Even though I have an irrational fascination with chains (yesterday on my way to see Cloverfield in Astoria I noticed a brand new Panera Bread and Applebee's set to grand open tomorrow. Along with the pre-existing Pizzeria Uno across the street, this micro-suburbia off Northern Blvd. is simultaneously soothing and baffling), Fuddruckers has never been part of my repertoire.
To my recollection, I'd only dined at one once in my life, at least twenty-five years ago. I know I was wowed by all the diy condiments, and I believe that I begged for a repeat performance whenever driving past the 82nd Street location on route to Clackamas Town Center. But I could just be imagining the longing and letdown because this was a common routine; my family rarely ate out, which was more a standard of the times than a commitment to thriftiness. I really don't think that children raised pre-'90s went out to eat, fast food included, frequently as they do now.
So, Saturday night Fuddruckers in Bridgewater was an accident (that we would drive 45 miles and spend $15 in tolls to return a defective mail-ordered Best Buy Dust Devil is a testament to how much NYC box stores suck). Red Lobster was our intended target, but even I can't justify a 75-minute wait for Cheddar Bay biscuits. Just on the other side of the Red Bull Motel (do you think they petitioned for another Red business in their parking lot?) was Fuddruckers, a total mystery to me.
I didn't know the menu and I completely didn't understand the ordering process. I felt feeble-minded standing just shy of the line-up maze, gaping at the wall. The clatter, balloons and children (don't be fooled by the false calmness in the above photo) didn't help my decision making but I figured out that there are lots of things other than burgers but it would be ridiculous to try them on a maiden visit and that burgers come in combo meals with the specialty variations listed on another panel.
Ok, I chose The Inferno, a 1/3-pounder with jalapenos, fried onions and pepper jack. And a Heineken because even though Fuddruckers is fast food-like, they do serve beer. I guess that makes it more fast-casual, in industry parlance. I was not allowed my requested medium-rare, medium is the needlessly strict minimum, though not as harsh as Five Guys well-done only rule.
You then get a beeper and are left to hunt down an open table. After settling for about ten minutes later you'll be summoned to the side counter, handed your food and set loose on the condiments. I took a few pumps of nacho cheese, chipotle mayonnaise for my fries and added a smear of spicy bbq sauces to my burger. I'm fairly sparing with add ons.
Yet condiment-abusers abounded. I was disproportionately grossed out by a college aged girl with her family at a nearby table who overfilled two giant plastic containers (larger than the little ones everyone else had) with ketchup. Actually, I more grossed out by her scrunchy-tamed pontytail, sweats and sporty rubber slip on sandals. I have a violent inexplicable aversion to that half-athletic/half-schlubby look. These are the same girls who wear flannel pajama bottoms with cartoon characters on them in public and think fleece is dressy. I had to avert my eyes every time she went for a ketchup dip.
After I got over the perceived sloppiness and topping spillage, I was faced with a pretty good burger that held its shape and retained enough juiciness despite the longer cooking time. The peppers were surprisingly hot, hence The Inferno moniker. The fries fell into the mealy steak fry camp, which I'll certainly eat even though I prefer thin, crispy strips (but not shoestring) over hefty wedges.
It was satisfying without crossing over into monstrous territory (though they do offer a one-pound burger). I do fear the Baconators of the world. On that note, Portfolio just published a substantial article and interesting sidebars on the unabashed gluttony trend touted in particular by Carl Jr's and Hardee's. Knowing that the Double Six Dollar Burger contains around 95% of my recommended daily calories almost makes me want to try it, so clearly their backwards marketing works.
Fuddruckers * 1271 Route 22 W., Bridgewater, New Jersey