Fuddruckers: A Warm Texture in Your Mouth

Our September casual encounter was to Fuddruckers, that staple of every road trip you took when you were a kid and your parents wanted to try a little harder than McDonald’s for dinner.

This encounter welcomed a special guest, John’s brother-in-law, Dustin. He is older and more successful than anyone in our group, so it was an honor to have him slum it with us.

Food:

Fuddruckers hangs its hat on burgers. You can order a pre-ordained combination of toppings, or you can bring a plain burger over to a toppings bar and then pile high with whatever nonsense you decide is right for you. We’re sure this leads to kids on those aforementioned road trips slathering their burgers in an irresponsible amount of ketchup and pickles. These kids then cry when their burger slops all over the place, and their parents regret ever giving them that much freedom with wet substances. Fuddruckers: Where We Learn That Actions Have Consequences.

Along with the regular toppings, there was the much-touted “Fudds cheese sauce,” kind of like a paler version of the stuff that comes with stadium nachos. Our special guest Dustin said there wasn’t much in the way of flavor, but he did enjoy the “warm texture in your mouth.” Don’t we all, Dustin, don’t we all.

Jenna says: Burger was better than Culvers, but still a good distance from Blue Door. ALSO I prefer my buns a bit more toasted, if you know what I mean…[Ed. note: No, we don’t. Please elaborate.]

Aaron says: Burger tasted pretty good, but was way too greasy from the mushrooms and fried onions.  Wedge potato fries were decent.

Rachel says: I spotted the manager’s special, which was a burger, fries, and a beverage for a very reasonable price. They even offered to upgrade my beverage to a shake, what a treat. I appreciated that the menu featured nods to other tastes, like chicken sandwiches and salads. Not that I would ever come here to get those. My burger was cooked fine, on a bun that was fine. I don’t really like seasoned fries, so I only ate a few of those. (Fortuitous, since that left more room for my shake. ) The burger toppings bar featured surprisingly fresh veggies; I’d expected them to be limp and sad since it was later in the evening.

So fresh and so clean, clean.
So fresh and so clean, clean.
John, mid-pico-application
John, mid-pico-application

John says: Perfect portion size with the manager’s special. However, they didn’t ask how I wanted my burger cooked. Toppings were excellent.

John's phone added a soft, porny filter to his burger. Nice money shot.
John’s phone added a soft, porny filter to his burger. Nice money shot.

Food rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Beverages:

Once again, we find ourselves in the presence of a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. Glorious. However, there was a distinct lack of any slushee machine, which is odd considering how much this place is geared towards kids. Our group also bemoaned this lack since Fuddruckers (somewhat inexplicably) has a full bar, and this would have been a prime setting for a booze slushee. Milkshakes were available in a variety of flavors, but did not bring any boys to the yard beyond those in our original party. Perhaps it was because it was a school night.

Jenna says: Surly Furious on tap, works for me.

Aaron says: I snagged a “tall” beer for around $5.  Pretty good value.

Rachel says: My chocolate milkshake was fine. The first sip had a weird aftertaste, but like so many beverages (alcoholic, mostly), if you keep drinking it, it goes away.  My shake was an upgrade to my manager’s special combo, which made for good value. It was a large, too, so I got the can with the extra shake in it, perfect for sharing.

John says: My peanut butter shake was mighty delicious. Lots of chunks at the bottom which was a nice surprise.

Beverages rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Ambiance:

Fuddruckers seemed to be going for some kind of old-timey car service station vibe, but stopped short of the finish line [Ed. note: Get it? Finish line? Because, cars? Nevermind.]

Jenna says: The bathrooms, ugh. Just ugh. Doesn’t matter how interesting the decor is, if the bathrooms are dirty, you’re dead to me.

Aaron says: Nothing noteworthy.  Minus points because I like random crap hanging on the walls.  Bonus point for arcade.

John says: It was fine. Nothing special, nothing weird. The mini-arcade was a nice touch.

Rachel says: The restaurant was spacious. Like, really spacious. Couple that with high ceilings, and I came away with the sense that we had eaten in the dining area of a raceway-themed Costco. Like John said, though, nothing too weird. They must have cleaned the bathrooms between when Jenna visited and when I visited, because I thought they were fine.

Ambiance rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Service:

This was a situation where you order at the counter, and then they give you a buzzer that activates when your food is ready. Sometimes. Sometimes they also bring it out to you, depending on what you ordered. From what we could surmise, if you were building your own burger with the toppings bar, your ass had to get up and get the burger. If you were a fancy aristocrat who ordered a burger with special toppings, they brought it out to your table. A metaphor for the wealth gap? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Jenna says: It took me 10 minutes to order a beer at the bar. And I was the only one in line. You don’t make a teacher wait for her beer on the fifth day of school. I would have given service a 1, however the gentleman who cleared our table was oh-so-polite.

Aaron says: A few burgers took longer than others to get prepared. I  went to the bar to get a beer, but the bartender was also the dessert counter cashier, so she was running back and forth between the two stations.  Ended up having to wait for a bit before she could serve me.

John says: Drives me crazy when they don’t ask how I want my meat cooked. I like my meat wet and raw. [Ed. note: We see what you’re trying to do, and we’re going to ignore it.]

Rachel says: Bonus points for telling me I could upgrade my soda to a shake for a minimal cost. The person clearing the tables was very polite. The girl (she was a girl, not a woman) who served me my “dessert” seemed flustered since she didn’t have a cash register near her and had to run back and forth, but she did put on rubber gloves to serve up the brownie I’d ordered. Safety first.

Service rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Casualosity:

It doesn’t get more casual than a place that allows you to pretend you’re a line cook for a little bit at the toppings bar, and then sends you to the mini-arcade at the back of the restaurant.

Jenna says: Fuddruckers was my birthday spot in Fargo for several years as a kid [Ed. note: Probably because it was next to the quaint and questionably-affiliated putt-putt course Fuddputter’s. True fact.]. Any restaurant that hosts birthday parties for 7 year olds has to be pretty, pretty casual. Not as causal as OCB, which is the gold standard (at least until we get hit by a car/go to Golden Corral, my stomach is already hating me for that one).

Aaron says: No problem wearing my velvet flip flops and my t-shirt that says “Coroner: I’m here for your body”….check!

John says: They may as well have put a sign that said Casual Central above the Fuddruckers sign.

Rachel says: You can tell a lot about Casualosity by what kind of napkin situation a place had. Fuddruckers has paper towel rolls on stands. Nuff said.

Casualosity rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Dessert:

Dessert, if you could call it that, was a very big step down from the rest of the meal. The section of the restaurant called the “Bakery” was rows of grocery-store-caliber cookies and a row of brownies (for which you could see the industrial mix in boxes behind the counter). Most of us relied on our shakes as our dessert, which was an excellent choice.

Jenna says: Sampled Rachel’s chocolate shake, it was delicious. But Cub foods makes better brownies. 

Aaron says: I got a chocolate malt to go.  it was as expected and tasty.  

John says: Counting my shake as a dessert. Extremely tasty. It wasn’t as good as the OCB cheesecake but good nonetheless.

Rachel says: I was the one foolish enough to actually get something from the bakery, a brownie. It’s not even like “it was from a box so it tasted bad.” My go-to brownies are from a box. They’re delicious. This tasted like it came from a box, then was left out for a three-day weekend, and then frosted in a harebrained attempt to add moisture/hide taste. It didn’t work. But everyone is counting their shakes as desserts, so I’ll factor that into my rating. 

Dessert rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Favorite part:

John says: A new special guest joining us.

Jenna says: Pickles.

Aaron says: Lots of condiments and junk to put on your burgers. 

Rachel says: Knowing that John kept accidentally writing “Fuddf***ers” when composing his review.

Least favorite part: 

John says: No pie options for dessert.

Aaron says: The super greasy onions that came on my burger. 

Jenna says: I have two. 1) I missed how they used to announce your name over the loud speaker when your burger was ready. We could of had a lot of fun with that…. AND B) A dude used a pokemon pickup line at me at the bar. At Fuddruckers. In Bloomington. I might as well just get 9 cats and call it a day. [Ed. note: Might as well.]

Rachel says: That brownie. It was a prison brownie. 

Overall Fuddruckers rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

 

Next up: We’re donning our pieces of flair and hitting up TGI Friday’s!

Chili’s: Diners on the Storm

Chili’s (#21 on our list) holds a special place in many of our group members’ hearts. This was one of the crucial hangs in high school (if it wasn’t after hours. After hours, it’s Perkin’s or GTFO.). The sensory memories here are strong, and expectations of the food tasting the same as back then were simultaneously high and low. Cautious optimism, thy name is casual dining.

Food: After much deliberation (seriously, there were way too many choices on the menu), a surprising number of steaks were ordered considering the Tex-Mex theme of the restaurant.

Aaron says: I naturally went with chiiiillliiii’s baby back ribs, being one of their signature dishes, or at least the only thing that I can remember from any of their commercials.  I went with the original BBQ sauce, as I didn’t feel like venturing into the world of Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce.  I don’t know if I could handle the responsibility of BBQ sauce laced with Dr. Pepper.  Plus, it was a school night.  The ribs were good, not great, but as expected.  The BBQ sauce tasted good, but the meat itself was a little flavorless.  

Sarah says: The menu was too much. There was the main, huge menu and then two additional “special” menus. Why? Rachel made a great call by bringing in a coupon for chips and queso. The queso had a hint of beans which made it gross to look at but delicious to eat. For my entrée, I had a 6 oz. steak that seemed bigger than 6 oz. It wasn’t anything special, but it was only $12.99, it tasted fine and was cooked as I ordered it (medium rare). (By the way, did you know Donald Trump orders his steak well done? Well, he does. Not surprising, right?) 

Jenny says: – It was Colorado Springs, 2001. I remember a specific moment in high school of eating perfectly golden and delicious Chili’s Chicken Crispers. I’ve been chasing that taste every since…last week. I was not disappointed! I ordered the classic -i repeat, classic – Chicken Crispers. I don’t know what the new Crispers are and I don’t care.  My chicken was again crunchy on the outside and juicy white inside. The side of corn on the cob was also delish.

Rachel says: I had a coupon for free queso, so I was delighted to treat the group to that crucial part of the Chili’s experience. But it was only ok. Not that that stopped me from eating a bunch of it. After much entree deliberation, I landed on the Quesadilla Explosion Salad (which was basically the name of what happened to John after our visit to Chevy’s). It was your average “southwest” salad, aka a regular salad where chili powder has been added to the ranch dressing, plus pieces of cheese quesadilla as garnish. That’s definitely not a complaint, though. I took said garnish home for lunch the next day. Two meals in one: That’s value. 

John says: I was very happy with my choice. I got the ribeye and a loaded baked potato for a side. It was cooked to my liking and had good flavor. We also had a coupon for queso and chips. Both were adequate. 

Food rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Service: Our server, Kale/Cale/Cael, was friendly and unflappable, which is very impressive considering there were plenty of children in his section, along with a group that had the damndest time making up their minds on what they wanted to order (read: us). But things took an immediate downtown at the end of the evening when Caheale handed referred us to the “Ziosk” on our table (heretofore only recognized as a gaming machine) to pay our bills. It was nice that things were split up by seat, but Jesus H. Christ it took 10x longer to pay our bill because of it. It’s supposed to “revolutionize the dining experience,” and it did, in that it turned it from one where the server runs payment on a machine he is familiar with, to one where we have to do our best to figure out who should pay what while the server ignores us.  After submitting payment, the Ziosk asks for your feedback on your experience. Everyone commented on how the Ziosk, the very thing that was asking the question, had somewhat ruined that experience. Ironic.

Aaron says: With many of the servers we’ve encountered on our casual experience vision quest (for food), Cale (sp?) warmed up to us more and more as he realized how fun we were.  I mean, we were fun the whole time, it just took him a while to realize it.  The only knock on the service here was handing us off to the robotic “Ziosk” for paying our bills.  Then we were left to fend for ourselves for picking our meal and dealing with the card reader on the machine.  In theory it seems like there’s a place for it, but for a group of people paying separately, it made the bill-paying process longer than it needed to be. 

Sarah says: Cale was friendly and I liked the positive affirmations he gave us when we finished our entire molten lava cake. One thing that was not cool, Cale, was laughing us off when we asked about the tornado emergency plan. The weather was very ominous, and it was really coming down out there. Yet Cale did not assist us in preparing for possible tornadoes. Luckily, Aaron took his belt off and used it to demonstrate the technique used at the end of Twister. Thanks for picking up Cale’s slack, Aaron. Aaron gets 5 cheesecakes for his safety demonstration. 

Jenny says: Chilis did not have an evacuation plan in the event of monsoons, but Cael eased our worries that the Chili’s reinforced nuclear shelter could withstand this storm. Cael was attentive and pleasant. No complaint. No near Earth experience from what I hear. [Ed. note: Truth.] Also, the table machine that took all of our payments seemed pleasant as well. [Ed. note: Jenny was obviously using some different payment kiosk from the rest of us.]

John says: Cael was great. Attentive and funny. He complimented us on our ability to finish the desserts we ordered. Flattery will get you everywhere. 

Rachel says: I also appreciated how he told us we did a good job with finishing our desserts (we did). I liked his tolerance for John’s insistence on knowing of an evacuation plan, as if we didn’t all know it was going to be some variation on “Hit the exit and run like hell. Or find someone with a strong belt and a plan.”

Service ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Ambiance: The most impressive thing about the ambiance here was that it’s exactly the same as any other Chili’s, at any other point in time. Their commitment to faux-Spanish tile holds fast and true.

Jenny says: It was a quiet Wednesday. We were seated near people but not too close. The only complaint was a screaming kid. But that’s what they do, right? The random lone sled on the wall was out of place but might be comforting if the storm was in January and not August.

John says: Pretty standard fare. It was kind of cramped where they seated us. It was absolutely pouring outside to the point where it was terrifying. We kept checking to see if it was still coming down out there. We then asked about Chilis’s storm plan. They didn’t have one. Sigh. [Ed. note: Stop being such a baby, John. Obviously Aaron’s belt skills would have saved us in the event of a tornado.]

Sarah sees the storm approach.
Sarah sees the storm approach.

Rachel says: I thought their “crap on the walls” aesthetic was lacking in conviction. Don’t just put up a random sled on the wall, with nothing near it, and expect me to be filled with whimsy. 

Ambiance rating: fresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake  fresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

Casualosity: Casual in high school, casual in our 30s.

Aaron says: Went in with my velvet flip flops and went out with very wet velvet flip flops.  They fit right in with the fitting tiled table tops and random sh** on the walls. 

Sarah: Chili’s was extremely casual, but not in the way I wanted. First of all, Chili’s was too casual about tornado preparedness. Also, the lights were too bright, the music was too quiet, and the atmosphere seemed kind of sterile. It was not the cozy, warm environment that I like to see in a casual dining establishment. Also, part of the casualosity at Chili’s is the Ziosk at each table, which is used for trivia and to pay the bill. It seemed as though the first few minutes of trivia were free and then you would have to pay after that. But nope, we were charged $1.99 for three minutes of trivia. That’s shady, Chili’s. 

Jenny: I felt pretty casual and relaxed. I was not the least bit embarrassed by Aaron’s velvet flip flops. It would have been more cas’ if you didn’t have to pay $2 to play electronic trivia. 

John says: Totes casual. More room would be nice. 

Casualosity ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Beverages: Your typical casual dining selection. But also, 2-4-1’s!

Aaron says: 2-4-1s! They had two for one house margaritas.  I went with original flavor, on the rocks.  Maybe a little sugary, but also what I expect from a fine establishment like Chili’s.  

Jenny says: I had a classic Margarita, the El Presidente. (Wait is that the the president). While it was not on the 2 for 1 menu (I found out later), it was worth it. The little, royal blue shaker they give you is like a magic lamp of never ending ‘rita. It was just right. [Ed. note: Apparently every single Presidente marg is shaken exactly 25 times on the way to your table. We didn’t see Cale shake Jenny’s marg, so we can only assume this standard was kept. Still, an interesting factoid, no?]

John says: I had two delicious house margaritas! They were two for one. It felt like college again! 

Beverages ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Cheesecake/dessert: There’s really only once choice when it comes to dessert at Chili’s: Molten chocolate cake. But we also ordered the cheesecake, because we’re professionals with a job to do.

Aaron says: Cheesecake, meh.  Molten chocolate cake: delish! 

Sarah says: The molten lava cake was exactly what I wanted in a dessert. I felt absolutely no shame as I helped myself to the last bite without asking anyone else if they wanted it. When it comes to molten lava cake, it’s every woman for herself.

Jenny says: The cheesecake was ordinary but thankfully I have low cheesecake standards. The other concoction we ordered  (what was it?) was gooey, sugar heaven [Ed. note: Goddamn right, it was]. We devoured it. I loved the balance of cold ice cream and hot chocolate brownie.

John says: Fairly standard cheesecake (nowhere near as good as Old Country Buffet’s).  [Ed note: GOD DAMN IT JOHN.]

Rachel says: As sure as the sun rises in the morning, Chili’s molten chocolate cake is delicious and tastes the same as it always has. 

From left to right: Glorious, meh.
From left to right: Glorious, meh.

Cheesecake/dessert ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake

Favorite part of the casual encounter: 

Aaron says: Two for one margaritas and getting to FINALLY order chiiiilllliiii’s baby back ribs.  My parents never let me as a kid.  

Aaron finally gets to try Chili's famous baby back ribs, just like he always wanted when he was a little girl.
Aaron finally gets to try Chili’s famous baby back ribs, just like he always wanted when he was a little girl.

Sarah says: This doesn’t really have anything to do with Chili’s, but you know when you’re a little kid and there’s a tornado warning and even though the tornadoes are nowhere near your town, your parents usher you down to the basement where you play board games and listen to weather alerts on the radio until the tornado warning expires? And it feels fun and exciting because you know that your safety isn’t in any real jeopardy? Reliving that feeling was my favorite part of our Chili’s experience.

Jenny says: Reliving my high school memories through food and booze. And being a part of a cool club. [Ed. note: Aw, thanks!]

John says: Favorite part-all of our great jokes about the weather. And of course the great jokes about their shitty paying stations. Sigh.

Rachel says: Time traveling back to high school, on those rare nights when my parents would let me go out for dinner before a school dance instead of making me eat dinner at home with them. Molten chocolate cake, get in my mouth. 

Least favorite part: 

Aaron says: Ziosks.  F*** those little robot bastards

Sarah says: The kiosks. Worst thing to ever happen to casual dining. This better not be a trend. 

Jenny says: Leaving during the rain. And Aaron splashed me when he ran by. 

John says: Having to drive home in what I believe was Hurricane Katrina Part 2: World Pup. 

Rachel says: The storm. It was really coming down out there. 

Aaron and John valiantly try to figure out the Ziosk payments.
Aaron and John valiantly try to figure out the Ziosk payments.
?
Aaron voices his displeasure at the Ziosk experience.

Overall Chili’s Ratingfresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecakefresh-strawberry-cheesecake fresh-strawberry-cheesecake-half

See you all for our next Casual Encounter: Fuddrucker’s!