May 23 2012 12:00 AM

Olympic Broil serves fast food that fills you up

Pull out pen and paper (or sit down to a blank white screen) and list the names of fast-food restaurants. McDonalds is on there, right? Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC and Taco Bell, too. 

Sure, there are a few others, but what about local spots? There’s quick Mexican and ready-to-eat pizza. But when it comes to local fast-food burger joints, your list might be brief.

There’s one in north Lansing, though. Olympic Broil is the genuine article, right down to the conveyor-belt burger patties that fall onto a stainless steel holding area. 

Outside Olympic Broil, there’s a long carport that looks like it might have once been busy with teenagers on roller skates, balancing trays on car windows. 

Inside, the blue and white color scheme continues from where the marquee left off, a wall of classic car photographs makes it authentically Michigan, and there are plenty of fixed-bench booths, the kind of seating oversized guys like me squeeze themselves into. 

For $15 at Olympic Broil, two adults and a grade schooler left feeling full. But, you might ask, what was the real price?

Let’s start with the good, then proceed to the bad and ugly.

If you’re a fan of deep-fried mushrooms, get your arteries over to Olympic Broil. A generous bag of the hot fungi will set you back $2.19, a bargain for what really could fill your stomach all by itself.

The batter was crunchy and clean (i.e., it doesn’t taste like fish, shrimp or anything else that might have been tossed in the fryer), and the mushrooms held their meaty texture and earthy flavor. Since they weren’t completely encased in batter, it seems excess moisture had a chance to escape. At other places, fried mushrooms turn into deceptive little balls that look delicious until you hit the interior, where you discover a wet core of mushy mushroom and undercooked batter.

Like the fried mushrooms, Olympic Broil did well with its onion rings ($2.19). Ostensibly, we received fried onion pieces, and we didn’t quite know what to think about it, except for the 6-year old who couldn’t get enough of the golden brown shell.

Like the mushrooms, the onions were not completely surrounded by batter, so they had a chance to sweat off some of their moisture. I’ve had slimy onion rings before — not a fan. These were good rings, not too greasy and they remained crunchy even after a few minutes on the table.

I was curious about the gyro and wraps on the menu and probably should have trusted my instinct. Instead, we went with a pair of burgers: the quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger ($4.79 combo) and the Humdinger ($3.19), the latter based on name alone.

The bacon cheeseburger would have been tasty if we had been able to taste the bacon or cheese, let alone the burger. The paper-thin bacon might as well as not even been there, and the cheese — American, I believe — added nothing. Olympic Broil may be local and family-owned, but the over-processed burger patties are just like any other mega-conglomerate. Don’t expect thick, hand-pattied beef like I did. 

To get to a quarter-pound, two patties are used, but just because there’s twice the meat doesn’t mean there’s twice the flavor. In fact, all we could really taste was the standard ketchup-mustard-pickle combination common to the fast-food burger culture.

I’m not sure exactly what I was looking for in the Humdinger (it was the name that got me, after all), but it wasn’t noticeably different from the other burger, even with the lettuce and tomato. Like the bacon cheeseburger, all we could really taste were the overpowering condiments. 

Perhaps the olive burger might have given us a different experience, or the Olympic burger with Coney sauce, although after my dining companion compared the Coney dog ($1.39) to a school cafeteria hot dog with Sloppy Joe mix, I’m not sure we could have expected much more from any of the burgers.

Olympic Broil does have something no other area fast-food place has, or very few other local restaurants have for that matter: a nice outdoor eating space. A strip of green grass runs adjacent to the north side of the building where a half dozen picnic tables overlook the Grand River. Like the food, the space outside is a little rough and unrefined, but it’s also a smart touch.

Olympic Broil must be popular, as evidenced by the steady stream of diners who bellied up to the order counter, awaiting their soon-to-be-see-through white paper bags. I don’t fault the place for serving what people apparently want. I just wish I didn’t feel the need to hibernate after eating there.

Olympic Broil

1320 N. Grand River Ave., Lansing

10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday

(517) 485-8584

TO, OM, P, $