The Burgers of Indiana
Even though I grew up in the late 80's & 90's I've always had a fascination with Drive-In's like that of someone who came from the 50's or 60's. Not only are the structure and layout along with the great signs they boast reasons they attract me but obviously its the food too. I also happen to be captivated by Northwest Indiana as a whole. Its a place I love to ride around and explore and imagine what this once bustling metropolis used to be like in its prime.
If this site interests you along with going to the places (mainly food) that survived time then your like me. The kid Seth Thomas aka "dev null" really had a passion for it and I enjoyed his pictures and stories.
Old Post Card from an old Drive-In-Highland, IN (Pic from: rootsweb.ancestry.com)
When Highland was once in its prime it was a place that boasted many Drive-In's. So much so that I count at least eight from a post on this topic over at LTHforum. Many of the buildings that survived boast the Mid-Century modern style of architecture. The days of what I described above are long gone but a few of these old school burger joints including, Johnsen's Blue Top Drive-In, have survived and remain a must stop if in the area or cruising on Highway 80/94. It rests on a busy stretch of Indianapolis Blvd, about two miles south of the interstate. Its almost impossible to miss the real deal Drive-In sign.
What a Sign! I cant help but stop when I see one like this
This amazing Picture above is by Peter Engler (ReneG) posted at LTHforum
I pulled in on a quiet Monday afternoon
Its pretty obvious to see that Highland, IN was once a burger destination back in the day. I cant imagine how many drive-In and burger joints there were but you get the idea from the ones which have survived in this town of around 25,000 located in NW Indiana that the number is quite a few. If your heading into Indiana for any Fall roadtrip with your family and friends or partner then I would suggest stopping at Blue Top or if your even in the mood for a quick day trip Highland is about 30 minutes from downtown Chicago. On my first and so far only visit I had a very pleasant experience. I went there thinking that they would serve a 30's style thin patty burger but instead they offer big burgers and they let you know it on the menu. More on who "their burgers" are later in this post. On top of a Drive-in they also have an indoor area with plenty of memorabilia from the old Rt30 Speedway.
Hey, who hasn't been on youtube? that list is more impressive
Johnsen's Blue Top Drive-In Burger Choices
There was an interesting selection of burgers when I looked at the menu, obviously a burger is what I was going with. What really caught my eye though were the prices. It seems to me like a deluxe meal price of over ten bucks is a little high for a burger drive In in NW Indiana. They do include fries, soft drink and a scoop of sherbet or ice cream, which seems to be a old school trend of the areas burger shacks, but still its a steep price for lunch in that area. They also offer smaller sizes of each of their burgers. I had to pass on the signature Big Ben double cheese and instead went with a "Highlander" while my buddy ordered a ranch burger. The Ranch came on a sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon and ranch dressing. It was quite enjoyed by my buddy and as you can see below its a big burger and they do a good job in prepping them.
Johnsen's Blue Top Ranch Burger
Ranch Burger comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon and ranch dressing
My burger was much better than I expected it to be. I didn't think it would suck. I just wasn't sure it would be any good. In some mentions of the place it says the food is ok but the atmosphere on a busy night and the old school decor were the real reasons to go. I like it enough that I would easily go back just for it. The addition of a nice crisped burger patty to a well made BLT was perfect. The bacon was crispy and the bread was toasted to perfection. Unless your stopping for your burger at the local McDonald's or Burger King you wont find any pre made frozen patties at these spots. Fresh butchered ground beef cooked to order is what your going to get when you order a burger. Its because of this I found it to be more than acceptable.
Johnsen's Blue Top "Highlander" burger
The Highlander comes with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo on toasted bread
If I'm having a good old fashioned burger than this is about as far as I want to go as far as creativity and it worked real well. Its a club sandwich with a meat patty instead of turkey. In a time where everyone is in a rush to make some crazy burger by putting everything on it or some fancy burger where they put stuff you've never heard of on it, Highland is filled with a couple joints that haven't changed a thing in forever. I would highly recommend a stop at Blue Top if your in the area or passing thru. At least check it out and have one of their much talked about malt's. Now I'll show you why its worth a day trip from Chicago up to this stretch of Indianapolis blvd if your a burger guy like I am. There just so happens to be another old school burger joint just down the road from Blue Top.
Miner Dunn Hamburger's (Highland, IN)
Since 1932: Lit up at night (Pic from Roadsidepeek.com)
When you leave the parking lot at Johnsen's if you swing a left onto Indianapolis you'll end up at the once thriving burger chain called Miner Dunn Hamburgers. I think a poster from LTHforum put it best when talking about Miner Dunn and Johnsen's Blue-Top "Places like this, and Johnsen's Blue Top just up the road, are gems if only for their nostalgia factor. But, in the case of Miner-Dunn (I haven't been to Johnsen's yet), the burgers are good, too. Not the beefy, dripping rare steakhouse burgers we get in Chicago, but precious in their own right." If your from an older generation and come from the Chicagoland area you might even remember Miner Dunn and their hamburgers and signs that were once prevalent in the Chicagoland region. The MD burger and its logo have been around over 70 years since the first one opened on Calumet ave in Hammond, Indiana. I'm almost certain this location in Highland is the only one that still exists.
The menu boasts...Its not "Dunn Right" unless its a "Dunn Deal"
Miner Dunn is just another great example of a place that doesn't change anything (as long as the menu is good) is one that can last thru time. Nothing has changed here, its old and most of the people eating there are old too but there's also plenty of HS kids and families as well. The burgers served here are the same as always and also my go to style. The term "30's style" burger was coined by Mike Gebert and its the way burgers were made before they became big behemoth monsters thanks to the fast food joints and such. Its a thin patty with cheese if you want and mustard, onions, pickles and ketchup if you like it, I'm not five y/o so I don't. I like just the first three ingredients on mine. It should be served in a regular old bun and placed in butcher paper and wrapped up to get a little steam action. Nothing has changed about the way MD makes theirs and they are exactly as described by me. One thing that's a little different is they also include relish on theirs. Again, not my style, but I tried it since its their way and always has been. You get an order of really good fries and a small orange sherbet with a meal deal.
The fries at Miner Dunn are some of my favorite anywhere
Miner also happens to be the place that (I think so anyway) Johnsen's is calling out when they talk about the size of the burger. I enjoy this style very much and I must say that because of this I like MD better. In fact on what was still my only visit I was so impressed that MD could easily make the list of my favorites in the country. If anything just for the fact you can feel like your back in the times when the once thriving burger joint was a favorite of the area. However I wouldn't send someone to a food joint because the decor and atmosphere are great. The burger is the bomb and I've been thru a few in the last year. Check it out sometime soon. Before you know it treasures like these two will be extinct across the country.
Miner Dunn's cheeseburger meal is classic Americana
Johnsen's Blue Top Drive In
8801 Indianapolis Blvd
Highland, IN 46322-1553
8940 Indianapolis Blvd
Highland, IN 46322