Dea's In & Out
755 Northeast Burnside Road, Gresham, OR 97030 (map); 503-665-3439; facebook.com/DeasInandOut
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Slightly above-average fast-food burgers with a gimmick: The patties are stretched out instead of round
Want Fries with That? They're not horrendous, but they're clearly middling. Better to go for the reliable tator tots.
Prices: approx. 1/4-pound Longburger, $3; Double Longburger w/cheese: $4.50
There are few ways to get me to review a burger joint in my fair city faster than when someone makes a "best-of" list and includes a place I haven't tried. That was the case when The Oregonian released its list of the top 10 classic burgers in the Portland area, prompting the realization that I had never eaten at (or even heard of) Dea's In & Out in neighboring Gresham.
News to me, Dea's In & Out has been around for over 50 years. Not quite as old as that other In-N-Out, but by Portland measurements, that's ancient. Judging by the clientele I saw over my half-hour visit, Dea's boasts a steady stream of loyal fans from multiple generations.
Dea's gimmick, and the star of this rodeo, is its Longburger. With a patty stretched to an imprecise rectangle six inches long, it's no larger than a normal-sized burger and somehow feels a little smaller, just shy of a quarter pound (although this could very well be an illusion of the abnormal shape). I loved how the griddle got the patty crispy around the edges, although for some reason the rest of the burger didn't develop much of a crust. The two patties on my Double Longburger were decently seasoned and had a nice loose texture that shows the meat wasn't overhandled or too compressed.
There really isn't much else to the Longburger: a squishy and delicate (very delicate—see my thumb imprint in the shot above?) housemade bun toasted on one side, pickles, minced onions, and a judicious application of the tangy house sauce consisting of mayonnaise, relish, and a little ketchup. What I didn't discover until later was that if you want tomatoes and lettuce on your longburger, you must request them at the counter, but the burger didn't need them. The house sauce does a fine job cutting the richness of the beef and cheese by itself. Altogether, it's a wholly decent "drive-in style" cheeseburger, with a flavor vaguely reminiscent of the burgers from the Burgermaster chain in Seattle.
While Dea's In & Out's longburger might score some points for novelty, their sides are a snoozefest. The best of the lot are the tater tots, which are exactly like every tater tot you've ever eaten: a salty, golden, crispy exterior hiding steaming-hot innards. I think you get a little screwed on the serving size, though. For $2.25, I would expect more than just over a baker's dozen, but maybe I'm being unrealistic?
The fries are nothing to write home about, although they do deliver a nice hit of salt. Unlike the burger, these weren't greasy at all, and they stayed crisp even after they cooled. The pale white color doesn't exactly get your mouth watering, though. For a quarter you can get a side of their fry sauce, which tastes much like the house sauce on the burger, but with even more mayonnaise. While I thought it was a key component of the burger, I didn't think it improved the fries at all. Canada-like levels of mayo here.
The most boring of the three sides I ordered, the onion rings, have a lot going for them, but with a fatal lack of salt they're not worth the effort. While the fries aren't cut in-house, the onion rings are made entirely on the premises. Texturally, they're exactly what I look for in a good onion ring: a good crunch that isn't too thick. Unfortunately, they don't get salted directly after their escape from the hot oil like they should, so shake some on liberally as soon as you get them back to your table before they cool.
It has to be said that the chocolate malt I ordered was an unmitigated disaster. Soupy, bubbly, and disturbingly dark, with a grossly disproportionate chocolate syrup-to-ice cream ratio, there was nothing appetizing about it whatsoever. Also: no trace of the malt. Dea's shakes get a lot of praise from the locals, so it's quite possible this was an off day for whoever made mine (a really off day).
Dea's In & Out can't compare in any respect to the California-based In-N-Out, but it really isn't trying to, and never has. This is food cooked the same way it was half a century ago, and unlike many longtime Portland institutions, this one holds up somewhat. It can't be called great, but for a cheap, greasy, fast-food burger that blows McDonald's and Burger King out of the water, you could do a lot worse.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Pacific Northwest-based writer, musician, and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. You can follow him at @ThisIsPizza on Twitter. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.