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Posted on Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 5:54 a.m.

'Best Burger' winner Sidetrack Bar and Grill remains a Depot Town anchor

By Katrease Stafford

Ypsilanti's Sidetrack Bar and Grill has been a Depot Town anchor since opening in 1979 and with more than 800 hamburgers sold on a daily basis, the demand continues to grow.

"On a busy day, we shoot up to over 1,000," said Sidetrack Bar and Grill owner Linda French. "I started this business when I was really young, so I've grown up with my customers. We have a huge, huge customer base."

That demand translated into a recent accolade for Sidetrack, as it was named the best burger in Washtenaw County in a recent poll.

Sidetrack, located at 56 E. Cross, edged out Ann Arbor favorite Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger, winning with 1,277 votes cast. Blimpy Burger held on to a solid second-place finish with 938 votes. Wurst Bar in Ypsilanti came in third place with 509 votes.

MLive statewide entertainment reporter John Gonzalez will be stopping in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to sample some of the best burgers Wednesday afternoon as he conducts his search for Michigan's Best Burger.

The honor isn't a first for Sidetrack. In 2005, it was rated one of the nation's 20 Best Burgers by GQ Magazine.

"They called us from New York and said get ready to be busy," French said. "We thought it was a joke."

Of all of the order tickets received on a daily basis at Sidetrack, at least 95 percent of them have a burger request.

Some customer favorites include the Amtrak Double Decker Cheeseburger, which is layered with two four ounce hamburgers, three pieces of cheese, and lettuce and tomato.

Another favorite is the Portabella Burger, grilled and marinated portabella mushroom with grilled red sweet onion, served on a toasted whole wheat bun topped with lettuce, tomato and provolone cheese.


The Sidetrack Bar and Grill's Billy Burton Mac Attack Burger begins with a handcrafted burger topped with mac & cheese, Boars Head bacon and a dab of BBQ sauce. Sidetrack is located at 56 E. Cross St. in Ypsilanti's Depot Town.

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French attributes the steady growth and demand to her staff, who she says work tirelessly. Sidetrack's head chef, Noe Reyes, is key to the success of the business, French said. Reyes is responsible for training all of the cooks.

Only select employees are allowed to grill, French said.

"It's truly all about the staff," she said. "It's just amazing. The key to a really good burger is having someone who knows how to run a grill. The reason no one's been as successful in cooking burgers is most of our cooks have been here for 5 to 20 years. In order to get 'grill master' on the back of the shirt, you have to be able to grill."

The beef used for the hamburgers originates from a proprietary blend from Hillers Market, which comes in fresh on a daily basis. Reyes said every burger is formed in the kitchen and not pre-made into patties.

"We get it delivered here fresh every day," French said.

The freshness of the meat is coupled with the taste of the buns and the eagerness of employees to accommodate nearly any topping a customer requests, but French declined to reveal the ingredients or where the buns come from.

"It's kind of a secret," French said. "We have a variety of buns."

While the increase in demand for the burgers has been a good thing for the business, it has also spurred the need for more space and a larger grill, French said.

"We need a bigger grill and we are out of space," French said.

Due to the lack of space within the kitchen, French said her employees come in to work in shifts.

"The way it is right now, we have guys that start at 6 a.m. and they make soups and sauces," French said. "Then preppers come in and they leave and the grillers and cooks come in and leave. We don’t have enough space. The new kitchen is going to be key to doing faster service."

For a well-done burger, the average wait is between 15 to 20 minutes since they're cooked from scratch. French expects that number to be chopped in half with the new kitchen and grill.

"We'll be able to rotate the burgers faster," French said, as well as have more than one person using the grill at a time.

French said once two people are able to use the grill at a time, she believes each would be able to grill about 75 a piece.

French said she's near the end of the planning stages to begin remodeling the restaurant to include a larger kitchen and grill. The kitchen is about 600 square feet now and French expects that to nearly triple after the renovations. The grill would be about twice the size.

The kitchen construction will likely begin this summer, French said.

The renovations are part of a larger $1.2 million renovation and expansion project that will add nearly 15,000 square feet to the business and some additional notable additions.

French purchased the adjacent building at 52 E. Cross St. in June 2012 for $350,000 from King C &C,LLC to add to her existing 10,000-square-foot building. The building was previously occupied by Bird Brain, which has since relocated.

Upon completion of the project, French said Sidetrack will permanently hire at least 30 individuals ranging from servers, kitchen staff, bar staff, managers, marketing staff, etc.

French said her customer base ranges from local residents to out of state visitors who heard about the restaurant and wanted to try it out while in the area. French said she receives a lot of traffic from travelers from the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

The restaurant seats 250 patrons and that number increases when the outdoor patio opens during the summer season.

"Depot Town is just a great area to be in because we have a lot of parking, it's easy to get to, and there are other places to shop in while you’re down here," French said. "The biggest thing is we’re anchored by the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, and the Michigan Firehouse Museum, which bring us a lot of business. People come from all over for those world-class museums and being anchored between them is pretty good."

Sidetrack will likely be a mainstay in the Ypsilanti community for years to come, and French said it's in part due to the loyal customers.

"We have wonderful customers and incredible staff," French said. "I enjoy coming into our business because we have such great customers."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 2:44 a.m.

The best burger in my book is my own. Sorry all but I love to cook me own.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 3:29 a.m.

Really, vote me down for cooking my own, you have got to be from Ann Arbor. Ypsi folks know how to cook a good burger.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 1:50 a.m.

Sidetrack has good ambience and good burgers. They do need to clean up their kitchen. Their restaurant inspections are not good, to say the least. Kudos to Sidetrack!


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 6:25 p.m.

Why do you think the burgers taste so good there? I "seasoned" kitchen gives unique flavor.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 10:16 a.m.

Agree. We went once, and the place needs a cleaning.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 7:21 p.m.

Someone remind me again why this wildly successful business needs a tax break in order to do a huge expansion? Whatever happened with that? Why should ypsi taxpayers subsidize their expansion?


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 1:10 a.m.

Yep, Ypsi city government is all Republicans. Wait, what? No? Hmmm, well other than that, your comment makes perfect sense.


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 7:34 p.m.

Tax breaks, what a repubican idea. I bet Rick Snyder is behind it.


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 5:57 p.m.

I ended up not voting. There really are too many good burgers in AA-Ypsi to pick one. This place was certainly well deserving of the "best burger" award. If they are too full, just run across the street to Aubree's and you won't be disappointed there either. That whole area is really nice.

Hugh Giariola

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

Nice Ypsi endorsement, Eyeheart!

harry b

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

MMM sidetrack burgers. I wish I was there now.

Usual Suspect

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

They only won because they got the most votes.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

and your point is.........?


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

Exactly how Obama was re-elected...right Usual? But as we know, majority doesn't always rule

Hugh Giariola

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 7:48 p.m.

Um, how else would they have won?


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

Also, Sidetrack (well, Frenchie's) hosts Opera on Tap. Top-notch brews & terrific burgers with great music--what could be more fun?

Lucas and Kevin

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 4:14 p.m.

Keep up the great work, Sidetrack. We're hitting the Wurst Bar soon for their burger, and we're excited. Also, when in Depot, you've gotta hit Aubree's for that cheese bread! WOW!


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

Be ready to seat yourself and have no one pay attention to you when you get Wurst service in Ypsi , no matter how good their food is, it's just not Wurth it!

mickey ichesco

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Linda way to go..........the area really appreciates your support for depot town and all of Ypsilanti......side track is great............ keep up the good work


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 2:46 p.m.

Kudos to the French family and other Depot town merchants for their efforts in making this a great little spot. Shame on the Beals and the Dahlmans for letting the properties they own languish.

Dirty Mouth

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Linda is an amazing business woman with a great eye for innovation and awesome food. Sidetrack is not just about burgers, it is a community and I love visiting.

Lizzy Alfs

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Several people commented on my best veggie burger column that Sidetrack's black bean burger and sliders are awesome. I always order Linda's spring salad when I go, but it sounds like I need to switch it up next time. Way to go, Sidetrack. Good luck with the renovation!


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

All right Side Track! my daughters, myself and my brother and sister-in-law will be there on the 22nd(tentative date) to celebrate June birthdays, looking forward to it!


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:12 p.m. got it wrong. blimbys is the winner. this is ANN ARBOR best burger NOT ypsilanti


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 12:57 a.m.

They are known as "Sidetrack" and "Krazy Jim's" to anyone who has lived here for any period of time.

Kyle Mattson

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

Correct Carrie, voting included restaurants across Washtenaw County. Blimpy was the top in the poll of those within the city of Ann Arbor followed by Casey's and Knight's.

Katrease Stafford

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Carrie, You're correct. The poll was for the best burger in Washtenaw County. There were a lot of great choices!


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

I was under the impression it was the Ann Arbor AREA best burger. Dexter and Saline were in there as well.

Kyle Mattson

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

Sidetracks may have edged out Blimpy's this time, but they were definitely a strong second in the voting. You can see the complete results here: What do you usually order at Blimpy's?


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

the buns are no secret. when i used to work there in the 1990s, the buns came from aunt millie's bakery outlet in saline. the secret to them tasting so good is they are a few days old. that's what makes all the difference.

Lou Perry

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

I was glad to read Linda's recognition of her staff. From bartenders to servers to busboys everyone is guest focused. Beyond burgers other menu and specials offerings are also very good. Love it when shrimp taco's show up as a special.

Depot Town

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

They really need to expand quickly. It took me more than 40 minutes to get one of those delicious burgers on Saturday.


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

You're lucky. Took us 40 minutes just to get seated a couple Saturdays ago. 40 minutes of being crammed into the entry way. Then, even when we were seated they forgot about us. Took forever to get drinks, to get our order taken, to flag anybody down when we needed something. Then of course the food came an no napkins. When we did finally get napkins we offered to pass them over to the table next to us because they were obviously neglected as well. Just horrible service. Yes it was busy, but that's no excuse. I would've rather been turned away if they couldn't provide an acceptable level of service. I would've left but it was Moms birthday and that's where she wanted to eat...

Hugh Giariola

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

OK, I've tried the Mr. Peanut burger from the Wurst Bar and it did not disappoint! The meat they use for those burgers was top notch. It is served either on a Zingerman's brioche roll or a pretzel roll.

Hugh Giariola

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

Katrease, it was the same burger from the photo in a previous best burger story. Glad you ran this story as it opens up lots of discussion about whose food is best!

Katrease Stafford

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

Wow, I've been to Wurst before, but I have yet to try this. It sounds amazing!


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

The Yankee Pot Roast is really good too.


Wed, Jun 12, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

Wow, thanks for the heads-up, I looooove pot roast!

The Picker

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 11:11 a.m.

Way to go Linda !


Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 11:07 a.m.

Love going to Depot Town! So many things going on down there all week.