Be-Bop-A-Lula, Be My Burger
Faux-retro burger places are a sub-genre unto themselves, distinct even from the shiny diner format. Places like Freddy’s, Checkers/Rallys, and the two under consideration here, Wayback Burgers and Hwy 55, bank on a Happy Days nostalgia vibe, with Bobby Darin on the sound system and vintage photographs and paraphernalia to give the impression that you’ve just come off the dance floor at the sock hop. Some do it really well. Hwy 55 does. Wayback Burgers doesn’t.
#83 – Wayback Burgers
Wayback Burgers, tucked away in a generic strip mall on Capital Boulevard, is bland. As Chad said, “It has all the warmth and charm of a Subway. There is no surface that can’t be hosed down.” The photos of vintage soda shops on the walls are the only nod toward the retro theme. As Don said, “The only thing Wayback about this place is that it’s tucked way back in the strip mall.”
Unfortunately, the burgers matched the decor. Don said, “My Classic burger was the epitome of average — two beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard. The burger like the store was a bland amalgamation of classic derivative imagery. While the burger looked good, it was just a hollow façade hiding an unimaginative blend of lacking favors. I give it a 2.5, could be better, should be better.”
Michael was equally unimpressed, “I ordered the Cheeeesy. No, my E key did not get stuck. With that many Es, I was expecting a grilled cheese sandwich with a burger patty on it. Alas, what I got was just a sad double cheeseburger with one extra piece of cheese served on limply toasted sourdough bread. I would have sacrificed one or two of those Es for some flavor to the patties. My Philly roots were screaming for some Cheez Whiz. Don’t waste that many Es on bland processed cheese. C’mon! This is supposed to be a throwback burger place. A time before we didn’t know that a big fat cheesy burger was bad for us. The only thing Wayback Burger gave me was regret and a longing for more cheese. I give it a 2.5.”
Chad and Carolyn were even less enthusiastic. Chad said, “I ordered the special, limited-time Horseradish Butter Burger, which offered nary a hint of butter or horseradish. A real butter burger has a big slab of just melting butter between the patty and the bun. The Wayback website and the in-store promo poster show what is presumably horseradish butter oozing between the double patties of their burger. Mine had no ooze. Investigation revealed a scant teaspoon of some kind of sauce between the patties. It might have been horseradish butter, it was hard to tell as it had no discernible flavor. The burger was about the same. I saw the cook put the patties on the flattop, but they tasted like they had been steamed. For all intents and purposes, this was a Wendy’s hamburger, passable but completely forgettable. 2.5 (aspires to Meh).”
Carolyn, who also rated her Carolina burger at 2.5, noted that the Straight Beef crew spent the entire meal talking about where we would go next rather than the burgers in front of us.
Wayback Burger Average: 2.5 out of 5
Overall rank: 76 out of 84
#84 – Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries: Retro Redemption
Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries is also tucked away in a strip mall, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Hwy 55 is warm and inviting. It feels like a real burger joint. As Michael said, “Hwy 55 is what Wayback Burgers tries to be. The decor is authentic, the staff truly cares about your experience, and they know how to make a good old-fashioned burger. I ordered the All-American Cheeseburger with bacon. The patty was seasoned with plenty of salt. The bacon was crisp and laid perfectly in the cheese. Good quality American cheese, mind you. My quibbles were minor. They used leaf lettuce instead of shredded, and the tomato was not on top next to the mayo. Simple ingredients done exceptionally well. I give it a 4.25.”
Carolyn arrived early and had a platter of the chili cheese tots, which we happily helped her finish off. She gave her Pimento Cheeseburger an enthusiastic 4.25.
Chad had the Andy’s Double with bacon, cheese, pickles and mustard. “This was a really good classic burger,” he said. “It was properly seasoned, had a properly beefy flattop flavor, and didn’t fall apart when I tried to eat it. Easily a 4.25.” Even the sides were good, with the peaches and cream ice cream and Michael’s fresh squeezed Orangeade being particular standouts.
In short, Hwy 55 does the faux-retro theme proud with an average score of 4.25.
Overall ranking: 22 out of 84