In 1995, downtown Royal Oak was virtually indistinguishable from other Metro Detroit commercial hubs. But over the past several decades, the city has risen as one of Southeastern Michigan’s most desirable restaurant locations. While nearly all of the original storefronts have been replaced – some multiple times – one restaurant remains unchanged. Now 25 years old, Comet Burgers calls upon past nostalgia, while continuing to thrive amidst a new generation of Royal Oak eateries.
Though the business is a product of the mid-nineties, the aesthetic dates back decades prior. The classic, 50s-style diner counter implies you’re in an old-school joint. The lime green walls, hot pink accents and framed records look like a shot straight-outta Grease. Fitting, given that grease is what this place is all about.
You’ll smell it before you see it. 25 years’ worth of hot, sizzling magic that transforms thin patties, chopped onions and steamed buns into a $2 delicacy far greater than the sum of its parts. This is not the place for dieters. Even the most disciplined health nuts will be seduced by the glorious scents and sounds emanating from the flat-top griddle.
At its helm, you’ll find either of the Vatnikaj brothers, who along with their father, have owned and operated the restaurant since its founding. When asked what separates their sliders from others, Everest Vatnikaj says the secret lies in the little things. “We do everything in-house,” he explained. “We always use fresh meat. It’s the way we chop and cook the onions.”
It’s hard to hone in on what, specifically, separates their burgers from the pack. Maybe it’s the way they steam the buns while the meat and onions cook. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid, left to the experts.
Burgers aren’t the only thing they’re hocking. No 50s diner is complete without the option to add fries and a shake. Comet uses hand-scooped ice cream and blends it in an oversized metal cup, served counter-side next to the glass. With the portions they serve, you’ll be able to fill up twice. Diners aren’t limited to the standard chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. With their full case of flavors, you can go all-out on Michigan classics like moose tracks or Superman, or mix with Vernors for a perfect Boston Cooler.
Change is good. Metro Detroiters are proud and excited about the development that has occurred throughout the region. And rightfully so. But sometimes, we all need something familiar. Tried and true. At Comet Burgers, you’ll be grateful that some things never change.