Back when I was a kid, eating out was a treat. I remember going to Straw Hat Pizza for “report card treats” — what we got for good report cards. I remember Senor Pepe’s — a Mexican restaurant in the same little strip mall as one of the Straw Hats we frequented. And I remember the occasional trip to McDonald’s when my parents could feed our family of six for $5. I don’t remember a lot of other dining opportunities although I’m sure there were others. There were two reasons for this. First, we were a family of six living, as many families back then did, on one income. As a result, eating out wasn’t something the budget allowed all that often.
Second, and more relevant here, is that I grew up when there was one fast food restaurant every five miles instead of five restaurants on every corner. Don’t believe me? Within a mile and a half of the ol’ homestead, there are:
McDonalds, Carl’s Jr., five pizza places, two doughnut shops, Subway, Togo’s, (the Quizno’s closed a couple of years ago), three Chinese restaurants, a BBQ hole in the wall, two Mexican restaurants that are almost right next to each other, a Taco Bell, a yogurt shop, and I think a Japanese restaurant. Go another couple of miles and you have the same thing. In any direction.
Oh, and I forgot … the place that is a combination Kentucky Fried Chicken and A & W.
Back in the day, fast food was this beautiful thing that was a rare treat. There was a McDonald’s about five miles away at Manlove and Folsom. At some point a Burger King and Taco Bell showed up next to the McDonald’s. The Taco Bell where I discovered the beauty of combination burritos with green sauce — still the Taco Bell go to for me. In the other direction, there wasn’t much until you got to the place we went for frosties (aka soft serve cones) every now and then.
And, then, over there, over at La Riviera Drive and College Town, by the college, there was an A & W. (By the way, here’s where I wanted to insert an image of an old-fashioned A & W restaurant/drive-thru. So, I googled “old fashioned a & w restaurant” … and everything that came up was related to Wendy’s, a completely different fast food hamburger restaurant. Try it.)
At least this is my memory … in a strip mall at that intersection, there was an A & W, an old-fashioned drive-thru. There also, at some point back then, was Foxy Loxy — a bagel shop before anybody in California knew what a bagel was. But I remember going to the A & W every now and then. They had burgers named after family members. The Papa Burger. The Mama Burger. The Teen Burger. (And, here’s where I googled “traditional a & w menu” and got … absolutely nothing related to A & W. Go ahead. Try it. You’ll be stunned by the results.) And I remember the root beer. That was what A & W’s thing was … good ol’ fashioned root beer.
Somewhere along the way, that A & W went the way of the dinosaur and A & W pretty much dropped off the face of the local restaurant scene.
Until that combination KFC/A & W showed up down the street. And I didn’t get a burger there … until a month or two ago. For some reason, I just didn’t think they would be that good. Maybe I had one when they first opened and it didn’t seem quite right. Anyway, thanks to John Callaghan, a blogger from Canada who made a comment about how much he enjoyed the Papa Burger at his local A & W ….
Wait … there are A & W’s in Canada, too? And they still have the Papa Burger? Well, now I’m gonna have to try it. It took me a couple of months and when I did … hey, wait a sec, I like this. A double cheeseburger with the usual condiments. Unlike a McDonald’s burger and many of the other fast food burgers these days that seem to be overly processed and somehow just not real (I mean, the next time you have a burger from McDonald’s or Carl’s Jr or Jack in the Box, or Burger King, look at the meat and ask yourself, does this actually look like real ground beef), the A & W burger seems to be actual beef. I had another one a couple of days ago and found myself my new favorite burger. It’s not high class. Not gourmet. But it’s a decent burger with that little connection to a memory from way back then.
And, it’s just down the street.