Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Culver's

Culver’s
Fenton, Mo.
Culver’s is a predominately Midwestern chain. It started as a single restaurant in Sauk City Wisconsin in the mid-80’s. It’s expansion was slow at first, but it now claims over 400 locations reaching to Texas and Arizona. Sorry Maryland, there’s no plan to head that direction anytime soon, you're stuck with your puny crab shacks.
The Place:
It’s a burger/sandwich/ice cream affair similar in offerings, but bigger and a tiny bit more upscale than Ginny’s and Rich’s (recently reviewed).
This was Angel’s choice. She was certain we, or at least she, had been there before, I certainly couldn’t recall it. At least not this location, I seldom go past Gravois Bluffs on Highway 141, there’s just no need to. This place was almost in Valley Park, a neighboring town which I only hear about from news reports about spring flooding. Nearly every Fenton restaurant we’ve reviewed is located in or around the enormous (1.5 million square feet) shopping area. 
The first thing I noticed as we pulled into the parking lot was that it was right next door to a Burger King. The second thing I noticed was that the drive-thru and lot for the BK was nearly empty, whereas Culvers was packed. Nearly every space was taken, and inside the tables were at least 90% occupied.
I’d previewed the menu and didn’t need a lot of time to make up my mind. When I told Adam what I was going to get, he exclaimed ‘aww, shoot!’ in reply, meaning he had initially chosen the same thing. In the spirit of accommodating you, the fans, he decided on something else instead so we wouldn’t be reporting on just a single offering.
The overhead menu was expansive, it also sported the chain’s iconic blue and white theme. Most of the stores are white with a blue roof and the walls inside are white with blue trim. There were a few posters and signs used for modest decoration on the walls, mostly touting Wisconsin in one way or another. Even when Wisconsin does blow it’s horn, it’s really not all that loud.

The Food:
 I ordered the Bacon Deluxe Butter Burger combo, with crinkle fries. Adam opted for the Buffalo Chicken Wings and fries, and Angel went for the Prime Rib Dip sandwich plus fries. We were handed our plastic number tag and drink cups. We filled ‘em with tea, sweet tea and Pepsi. Next to the tea dispenser was a covered condiment tub containing lemon wedges, I partook, but only because it was covered. I’ve heard somewhere that exposed lemons in eateries are magnets for diseases and bacteria, maybe even deadly ones. Why take a chance?
We found a booth and settled in. The place was crawling, but mostly with families. Unlike the more famous burger chains, there were not any loose bands of teenagers milling about, the patronage here was more mature and responsible. This was punctuated by the single flat screen TV tuned to CNN.
One non-Vietnamese lady struggled to find room to situate her brood of kids, five preteen Vietnamese girls. Non-Vietnamese dad helped as well by staying out of the way,  in the shadows, until they were all situated. I don't blame him, getting involved with any of that would be like pushing the first domino in a crying, squealing chain.
A young man in company colors weaved carefully and respectfully between the tables, bussing and sweeping dutifully as he went. Abandoned tables turned over pretty quickly due to his efforts.
I sipped my lemon’d tea, I knew the tea would be fresh since the dispenser was replaced just before I got to it. Fresh indeed, but not all that flavorful.
Bacon Deluxe Burger
The food arrived in just a few minutes. Served in ‘baskets’. Actually they were served in cardboard trays folded to mimic the plastic baskets used in other burger places. The meals were complete and quite tasty looking. We dealt them out and dug in.
I know the trick of a ‘Buttery Burger’, it’s the bun. I do the same thing when I grill burgers at home. I butter the buns and toast them on the grill. It’s amazing how much better this make a simple burger. Oh yeah, we pronounce it ‘butt-ree’, ‘not butter-y’ because butt-ree sounds funnier.

 The cheese on mine was real cheddar, as advertised, Culver’s (from Wisconsin) is proud of their cheeses.
The crinkle fries were about a minute of frying short of where I would have taken them, but they at least weren’t starchy. I would have preferred more crunch. The burger included lettuce, tomato and red onion, and was constructed with a satisfying amount of each.
Adam looked baffled at his chicken nuggets. “That doesn’t look like buffalo.” He remarked. Indeed they didn’t. We first assumed that he had been given the standard chicken nuggets rather than the buffalo since buffalo chicken usually has a caramelized sticky sauce, these did not, just breading. He didn’t want to make a fuss so he said it didn’t really matter and started eating them. He did say later in that the breading was a little spicy, though not quite to the expected level. (Afterward I checked and found this on Culver’s web site: “The secret to our spicy Buffalo Chicken Tenders is in the seasoned breading”)
Prime Rib Dip
So if you are expecting Hooter’s-style messy chicken, you’ll probably be a little disappointed.
I asked Angel how she liked her Prime-dip, all I got was ‘Yum’ as she tore into it. Later she added that the meat was more flavorful than the Au Jus (gesundheit!) provided. "Saltier than a burger." She added. I tried a scrap, I agreed. It would have been too salty for me.
In all we were quite satisfied. Was it better than the neighboring Burger King? I’m not sure. Burger to burger, both are quite good. Culver’s has a significant upper hand though with the ice cream selections. Adam and Angel indulged, She ordered a root beer float, he, a ‘concrete mixer’ a thick shake infused with brownie or cookie crumbs. They seemed quite pleased with their choices.
Summary:
Maybe I was expecting more, but that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the meal. The burger was quite good, the fries could have used a little more attention. Adam was a bit disappointed with the lack of heat on his chicken. But there was nothing bad about any of it. The price was slightly higher, in all about four more bucks, than very similar fare at Ginny’s. The whole deal was still under $30. BK may have been a bit cheaper, but the ice cream offerings simply are not available there. This place was much, much more crowded and busy than the neighboring BK, so that should tell you something. Given the choice I’d certainly pick Culver’s between the two, but next to a Ginny’s? I’m not so sure.

Comments from some of my Facebook friends:

Tyler wrote: "The last time I went years ago they had a really good pork tenderloin sandwich."

 Michele wrote: "my favorite fast food!"

Kathy wrote: "Love their burgers, and fries, and onion rings....Jack likes their ice cream!"

Angel wrote: "You can be such an idiot!"


From the staff and management of Eat and Critique, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!



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