Northern delights: Delta Diner's burgers are one-of-a-kind experience
TOWN OF DELTA—Ten years ago, Todd Bucher made his wildest dream a reality. He dropped a refurbished 1940 Silk City diner among the birches and pines of Wisconsin's far north woods.
Bucher's iconic Delta Diner now draws clientele from hundreds of miles in all directions.
“I could not let Delta die,” Bucher said while pressing a thick patty of ground steak against the sizzling grill. “This town used to be a railroad hub back in the day when loggers entered the forest with two-man saws and double-bit axes. Today, the footprint of man is covered primarily with freshly fallen leaves.”
Bucher said all that while putting the finishing touches on a “Hosni,” one of the diner's signature burgers.
It is a Monday. The Delta Diner serves hamburgers only on Mondays. It is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays so the effervescent staff can rest up to offer jalapeno pancakes and similar gastronomic delights bright and early every Thursday morning.
“We only do hamburgers on Monday to ensure residual auras from food like sausage or bacon has no influence on the final creation,” hostess Jen Rossman said.
“The steak is ground less than an hour before we open the door on Monday morning,” she added. “Buns are baked fresh several times on Monday.”
Deciding which burger might satisfy is a study in metaphysical torment as Rossman coos intimate entrée details from memory. She realizes that my wife, Candy, and I are overwhelmed and suggests a malt or shake to help us ponder the possibilities.
A rich chocolate malt is delivered, crowned with a cloud of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry stem begging for harvest. Two straws protrude from the crafted glass like rabbit ear antennas, with the frosty contents that would not fit in the glass waiting at table's edge in a stainless-steel carafe.
Candy looks across the table and smiles. It's date night again after 42 wonderful years of marriage.
Jen returns with a broad smile, knowing we are ready to order. I go with the Hosni, which arrives with fresh cremini mushrooms nestled in a melted carpet of Swiss cheese.
Candy opts for the Chili burger. It arrives topless to taunt the taste buds with an intricate array of poblano and Anaheim peppers and a savory blanket of pepper jack cheese.
Our table has no condiments, and none are required. Ketchup and mustard could only offer desultory input on this party in the mouth. We also share a side order of deep-fried mac and cheese with homemade chipotle mayo dipping sauce.
Our conversation is limited to eye contact and contented throaty sounds for the next 20 minutes. Then Jen returns to tempt us with pie, which is also baked at the Delta Diner several times each day.
The aroma of fresh pie trumps input from our overfilled bellies. We opt for a single slice of salted caramel apple. It arrives a la mode, with another cloud of whipped cream to balance the plate and two forks.
Candy mentions something about the “best meal ever.” I smile with the knowledge that the love of my life is content.
A Mustang convertible with Michigan plates pulls into the parking lot from County H as we leave the Delta, drinking in the peak fall color in the cool, blue north. We wonder if this 1965 classic has been on the county road for a while or has just turned left after passing through a canopy of brilliant oak and birch trees on Delta-Drummond Road, which beckons off Highway 63 north of Hayward.
We talk with fellow travelers who come in from the other direction. They say the drive from Duluth, Minn., along Lake Superior is unbelievable, but eating at the Delta Diner is the highlight of their day.
Inside his silvery cocoon of a restaurant, I know Bucher is smiling as he crafts another of his 300 hamburgers, each of which will brighten someone's day. He has built it. They have come. His lifetime dream is realized.