A place that advertises itself as selling “butterburgers” risks being lumped in with the dozens of other fast-food American burger joints that rise and fall annually. Culver’s does sell burgers—on buttered buns—but a visit inside reveals there’s more here than just having it your way and getting back on the road.
It starts with the outside of the restaurant. Located on a busy stretch of (under construction) U.S. 98, Culver’s looks like a sit-down kind of place, though they do have a well-trafficked drive-through window service. There’s outdoor dining, on a covered patio.
Inside, there’s a service counter where diners place their orders. The remainder of the place offers several dining rooms, with two- and four-top tables, sleek booths with cushioned seats, and a nice measure of privacy. The walls have wood panel accents, with pretty pictures. Not a truck stop or diner. More of a family restaurant.
The menu behind the counter covers nearly half the wall. Before your first visit, I’d suggest checking out the menu online, or getting a brochure-sized menu (near the door), grabbing a seat, and studying your options. There’s a lot to absorb.
Reading left to right one sees frozen custard (specialty of the house), sundaes, shakes, butterburger variations, snack pack meals, value baskets, sides, beverages, dinners, soups, salads and kids meals, and a list of specials. Pints of frozen custard in assorted flavors are found in a freezer for purchase to go. My daughter Grace (now 7) and I ate lunch at Culver’s. She adores ice cream (frozen custard equals ice cream, in her world), but she humored my insistence that she eat lunch first, before dessert.
If you grew up in Ohio (or generally in the Midwest) in the 1950s and ’60s, you might recall restaurants like Frisch’s Big Boy, Parkmoor, Hasty Tasty, and similar places. They were single-owned or small-chain places that catered to families. Looking over the menu at Culver’s, I recognized some familiar items. Aside from the burgers, fries, onion rings, chili and malts, there are sandwiches of beef pot roast and fried pork tenderloin, plus fried cheese curds, all certified examples of Midwestern homestyle cuisine (Culver’s started out in Sauk City, Wisconsin).
I couldn’t get out without having a butterburger, so I went big and ordered a double cheeseburger with bacon, and fries (a basket meal, which includes a drink). Grace had a single burger with fries and her usual, chocolate milk.
Orders are taken at the counter, and the food is brought out to the table. It was a short wait, but by the time we were served, the place was filling up, with a long line of local office workers, vacationers, first responders, and a platoon of construction workers. Glad we got there early.
The burgers were well made—fresh, hot and juicy, the buns crisply toasted and, yes, buttery. The fries were uniformly crisp and from-the-fryer hot. I finished all of my food. Grace kept her eyes on the dessert list, consuming only about half of her lunch.
Other menu choices include burger variations, a reuben, grilled or fried chicken, dinner plates of fried cod or shrimp, pot roast and chopped steak, salads, and lower-calorie options.
Dessert for me was a vanilla malt, while Grace chose the frozen custard flavor of the day, Mint Explosion. I needed a spoon for the malt, which had a strong, slightly nutty taste. The cone was loaded with pieces of Oreos and Andes chocolate mints. Grace is still talking about it.
To go, we got a fried pork tenderloin sandwich, crisp and sticking out over the bun—it brought back Ohio memories of eating in my parents’ car, off a window tray. On a subsequent visit (again with Grace), I had the pot roast sandwich, on a bun with a thick layer of lean, tender beef. They gave me steak sauce but it really didn’t need a thing—except the steaming hot onion rings I ordered with it.
On that same visit, Grace ordered a single scoop of chocolate frozen custard, with hot fudge, M&M’s and Nestle Crunch pieces. I ordered a vanilla sundae with caramel and cashew sauce. I ate all of mine (whole cashews, nice touch), and ended up eating most of Grace’s, a critical mass of chocolate-on-chocolate that kept me away from ice cream for about a day.
Even if you’re a lot younger than me and have never gone near the Midwest, it’s definitely worth a visit to Culver’s.
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