photo by Adam Kuban.
Hayes Hamburger & Chili is a quaint, sedate and very clean little hamburger shack up at Antioch and Vivion road in the northland. It bears a ton of obvious resemblances to Town Topic. Like that other Kansas City institution, Hayes is very small, open 24 hours, has been around a long time (since 1955), has always been a family business, and specializes in little crumbly, griddle-fried burgers topped with grilled onions.
At Town Topic the woman behind the counter typically asks if you want onions, at Hayes they just load ’em up. I like ballsy policies like this–the onions are grilled brown and have a strong flavor that many folks won’t care for. If you don’t like them the onus is on you to order your burger without.
The burger itself is fairly tasty. You will need to order a double or triple if you want a sandwich of any substance. The photo above is a double patty, sufficiently smooshed together on the grill as to resemble a single patty. Next time, a triple for me. And nope, no lettuce, tomato or other vegetable matter. The onion rings and fries are both pretty good but are probably the least interesting fried delicacies on a menu that includes fried cauliflower (Attn: Bull E. Vard), mushrooms and cheese sticks. The menu here is unbelievable huge considering how small the whole place is. As the name implies, food offerings focus on hamburgers and chili and various permutations therein.
I like chili well enough but I don’t eat it at restaurants very often (I’m the same way with soup). So I didn’t order it. As I sit here writing this, I wish I had. Perhaps some helpful person will leave a comment below with his/her impression of the chili.
The vibe in here is very interesting and quite a bit different than Town Topic. The staff at Hayes (I believe often Mr. Hayes himself) are sparing with words and very hard-working. I think people mistake this for gruffness or an “attitude,” but it really just seems to be a necessary trait for working in such close proximity to human beings all day (and all night). Personally I don’t need every employee at every restaurant I visit kissing my ass and thanking me profusely for patronizing their goddamn restaurant. The folks at Hayes let the food speak for itself.
This place is also impeccably clean, which can’t be easy in an older restaurant building. The beautiful front windows were spotless, the counters and walls were shiny and the griddle was crystal clean and free of extraneous grease and food bits.
Hayes is a place that you should visit on your own, or with one other person. More people than that, and you should skip it. As far as I could tell, all six booths were 2-seaters. The counter has stools for maybe 10 people. There is no table service. When you arrive and sit down, you simply shout your order to the cook from your sea when he’s ready. The menu is posted on the wall and can probably be seen from any seat in the house. I suppose you could also walk up to the counter and order like a respectable person but it’s really not necessary.
Everything is prepared right before your very eyes. Frankly some aspects of food service are better suited to the back of the house, for instance the diarrheic transfer of ketchup from one nearly-empty squeeze bottle to another, but that’s not really an option here. The food arrives steaming and hot, seconds from completion on the grill. There are few frills but that’s okay with me.
I enjoyed my meal, as well as the crisp fountain soda that came in a cup chock-full of crushed ice. It’s really the best thing ever. Also Hayes has a full breakfast menu here which is offered 24 hours a day. It is a cash-only establishment so leave the plastic at home.