When you’ve got a good thing going with a local ingredient, you tend to put it in everything. In parts of Michigan, where a fruit belt stretches along its eponymous lake, that means the sour cherry crop. Cherry pie, cherry juice, cherry BBQ sauce, cherry wine … tart cherries appear in everything, including burgers.
Michigan cherry burgers are most strongly associated with Ray Pleva, a businessman who sold cherry-enhanced products ranging from jerky to bologna. (He sold his company, but it’s still named after him.) Pleva even got Oprah talking about cherry burgers.
Pleva blended pureed cherries into beef patties to make his cherry burger. This approach changes the consistency of the burger, but won’t result in meat with a particularly strong cherry flavor. Some say fruit puree makes a juicier burger, but the main benefit touted is reduced fat and calories. In the ’80s and ’90s, when trimming fat was a health obsession, pureed-fruit patties made it into school lunches nationwide (pruneburgers almost became a staple of American childhood). You can still find these cherry burgers in a number of Michigan school cafeterias. For those a little older than the school-lunch crowd, The Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan, is an iconic spot for a pureed-cherry burger.
If you really want a burger with strong, sweet-cherry flavors, Michigan still has you covered. At establishments such as Hockeytown Cafe in Detroit, ordering the Michigan Cherry Burger gets you a heap of cherries on top of your burger.
Where to Try It
The Cherry Hut211 N Michigan Ave, Beulah, Michigan, 49617, United States
Best known for their pie, this small town, cherry-everything establishment has a long history and cherry burgers on the menu.
Hockeytown Cafe2301 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, 48201, United States
This sports bar's cherry burgers come with cherries on top.