My previous posts should make it clear to anyone paying attention that I like family-owned restaurants with a lot of history and old-school charm. That would seem to rule out fast food chains, but that’s not entirely the case. You won’t catch me waxing poetic about McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Burger King, but there are smaller, regional chains that put out a high quality product with style. Two of my favorites are Culver’s and Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers (“Freddy’s”).
I probably read about Culver’s online for the first time on the late Holly Moore’s site, hollyeats.com, which was one of my early inspirations for hunting out good food in both my own region and on the road. They started out in Wisconsin during the 80s and have gradually expanded, first throughout the Midwest, and now to other sections of the U.S. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet come to my region, but my wife and I have made a point of stopping to eat at Culver’s on at least some of our Midwest trips over the years.
Culver’s proudly displays its Wisconsin roots on their menu, serving butter-burgers, which are big in the Milwaukee region and are simply burgers with the addition of butter. Solly’s in Milwaukee is known for putting a massive chunk of butter on their hamburgers, resulting in a huge puddle of it on the plate. Culver’s doesn’t go to that extreme. They put just enough on to add extra flavor without leaving one in fear for his or her life during the eating process. And their burgers are smashed and grilled on a flat-top until nice and crispy on the outside without being dried out.
They also offer fried cheese curds, another Wisconsin favorite, in addition to fries and onion rings, and have a wide array of frozen custard treats centered around genuine and high quality custard; Wisconsin being the frozen custard capital of the United States.
Freddy’s was founded in Wichita, Kansas in 2002. Like Culver’s, they’ve also expanded at a rapid pace and can now be found in much of the country. I’m pleased to say that includes my area. In fact, the first Freddy’s in the East was the one that is still in Broomall, Pennsylvania; just a short ride from where I live.
They also serve thin patties that are smashed and griddled until they have a nice outside char and edges that get so thin that they have a lacy quality. These burgers remind me of a few of the smashed ones I’ve had on those Midwestern trips, like the double-cheeseburger at Carl’s Drive-In outside of St. Louis. I never thought I’d get such a burger around here, but thanks to Freddy’s, I can have one any time I want on short notice.
They also serve good hot dogs, all beef franks made by the Vienna Beef Company, which supplies most of Chicago’s legendary hot dog outlets. They are not the natural casing dogs, but their flavor is still very good and they are served on grilled New England-style buns. That’s in addition to crispy, shoe-string fries, onion rings, and yes, even fried cheese curds and genuine frozen custard, giving Freddy’s a slight Wisconsin accent in spite of their Kansas roots.
While both Culver’s and Freddy’s restaurants have a typical fast-food atmosphere and lack any roadfood charm, sometimes just good food with a Midwestern accent gets the job done.