In N Out Burger

March 16, 2014 – When the California based In N Out Burger opened its first restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, the wait to get to the front of the line was four hours.  We didn’t bide that much time when my wife and I stopped by the local In N Out Burger on a recent Sunday.  But there was a crowd.

Though the restaurants offer plenty of both indoor and outdoor tables as well as a counter with stools, the crowds are usually so large as to make snagging a seat serious business.  I was beaten twice to inside tables and my wife once to a couple of outdoor seats.  We were starting to think we would have to eat in the car.  Fortunately we lucked out with two stools at the counter just as our number was called.

In N Out Burger is a stand out fast food chain.  The first one was opened near Los Angeles in Baldwin Park in 1948 by Henry and Esther Snyder.  Their concept was to offer a limited menu done well, using the freshest of ingredients and keeping the restaurant immaculately clean.  And they were the first to introduce high tech into the fast food process.  Drive through customers placed their orders over a two way speaker system.

Revolutionary!

And the burgers were good!

Californians were smitten with In N Out Burgers.  So much so that today it’s the only fast food restaurant allowed a spot at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Snyders also believed in offering a living wage and benefits to their employees.  Currently the starting hourly wage for In N Out employees is $10.50, well above the  federal minimum wage.  That could account for the friendliness of the staff.  Every one I encountered greeted me and offered the best wishes of the day.  Every one of them sounded sincere.  It made me feel friendly, too.

The company has held true to the concept developed by Henry and Esther.  Today  the distinctive yellow, red and white colors of In N Out Burger guarantee a safe, clean place to grab a quick, really good burger.  A simple menu done consistently well served in a pleasant environment.

In N Out Burger grossed more than $600 million last year.  Amazingly, they are still controlled by the Snyder Family.  Oldest son Rich became CEO on the death of his father in the mid ’70s.  Under Rich Snyder’s leadership the company began its expansion.  More like an eruption.  There were 18 In N Out Burgers when Rich became CEO.  Tragically he died in an airplane crash returning from the opening of the 83rd restaurant in 1993.

Younger brother Guy took the reins and grew the number of restaurants to 140 before his untimely and equally tragic death in 1999.  The brothers also expanded beyond the border of California to open restaurants in Arizona, Utah, Texas and Nevada.

Following Guy’s death, family matriarch Esther came out of retirement to assume the role of CEO until her death in 2006 at the age of 86.  For a brief period unique in the company’s history, the CEO was not a member of the family.  Then the only Snyder grandchild, Lynsi Torres gained 50% of the company through a trust when she turned 27 and now serves as CEO.  On reaching 30, Torres will have full control of the 290 In N Out Burger restaurants.

Their menu is simple.  You can have a hamburger, a cheeseburger or a double double, two meat patties and two slices of cheese.  Their “not so secret” menu also offers a 3×3, three meat patties and three slices of cheese, a 4×4, well, you get the picture, or a grilled cheese, a burger without the meat.  They used to accommodate customers with as many beef patties and slices of cheese as they wanted until some joker ordered a 100×100.  There had to be a limit.

You can order your burger and fries animal style.  In addition to the standard lettuce and tomato, animal style gets you pickles, grilled onions, extra sauce (a variation on thousand island) and the beef patty grilled in a thin layer of mustard.  Animal style fries come smothered in grilled onions, melted cheese and more sauce.  You can also order your burger protein style, which means it comes wrapped in a lettuce leaf rather than a bun.

Animal style sounded great to me.  Protein style not so much.

Animal style was special.  A one of a kind burger.  The mustard came through as just a hint, a very good hint, and the grilled onions added a touch of sweetness.  A merging of tastes that made my palate happy.  The fries were completely smothered in grilled onions, melted cheese and the special In N Out Burger sauce.  Gooey.  Messy.  And, though there were so many they had begun to cool by the time I got down toward the bottom of the paper basket, delicious.

A man with his young son in tow spotted us as we were finishing our meal.

“Are you leaving?” he asked politely as we rose from our stools.

“Yes,” I replied.  “But we’re taking the stools with us.  They’re too valuable to leave here.”

The momentary look of shock on his face, then the grin as he realized I was kidding was great fun.

“Good try,” he said, laughing.

The guy had a sense of humor.  I figure he ordered animal style, too.

 

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The Red Chair

February 28, 2014 – “A red chair always stands out in a crowd,” Barbara Whitney said.

I looked around.  My friend, BA, and I were sitting on black chairs.  So was everyone else in the room as far as I could see.

“Do you have a red chair?” I asked.

“We have one here somewhere.  It moves around,” she said.  “Oh, there it is.  Back there.”

Sure enough.  There was the red chair.  The only one.  In the very back of the room.  Standing out in the crowd.

And that’s how Barbara and her partner, David Seube, named their restaurant.

The Red Chair is located in the McKinley Building, which was the first high rise building in Anchorage, followed closely by the building now known as the Inlet Tower.  Now Anchorage has a beautiful urban skyline set against the backdrop of the Chugach Mountains.  But the McKinley Building was there first.

I ordered a cup of coffee when I was seated.  It turned out to be one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.  Barbara told me they blend their coffee in house.  They know coffee.  They should.  Barbara and David operated a couple of coffee stands for several years before taking the plunge into being all in restaurateurs.  They opened the Red Chair in October of last year.

Chef Shana Whitlock has put together a very interesting menu.  I was drawn to several possibilities.  My first thought was pancakes.  I’d been craving them and the Red Chair offers cornbread pancakes.  That got my attention.  But then BA and I started discussing the menu with Barbara.

Before I knew it my taste imagination was dancing around like a cut power line. It was out of control.  Sparks flying all over.

I flopped from pancakes to the stuffed poblano pepper.  I love poblanos and the Red Chair fills theirs with cilantro and cheese, sausage and scrambled eggs, green onions, mushrooms and red peppers.  Hard to resist any of those things, especially when they’re packed into a poblano.

They offer both a traditional eggs Benedict as well as a “Tustumena Smokehouse” Benedict, replacing the ham with smoked salmon bacon.  Enticing.

Before I knew it I had been lured into the lunch menu.  A lot of temptation there.  They offer a hoagie with steak that they cure in house, served with a roasted garlic spread and caramelized onions.

I was briefly tempted by both the Tesla Burger and the Fanciful BLT.  But in the end I retreated, as I often do, to childhood memories.  I had seen it when I first sat down but was still focused on the cornbread pancakes.  My eyes kept going back to it.  In spite of the allure of so many other interesting dishes in my heart I knew where I would wind up.

BA ordered the Skyline Sandwich.  Chicken with applewood bacon and provolone with a smoked poblano aioli.  He was happy with the sandwich and the side of quinoa salad, which I sampled, was excellent.  Refreshing.  Snappy.

I ordered the Trailer Trendy.  Within minutes I was back at my grandmother’s house with a sandwich of thick-cut, fried bologna with tomato and peppered aioli on a hoagie roll.  It was accompanied by perfect French fries.  Thick cut slices of potato, cooked to the ultimate brown on the outside, impeccably soft on the inside.

The sandwich was terrific and fun.  Eating it just made the day sunnier.  And as for the fries…well, when fries are done right, there’s nothing better.  These fries were done right.

The Red Chair’s breakfast and lunch menus are imaginative.  Artistic even.  And Barbara told us they’re now open for dinner.

Yeah.  I’ll be back.  I’ll give the dinner menu a try.  Have to see if it’s as inspired as breakfast and lunch.

But first I have to try the cornbread pancakes.  They’re calling to me.  And I must answer.