RUSH CENTER – You’ll notice all of the big-city pronouncements about finding the best hamburger in Kansas just happen to be clustered around metropolitan areas in the eastern portion of the state.
Well, pay no attention to those because the best hamburger in Kansas is cooked on a small, two-burner grill by a woman soon to turn 92 years old.
That person would be Effie Crowell, whose namesake cafe, Effie’s Place, is in Rush Center.
Just like any other year, Effie keeps cooking, offering up half-pound hamburgers – give or take a few ounces as she creates them by hand without the use of a scale – to customers. That half-pound hamburger is appropriately named the Effie burger, and needs to be served up with a side order of french fries, which she’s now cooking in a new fryer she was forced to purchase after her last, long-lasting fryer went kaput.
Crowell isn’t slowing down any as she grills her hamburgers and french fries, putting together her best-in-Kansas hamburger by hand, including slicing an onion for each individual hamburger.
She also features regular specials.
Crowell suffers from foot problems, most likely the result of years of standing on her feet in front of the well-seasoned grill she uses, moving to and fro only a few feet to reach supplies in the refrigerator or at the sink.
She had surgery earlier this year soon after she closed for the summer, but her problems continue.
“I turned 91 on July 10,” she said as she cooked up a pair of hamburgers. “I had foot surgery on July 8.”
Her close relations with her customers surfaced shortly after.
“All my customers came to see me and brought me food,” she said. “So I didn’t have to worry about cooking.”
Crowell still has no plans of retiring, never mind she’ll be turning 92 in just a few months.
“No,” she said emphatically. “Not ’til I have to.”
As she flipped the burgers on the grill, it was obvious she didn’t consider the need to do so.
“I can’t say I need something,” she said as she worked on preparing food for customers. “Because one of my customers will do it for me.”
She pointed to the fryer and said her old one cost her $300 and lasted for years. Her new one cost $1,000, and she’s not happy with how it cooks or is laid out.
“I cook the old-fashioned way,” she said of her style of cooking hamburgers and the special of the day. “I don’t buy anything. I cook everything.”
Her pride in what she does was evident.
She’s also not one to go home and sit. Being able to get outdoors makes it possible in the summer, when her kitchen simply gets too hot for her to work, for her to take some time off and shut down shop for awhile. But in the winter, she said, there just isn’t anything else to do.
“I can’t stay home,” she said. “I’ve been over here 51 years. I said I wouldn’t live a year if I stay home.”