I experienced Fuddruckers for the first time somewhere circa 2007. My wife, one year old daughter and I were reluctantly on our way to a birthday party at one of three Chuck E Cheese germ factories located in Southern Nevada and needed something to occupy our belly space since neither of us wanted anything to do with whatever it is they market as pizza there. This particular area of town was foreign to us, and Yelp wasn't yet available on my flip phone to assist our search, so our plan was to locate the mouse's house first - we abhor being late to anything - then travel in concentric circles around the establishment until we found something suitable.
We arrived at our dreaded destination approximately 20 minutes early, as was our custom at the time, and directly across the parking lot sat Fuddruckers. Having never even heard of this place before I was unsure of what I should expect but the sign assured me they provided their customers with the world's greatest hamburger, which sounded so much better than what awaited us across the asphalt. And so it was decided.
Unaccustomed to the franchise, I assumed Fuddruckers was similar to other fast food restaurants; place your order, pick up your order, return with a new hero-like status to your awaiting family. This, apparently, is not the standard. Instead burgers are made to order and wait times are adjusted accordingly. Their hybrid concept is not quite fast food, yet also too self-serve to be labeled a traditional restaurant. This was not exactly what my wife had agreed to, since we were already pushing the limits for an on-time arrival next door, and I feared the additional wait would awake an anger within her reserved for those moments I was not completely compliant, but my place at the end of the line was quickly covered by additional patrons and I am not one to make a scene. Plus, I was really, REALLY, craving a cheeseburger at this point.
After ordering I hesitantly returned to our recently purchased mini-van quickly justifying my decision to a very hungry and tired-eyed wife before retreating back to the relative sanctuary within the restaurant's walls to nervously await the completion of our order. As the minutes ticked by I began to pen my obituary on one of their paper napkins feeling it best to be prepared should the order take much longer. Finally, my name was called. I grabbed the order, threw on some salad items, tossed the ketchup and mustard filled plastic ramekins into the bag and sprinted back to the parking lot.
I'm not sure if it was the crippling hunger, the fact that we were now officially late to a party neither of us wanted to attend or if this actually was the world's greatest hamburger, but that half pound of cooked cow was gone in roughly 30 seconds. And it was delicious. Or so I remembered.
Now, almost a decade later, I return to see if the burger that caused so much drama and so much joy lives up to the hype, or if absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
This is Fuddrucker's.
Originally titled "Freddie Fuddruckers", the self-titled World's Greatest Hamburger Restaurant was founded in 1979, in San Antonio, Texas, by the same restaurateur that would later bring us Romano's Macaroni Grill.
I was hoping to uncover the origin of the name, "Fuddrucker" but according to Google, nobody knows what the hell it means. I did, however, find one suggestion that was slightly pornographic, but you probably don't want to read about that.
The restaurant chain has changed hands multiple times over the years and is currently managed by Luby's who purchased the struggling franchise after the previous owner, Magic Brands LLC, announced plans for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2010. This is a fact that may bear some importance later on.
For a restaurant that promotes itself as a world leader in one item, Fuddruckers menu is fairly diverse in its selections. Anchoring the menu is the Original Fudd, which you can order in fractional increments of 1/3, 1/2, 3/4 or a full pound of ground up cow. The patties are reportedly "100% USDA All-American, premium-cut beef" yet the exclusion of the words "choice" or "prime" would indicate they use the agency's lowest quality, select. Still better than pink slime, I guess.
Additional toppings, like cheese or bacon, will cost you extra here, as is customary. In addition to their basic Fudd, the restaurant has some pre-formulated options such as the Southwest, Three Cheese or Inferno Burger to name a few.
Because sometimes you want something more exotic than the taste of feedlot cattle, Fuddruckers also offer burgers made from Buffalo, Elk or Wild Board as long as your regional customs will support such selections.
Finally, this place also caters to the healthier sect of America, offering Veggie and Turkey Burgers as well a Grilled Salmon sandwich (which actually sort of sounds good). Somehow they buried a Ribeye Steak Sandwich down with these selections which makes me question its quality and composition.
Since I am trying to keep the playing field as level as possible while taste-testing my way through the restaurants I listed last week, I am attempting to keep the test subjects as consistent as possible. With this in mind, I ordered the ½ lb Original Fudd with American cheese. Because the sides are not part of the quest, I went with half fries/half rings because onion rings are a part of my diet I neglect far too often.
After finding a seat and self-serving myself some soda from the community fountain, I scouted the fresh toppings bar to plan my attack. Didn't take long to settle on onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo once again. Either my plan to get here early enough to beat the lunch crowd was a success, or the popularity of the place had diminished since my last visit, but my burger order was ready almost immediately and I had to fight no one for my place at the condiment bar.
Cheese - Where's the damn cheese? I paid for cheese. I see something on the top that resembles cheese, but where is the damn cheese? I get that American is not the more flavorful of cheeses one can top a burger with, but that is partly what I like about it. That, and its meltiness. No other cheese is quite as melty as American and I really like melty goolicious cheese. This patty was served with two slices that failed to even cover the top of the ½ lb patty, much less work itself over and around the edges. If it doesn't hug the burger, it isn't good enough.
Not a good start, Fuddruckers.
Cheese Score - 4/10
Meat - Another stop, another bland burger. No crispiness, little seasoning and my medium burger was served closer to medium rare, which is not a bad thing overall, but my dining partner also ordered his medium yet came out medium well. Consistency matters. This burger, sadly, was completely overshadowed by the condiments and bun
Meat Score - 5/10
Bun - which brings me to the bun. I admit, I was skeptical when I picked my burger up from the order window. The bun was HUGE, at least twice the size of the beef it contained within its perfectly toasted halves, and I have warned against my feelings towards such things. But as I grabbed the burger by its edges and prepared to shove it towards my waiting mouth, I was surprisingly greeted by the bun's light and airy texture.
The flavor was fantastic. In fact, my favorite bites of the entire sandwich were the ones that were greater than 80% bun.
If only they had spent as much time developing their burger as well.
Bun Score - 9/10
Overall - I can tell you with complete confidence that this is not the World's Greatest Hamburger. Maybe back when Philip J. Romano conceptualized and opened his first stand it was, but corporate America has done what it does best leaving us with a bland yet profitable version of a once great thing. Maybe the recession in 2008 and subsequent sale was the downfall. Maybe my standards have been raised since then. Or, perhaps my overly fantasized memory elevated my first experience to a level it never belonged on in the first place.
Whatever the cause this was a depressing stop on my summer journey.
Overall Score 18/30
Join us next week for my review of In n Out.