I don’t remember the last time I had a fast food burger before going to the beach this month. It really has been a while.
Long before I decided to put my foot down and get a lot more sensible about only eating at special places and avoiding nationwide chains whenever possible (exception: Krystal. Don’t you judge me.), I’d already written off hamburgers from any of the big boys. We should stop kidding ourselves. They’re just not good. There is no reason – none – to get a burger from some place’s dollar menu, unless it’s something you can’t get at home. Then, maybe, just maybe, it’s worth it for an out-of-town novelty. But that Wendy’s, that Burger King down the road? You need never stop there for any reason. Never.
Whataburger, therefore, qualifies as an exception to that rule, because we can’t get it at home. Unfortunately, I think we’ve been quite spoiled by Cheeseburger Bobby’s and Just Around the Corner, because what was a tasty novelty three years back is an uninspiring, dull nothing of a meal today.
The first Whataburger opened in Texas sixty years ago, and it has apparently grown to a 700-outlet chain with locations in twelve states. They franchised out to Florida first, and have been slowly filling in the gaps ever since, and just as slowly expanding into neighboring western states, so it is still just a regional curiosity. In Georgia, there are two stores in Brunswick and one in Thomasville. One of the Brunswick stores is in front of the massive Target strip mall on the way out of town, and the other is off exit 29 across from the quite legendary Georgia Pig BBQ, which I still haven’t tried.
When I first realized south Georgia had Whataburgers, I was very excited to visit. I’d only had one previously, and that was twenty years ago now, when I went out to Dallas. Actually, my son, sensible fellow that he is, alerted me to the presence of Whataburgers outside Texas just a short time before we found them in Brunswick. My mother took the kids to Walt Disney World in 2006 and he phoned from someplace north of Orlando, remembering the lessons I’ve taught him about dining out. “Dad,” he said, “I’m at this place called Whataburger. I made Grandma stop here instead of McDonald’s. Have you ever heard of it?” It gives a man a good feeling to know his lessons have been learned.
That lesson, and write it down, in full, is this: When traveling, never eat anything you can get at home. When at home, never eat anything you can get traveling. Except Krystal. Damn, I like those fries.
I really played up the envy on that phone call. Then I phoned his mother in Kentucky, who lived in Dallas as a teenager and raved about how good they were, and had her prepped to really play jealous. We had fun with that and he enjoyed the chest-swelling, getting something that his mom and dad couldn’t. Of course, it works both ways. These days, he stays with her and has easy access to Skyline Chili. Man, I could use a big ole 5-way for lunch today.
Marie and I made a tactical error on this trip and came home on a Sunday, when more restaurants in South Georgia are closed than open. We couldn’t enjoy a Brogen’s burger before we left the island, nor some Jomax barbecue on the way home. Next time, we’ll make sure to return on Monday. But that Whataburger on the way back to I-95 is always open.
Whataburger’s fast food burgers are arguably the best of all fast food burgers. Praise couldn’t be fainter. My daughter ordered their chicken nuggets and they offer those with gravy, which is surely a little better than the same honey mustard and barbecue sauces that every place offers. You can get a giant cup of Fanta strawberry soda for the road. The fries aren’t very good, the beef patty, while not awful, isn’t very thick and the bun is the closest thing to cardboard to ever have the moxie to call itself bread. I think I liked the tomato on my sandwich best.
In an industry of mediocre food, Whataburger is among the least mediocre. But we can’t get it here. I need to stifle that impulse and never get it anywhere, but it’s kind of hard. The closest Jack in the Box, after all, is 156 miles away.
(Update 11/25/11): Sadly, Whataburger has left the market, closing both of their Glynn County stores. The remaining Georgia store is in Thomasville.