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. Chain Reaction is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.
Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
2250 Preston Road, Frisco TX 75034 (map); 214-436-4677
Over 60 locations in 11 states with more to come; see list at freddysusa.com
The Schtick: Faux-retro smashed burgers, shoestring fries, and frozen desserts
The Burger: Paper-thin but packed with flavor. Cheese essential
Want Fries With That? So thin they're best eaten with a fork, but certainly tasty
Setting: Booths, stools, bright reds, plenty of space—how the '50s might have looked if Ikea existed then
Price: Original double, $3.79; Regular steakburger combo meal, $5.99; Chicago dog, $3.29; small frozen custard, $1.99; regular sundae, $3.19
"The taste that brings you back," the wall promises. But back to what? Freddy's would like you to think that it's been around forever, but in fact the chain dates to just 2002. Still, company lore states that Freddy Simon's hamburger recipe truly does date from the 1950s that the restaurant concept so lovingly tries to recreate. And there are few things more old-fashioned and all-American than the vast array of frozen treats they offer.
Indeed, some things never change in the fast-food world. Counter staff who, understandably, would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else, seem to be one of them. Our sullen server mumbled his way through the laborious process of taking our order, and thus it wasn't a huge surprise when my regular steakburger—a double—came out as a cold single 15 minutes after we'd paid. Another 10 minutes of standing at the counter later, I had a fresh burger and fries to enjoy. Was it worth the wait?
Indeed it was. I'd eaten at Freddy's years before but had forgotten that their burger alchemy is among the best in the business. These two-ounce lean beef patties are ultra-thin and grill-smashed, meaning a vast surface area of delicious crust. They straddled the line perfectly between the Maillard reaction and burning—just the right side of crispy and delicious. They're cooked up with a proprietary seasoning, too, consisting of salt spiked with garlic, onion, paprika, and other spices. This carries a lot of the flavor, and the combination works.
But they would be nothing without the American cheese that comes as default. Indeed, no basic, cheeseless burger is listed on the menu. The corporate nutrition guide does allow for the option of ordering without, but this would be a huge mistake. Freddy's prides itself on its lean patties, but that merely means the fat-as-flavor responsibility is handed over to the cheese. Perfectly melted, the slices do a great deal of the heavy lifting—along with the butter on the otherwise-nondescript bun, of course. Indeed, for all the patty's fine flavor, it would be far too dry without these additions.
Bringing up the rear are the normal toppings of yellow mustard, raw white onion, and sliced pickles—perfect for the Texas market, and provided in fine balance. Elsewhere on the menu there's the California (read: In-N-Out) option with "Freddy's Sauce," which you'll recognize as a mayo-heavy fry sauce. Having sampled this as a dip, I'm in no hurry to try it on a burger, but that's because I don't think messing with the mustard-onion-pickle formula is the right move.
The fries, of a custom specification and cooked from frozen, were somewhat oversalted—I should have checked that before adding some more of Freddy's seasoning blend, which is available on the counter for all your sprinkling needs—but when fresh and hot they were fine examples of the shoestring style. My personal preference is for fries no thinner than those of McDonald's, as much for ease of eating as anything else, but as straw potatoes go they are among the better ones in the fast food world.
And of the frozen custard that gave Freddy's its name? The price is right at $1.99 for the smallest—and still very generous—single dish, and it's as rich and smooth as you'd expect. However, it pales in comparison to the offering of competing chain Culver's—but then again so does everyone else's. In any case, it seems to follow the theme of the burgers: It's as much about the toppings as anything else. Consequently there's a dazzling number of sundae configurations and flavors, and even custom cakes with custard topping. The Peanut Butter Cup & Banana option is on my list for next time.
Despite premium branding, Freddy's is priced at the mid-range, probably because the ultra-thin patties keep meat costs down. Still, two combos and a vanilla dish ran almost $20 on this visit, and this was for some of the most affordable items on the menu. Add a Vienna Beef hot dog to your burger combo (just to confirm that you really are that much of a glutton) or have a specialty dessert and you're looking at thirty bucks for a dinner for two. But on the plus side you'll have one of the better fast-food experiences available today, and you will indeed leave sated—as did Rod Blagojevich—with nostalgia as well as a good meal.
About the author: Ewan Macdonald is a soccer writer who will probably die with a hamburger in his mouth. Born in Scotland, he was lured to the Dallas area by cheap beef and a love of 100 degree evenings with 60% relative humidity.