food, review

A visit to Hardees

Today I was near a Hardee’s restaurant during lunchtime and I realized that it has been several years since I’ve been to one for something other than breakfast (they have pretty darned good biscuits and gravy). I think the last burger I had there was during the menu reduction period of the late 90s/early 2000s (they stripped their menu to only have burgers), which also coincided with the big Atkins diet kick. I remember the Atkins angle because a friend of mine ordered a lettuce wrapped burger in the drive-thru on our way to an Alabama basketball game in Tuscaloosa one night. Since then, Hardee’s has expanded their menu to rival what they had before their transformation but centered around the Thickburger. It was time to try it again and see how they’re doing.

The order

During a my lunch stop I tried what looked like their standard burger: the 1/3 pound Thickburger. First off, I had to ask the guy at the cash register what the difference between their #1 and #2 combos were (Cheeseburger Thickburger vs. Original Thickburger…both of which have cheese). They were exactly the same price for what looked like the same burger. I was informed that the difference between the two were the toppings: to me the #1 was more akin to a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder (ketchup, mustard, onions, and pickles) and the #2 was more like a Whopper (same as #1 but with lettuce, tomato, and mayo). I went with the veg and got the #2. I like simplicity when it comes to burger toppings so I ordered mine with lettuce, onion, and cheese only (I like to taste the burger). As easy as that sounds, it took me three attempts to explain it to the guy taking the order. Somehow “only lettuce, onion, and cheese” translates to “no onion” to him. After the third time, he finally got it and he gave me a little number to put on my table. This was the first big difference that I noticed about the Hardee’s experience: you take a number and they bring the food to you. Unlike other fast food burger joints, you can get your drink and go sit down while waiting for your food. That gave me time to find a video to watch on my iPad while waiting for my meal.

The presentation

When they brought the food, it came in a little plastic basket like what you see at Dairy Queen. The burger and fries were both loose in the basket. The burger had some kind of paper wrapping around it like what you see at Johnny Rocket’s. Wendy’s has started mimicking this with a rigid paper sleeve for their sandwiches. The first thing that I noticed was the new bun on the burger. It was really a good looking hamburger bun. They had signs up all over the place touting the fact that their buns are now fresh-made in the stores (click here for more info). The burger was topped as I ordered it but I can tell you that it looked nothing like those big juicy burgers in the Hardee’s commercials. The look of the patty reminded me of a little larger version of a Quarter Pounder patty. Over all, the toppings were a bit of a disappointment. There were two tiny pieces of lettuce (looked like they came out of a ready-to-eat salad kit) and two or three smallish pieces of onion. The onion was flavorful with a nice thick cut to make up for the small quantity. The cheese was typical yellow cheese from a fast food burger joint.

The taste

When I took my first bite into the burger I was surprised at the taste of the bun and the burger. The texture of the bun made it a very enjoyable eating experience. The burger had more flavor than a Quarter Pounder overall. To me, this tasted more like a normal hamburger instead of the generally flavorless taste of a Quarter Pounder.  The lettuce was crispy and, with the onions, provided a nice crunch.  I like a lot of lettuce on my sandwiches so I think it could have benefited from more (something more like what the menu board picture shows).
The fries were really nothing special. They looked very much like McDonalds fries but were not as crispy. There were only a couple of wormy fries in the serving so that is a big plus.

The verdict

I enjoyed the burger but it’s not something that I see myself craving again anytime soon. It’s not a place that I’d turn from if a friend wanted to go but it’s not a place that I’d think to suggest if we were trying to decide on a place to go. There are better burgers out there but there are also many worse ones. As far as fast food burgers go, this burger was pretty good.  I’d say from my experience, the flavor of the Thickburger is among the tops that I’ve had in the fast food category. I’ve had better burgers but they were from places not typically classified as fast food.

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