they do and interacting with their customers, neighbors and friends.