919 SW 4th Ave., Canby, OR 97013 (map); 503-266-7654; frackburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Depending on when you drop by, you'll get either a sterling example of the classic fast food burger or a ho-hum one.
Want Fries with That? Like the burgers, they're inconsistent from one day to the next. But the onion rings are pretty good, as long as you salt them.
Prices: 1/4-pound Single Frack, $3; Double Frack, $4; hand cut fries or onion rings, $2; milkshake, $3
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I am constantly disheartened by this region's lack of understanding when it comes to building a good griddled burger. Outside of Little Big Burger (and to a lesser extent, Five Guys), Portland's cheap burger scene ain't pretty. While our bistro burger scene is alive and well, sometimes I just crave the simple pleasures of thin, well-seared beef patties crowned with school-bus-yellow American cheese and placed between two toasted buns slathered with a "special sauce" that always seems to be some combination of mayo and ketchup. How so many so-called burger joints in Seattle and Portland can get these fundamentals wrong when the international fame of In-N-Out has practically drawn up the blueprints to do it right I will never know, but one thing I do know is this: on a good day, Frack Burger nails it.
"On a good day..." Yes, there's a catch. My two visits to Frack Burger so far have resulted in vastly disparate experiences, but I'll begin with the meal that convinced me it was perfectly fine to drive 30 miles from home for a cheeseburger twice in one week.
Frack Burger offers single ($3), double ($4), and triple-patty ($5) burgers, and the double-patty option provides the best ratio of meat to bun + toppings. Arriving at my table (one of only four in the tiny restaurant), the hand-formed patties gave off a mouthwatering aroma of charred beef, more akin to a grilled burger than a griddled one, and the first bite delivered on that promise of a crisp crust courtesy of the high-heat flat top. Each patty was cloaked in a slice of melted American cheese, reaffirming the axiom that, when it comes to cheese on ground beef, more is more.
Extra crunch came courtesy of the well-toasted bun, which was nearly black around the outer rim, the way I like it. The bottom half of the bun had a healthy smear of Frack Sauce, which to my estimation was the expected ketchup and mayo combination, heavier on the mayo. The sauce lacked the deceptive complexity of In-N-Out Spread, but it did its job. Sliced onions, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and pickles rounded out the remaining toppings, though the pickles were a (free) add-on. Altogether, that first burger reminded me very much of my attempts to recreate the In-N-Out Double-Double (minus the Animal Style) at home. That's a good thing, because my home versions taste pretty darn good, if I do say so myself (thanks, Kenji).
The hand-cut fries ($2) weren't quite as successful, but they were by no means a failure. Some were too soft, as is almost always the case with hand-cut fries, but some had a nice crispness to them, and all were well salted. Bottom line, they tasted as good as an all-around more superior version (and certainly better than what In-N-Out calls fries).
I also sampled the onion rings ($2), which, texturally, I had zero complaints with. The batter formed an audibly crunchy exterior that housed the oh-so-tender onions, but the rings weren't salted. The best time to salt anything deep-fried is straight out of the oil, rather than at your table as is expected here, so hopefully they'll fix this going forward.
I see very little reason to ever pass up the chance to try a new milkshake ($3), so I've tried three here. The Peanut Butter shake was a pass for me; far too sweet. The Rich Chocolate? A marked improvement, and one of the few chocolate shakes I've had that didn't taste like it used Hershey's Syrup as the base. But the real winner was the Fresh Banana. For those looking for banana cream pie in semi-liquid form, get thee to Frack Burger. Just remember to ask for a spoon; mine was so thick I could barely coax it up the straw.
A few minor quibbles aside, that was a mighty satisfying meal. Imagine my disappointment then, when on a visit just six days later, everything would go wrong. The burger lacked a proper sear or seasoning, so the wonderful crust I just raved about was MIA. The bun was barely toasted, resulting in a sad, mushy pillow you could chew through with a sideways glance. The fries? Even sadder: limp and burnt tasting. I felt duped.
So what's the real Frack Burger experience? Like so many places, it's a gamble. But if you're lucky enough to be there on a day when they're running on full cylinders, you're in for a real treat. Especially if you're a local craving a burger in the style of In-N-Out but don't feel like driving down to California to reach the nearest location.