The burger: The name Wayback Burgers doesn't necessarily inspire confidence. I mean, does the planet really need another fake-nostalgia marketing scheme masquerading as a fast-food burger operation?
The chain has Delaware roots reaching back to 1991. Twenty-five years and 100 units later, the company that started as Jake’s Hamburgers now operates in 26 states and the District of Columbia; the 3-year-old Woodbury location is the company’s sole Minnesota outlet.
Yes, the place is decorated with the requisite black-and-white images depicting Beloved Burger Places of Yesteryear, and the stereo was predictably playing what could have passed as the soundtrack to “American Graffiti.” Cue eyeroll.
The approach to burgers is similarly steeped in sepia, but that’s an admirable trait; there’s an emphasis on simplicity and taking the time to get it right, two traits that are never unappreciated where burgers are concerned. My made-to-order double-patty cheeseburger not only tasted like it was prepared just for me, I know it was; I watched it being made in the wide-open kitchen.
I observed the quick-witted cook as he reached down and retrieved a pair of thick-ish beef patties — obviously fresh, not frozen — from his under-the-stove refrigerator, and plopped them on the grill. After about 30 seconds he reached for a trowel-like tool and used it to flatten the patties to maybe a quarter-inch thickness, then cooking them to a uniform (and, sadly, underseasoned) medium, the edges roughly hewn, the seared surfaces nicely charred.
A few minutes later, my “Cheeeesy (Double)” arrived, and in case anyone is wondering what an 830-calorie burger looks like, here you go. It might as well been served on a platter with the word excess spelled out in Betty Crocker petal pink cupcake decorating icing (you know, that crazy frosting that comes in a handy, nozzle-equipped can), that’s how over-the-top it was. It was also sort-of irresistible.
First, the bun. It was your basic, standard-issue burger bun. But after it was cut in half, both the top and bottom’s flat inside surfaces had been liberally brushed with butter (we’re talking enough to crank out a smallish batch of chocolate-chip cookies), and then it was off to the toaster. The result: the bun’s interior achieved a welcome warm softness, while those butter-slathered edges took on a delicately browned crispiness, the kind that quietly crackles when bitten into.
Here’s the twist: on this burger, the buns were served upside down. Or, more accurately, flat-side out. (The architecture nerd in me was instantly reminded of Oscar Niemeyer’s National Congress of Brazil, but this is what happens when I’m having dinner by myself, sans company — or a good book — and I allow my mind to wander). So the grilled sides — the buttery sides — were what I was holding in my hand, grilled cheese sandwich-style. Bring on the napkins!
On the subject of cheese, I should also note the prodigious amount of American cheese in this burger, enough to really hammer the cheese into cheeseburger. It’s three slices, and they’re strategically placed — on top, in the middle and below the two piping-hot patties — to achieve maximum gooeyness.
Every melt-in-your-mouth bite is profoundly cheesy, a wrapped-in-dairy sensation that’s magnified by that butter-soaked bun. It’s brilliant, really: a mash-up of a grilled cheese sandwich and a cheeseburger. What could be better, right?
It also reminded me of the double-pattied, diner-style cheeseburgers that are all the rage at Revival, Saint Dinette, Parlour, Nighthawks and other top Twin Cities kitchens. While Wayback’s fast-food knockoff might not have the chef-driven finesse of those burgers — what with their carefully considered beef grinds, their scrupulously calibrated seasoning blends, their house-crafted cheeses and all of the other countless details that make them so special — it certainly embraces key components. There are worse things for a chain burger to emulate, right?
Wayback offers a gargantuan cheeseburger it calls the Triple Triple, a nine-patty behometh, stacked to the sky and clocking in at 1780 calories. If nothing else, it’s a talker. It’s certainly symbolic of everything that’s simultaneously wrong yet perversely right about America. Correction: #Murica.
Fries: Extra ($2.29 or $3.29), and perfectly pleasant. The long, lightly crispy, barely golden, not-at-all-greasy skin-on cuts were pelted with plenty of salt.
For your own good: Skip the shakes. Sure, they’re hand-mixed — and thoughtfully served right out of the frosty tin can — but the chocolate version that I ordered was runny and weakly flavored. Reserve the calories for that burger.
Address book: 8470 City Centre Dr., Woodbury, 651-714-9095. Open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.