The burger: The proliferation of burger chains continues. This time, it’s Freddy’s, a cheery and spotless Wichita, Kan.-based outlet that recently established a fast-food beachhead in the Twin Cities.
Freddy’s slaps the “steakburger” label on its output, and that might stretch credulity. If there’s a steak flavor, I couldn’t detect it, although what was there, beef-wise, was crying out, at the very least, for salt and pepper.
But the good news is that the patties are prepared fresh, starting out as a free-form lump of ground beef that gets pressed with a spatula, fairly thin (the thickness of a crispy oatmeal cookie; sorry, I have cookies on the brain), against a hot flattop and grilled until the results are uniformly medium-well.
Where the Freddy’s patty stands out primarily for its hanging-over-the-edge-of-the-bun stature, which gives it an aura of plenty. And that skinny profile becomes much less noticeable when the patties are doubled up.
Add-ons don’t stray from the expected: a slice of American cheese, a few traces of raw onion, a swipe of drab mustard and a pair of cut-lengthwise dill pickles. The cottony, standard-issue bun is greatly improved by a light toasting.
Not bad, but not terribly remarkable, either, particularly in this age of next-generation burger chains.
Is Freddy's an improvement over McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s and Wendy’s? I’d say so. But would I rather turn to the burgers at Five Guys? Probably. Smashburger? Yes.
Price: $4.39 (or $7.19 with fries and a soda).
Fries: Extra ($1.79 and $1.99) and a reason to visit. They’re fantastic, really. The skinny cuts aren’t so thin that they come off as those harshly crispy canned Durkee shoestring potatoes that my mother used as a hot dish garnish back in the 1970s. Instead, they materialize hot out of the fryer, a gorgeous golden brown, with traces of still-tender, baked potato-like insides enveloped in tantalizing crispiness. The heaping helping that landed next to my burger was seasoned exactly right, with hints of the chain’s “famous” seasoning (a basic mix of garlic, salt and paprika), just enough to tickle the taste buds but not so much as to overpower. After a few fries I had to push them out of reach, otherwise I would have scarfed every last one of them. That almost never happens at a fast-food joint.
“And since you’ve never been here, you should try our fry sauce,” said the outgoing employee behind the counter (everyone on the staff has their Friendly-O-Meter set to a uniform high). “It’s a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup and pickle juice.” Who could resist that? It tasted exactly as promised, and I kind of loved it; the pickle juice adds a welcome tanginess to the standard, too-sweet Heinz.
Cool down: As for my custard malt ($3.79), I wasn’t impressed. It was runny and the chocolate had a fake, low-quality flavor. Go to Culver’s instead.
Yes, there is a Freddy: Company co-founders Scott Redler and brothers Bill Simon and Randy Simon cloak the restaurant in a vague 1950s nostalgia – picture a burger chain on the set of “Happy Days” – naming their fast-growing, 13-year-old company after the Simons’ father Fred. The place is papered with images and tales of lore connected to the patriotic, hard-working Fred, and it’s a sweetly sepia-toned if formulaic tribute, one that gives an otherwise anonymous chain a stab at a personality. To quote Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics in “Gypsy,” “You gotta have a gimmick,” right?
Noses up: I’m not sure if it’s a design flaw (the kitchen is open to the dining room) or a lack of venting firepower, but I discovered that, following my 20-minute lunch in the Freddy’s dining room, my jacket, scarf, stocking cap, sweater, shirt, jeans and what little hair I have left on my head were all reeking of Eau de Freddy’s. And it wasn't just scent-sensitive me, overreacting. Once back to the office, a colleague walked by, stopped and noted, “You smell like a restaurant.” Lovely.
Address book: 14165 Hwy. 13, Savage, 952-440-2222 (and opening Feb. 10 at 11600 Fountains Dr., Maple Grove, 763-600-6713). Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.