Of course we love our mom & pops, and our favorite burger joints around the country are pretty much all independently owned, but there are certain times in life—overnight layovers, hungover Sunday mornings, all-day shopping trips at the outlets—that the only options around are the chains. This column is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Fuddruckers

282 Route 4 East, Paramus NJ 07652 (map); 201-343-4533
Locations in 33 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada; visit Fuddruckers.com for full list
The Schtick: Choose the size of your burgers, full topping bar (with cheese sauce!), housemade buns.
The Burger: Well seasoned, very juicy, cooked spot on temperature most of the time, buttery bun is a little overwhelming.
Want fries with that?: They don't have 'em. If you're into potato wedges, Fudd's are fine. Otherwise, stick with the onion rings.
Setting: No table service, but real cups and silverware. Sports bar meets fast food restaurant feel.

Fuddrucker's slogan is "The World's Greatest Hamburgers," a phrase structure generally reserved for Grandpa's mugs and R. Kelly songs. It's an idiom meant to express "I know you're not really the world's greatest [grandpa/boss/burger], but you're mine, and you do a halfway decent job at that."

My goal: to see if Fudd's burgers are at least as good at being burgers as my grandpa is at being Gramps.

My earliest memories of Fuddruckers are happy ones: My dad would take me to R-rated movies (don't tell my mom) at the theater on Route 17 in New Jersey. We'd stop in at Fuddruckers before the pictures started, my dad wittily referring to it by a dirty Spoonerism of its name. Indeed, I'm convinced that when Philip Romano founded the San Antonio, Texas-based chain in 1980, he specifically made up the name Fuddruckers, knowing that little kids around the country would get a kick out of switching the dd's and the ck's around. That, and they'd love the unlimited cheese-sauce dispensers.

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Speaking of that cheese sauce, it's an essential part of Fuddruckers schtick, which also includes an unlimited topping bar with onions, tomato, lettuce, pickles, jalapeños, relish, salsa, and a few other options that vary from location to location. The toppings are generally very high quality by casual restaurant standards.

Anyone who reads The Burger Lab knows that my wife has a weakness for cheese sauce, and Fudd's gives you two options (regular and jalapeño-spiked), both goopy and really good in that I-can't-believe-I'm-eating-this way.

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

The burgers are all made with fresh ground beef from Burger Makers, using beef from Creekstone (yep, that's the very same beef that goes into Shake Shack burgers, as well as half the other burgers in the city), and are all sized anywhere from four ounces up to a full pound. The quarter-pound patties tend to get a little overwhelmed by the buns which, incidentally are baked in-house, and are quite good. Third pound patties give you a better ratio. You can go larger if you'd like, but you'll probably be rightly accused of just showing off. Plus, since the burgers are all grilled to order, a full pounder takes significantly longer to cook. I almost missed the beginning of Dr. Giggles on my 13th birthday because of this.

So are the burgers any good?

Check out second 11 of this commercial for the answer:

Yes, they are good. Very. Their beef is flavorful, fatty, and well seasoned. Toppings are fresh, and the buns are warm and soft. My only complaint would be the butter they are toasted in, which smacks of artificial flavoring.

Sides are high quality as well, but not really what I'm looking for: instead of fries, they have starchy potato wedges. Fine, if that's what your into (especially with cheese sauce), but not a valid substitute for fries. The onion rings are much better.

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There are a number of other sandwiches on the Fuddruckers menu, including their line of "Exotics," which we reviewed here. There's no reason to order them when the regular burger's this good though.

So do they have the "World's Best Hamburgers?" Let's just say I'd be happy to buy them a mug for their birthday.

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