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Dining out: Culver's fast food is far from ordinary

Published: Thursday, March 3 2011 5:16 p.m. MST

A few years ago, we took a driving trip to Chicago for a family reunion.

Heading back across the state toward Iowa, we passed through miles and miles of beautiful Illinois farm country, just about as green and fecund and lovely as you've ever pictured in your mind.

And every few miles, there was a billboard with a huge, gorgeous hamburger piled high with toppings, or a luscious, dew-beaded shake. "Frozen custard," the signs read. "ButterBurgers."

Finally, I couldn't stand it, and we pulled off the highway to have a ButterBurger and some custard ourselves. That was my first trip to Culver's.

And now, thanks to a Culver's opening in my own town, it doesn't have to be my last.

A trip to the Midvale Culver's won't be nearly as picturesque as a drive through the Midwestern countryside — it's west of I-15 in a WinCo parking lot.

But diners will get plenty of brisk Midwestern service — many of the store's managers are Culver's veterans imported from Wisconsin. And the food? I'm not going to lie: it's fast food, at fast-food prices. But with high-quality, never-frozen beef, toasted buns spread with butter and a whole menu of custard delights, it's fast food that's quite a distance from ordinary.

My husband and I joined our friends Brady and Carla for dinner at Culver's, and though I was excited to eat another ButterBurger, I was temporarily diverted by the "Favorites" side of the menu, which includes various chicken entrees, fish, a pork tenderloin (signature sandwich of the Midwest, by the way) and, most temptingly of all, the pot roast sandwich.

My mouth watered as I heard a Culver's staff member tell a customer the pot roast is an actual roast, slow-cooked and hand-shredded. But I remembered the excellence of that first ButterBurger and focused, eventually straying just a little off the burger path with my Wisconsin Swiss melt.

A twist on the regular patty melt, this sandwich featured crispy toasted wheat bread layered with tons of sweet grilled red onions, nippy Swiss cheese and a nicely seared beef patty. That was it; but the quality of the ingredients and care of preparation were obvious.

Rather than combo meals, Culver's guests can construct "value baskets" of any entree item, one of eight sides and a drink. The sides are a nice selection — everything from fries and soup of the day to coleslaw and seasoned green beans.

There also are meals, complete with dinner roll and sides, that you'd expect to see at a diner: butterfly shrimp, chopped steak, fried chicken.

With my patty melt, I had a "premium" side, the Dairyland Cheese Curds. As a loyal fan of Cache Valley cheese companies, I have long been a lover of salty, squeaky curds. Culver's coats them in crumbs and deep-fries them until they're tender, but still sturdily chewy, and salty enough that they don't really need dipping sauce.

We also shared some onion rings that were close to perfect, lightly batter-dipped, juicy and slightly sweet.

My husband had a bacon burger, his usual favorite, with bacon done as well here as everything else we tried; with crispy crinkle-cut fries.

Then it was time for some custard, in the form of a couple of tall concretes, those thick shakes with mix-ins also featured at places like Nielsen's Frozen Custard.

Our Culver's concretes were a sweet and refreshing mint Oreo and a darker, earthier chocolate almond fudge, both with a base of wonderfully thick, rich and silky custard. Every day there's chocolate, vanilla and a flavor — turtle cheesecake, caramel fudge cookie dough, red raspberry, cherry pecan — that don't repeat for the whole month of March.

Burgers and sandwiches $2.59-$5.19 (value baskets $2.70-$3.70 extra), salads $4.29-$6.29, dinner plates $5.79-$10.99, chicken (8-20 pieces) $11.99-$25.99, sides (regular to family size) $1.59-$6.49, custard desserts $1.99-$19.99.

Culver's

Rating: ★★★

Where: 7165 S. Bingham Junction Blvd., Midvale

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Phone: 801-565-9999

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Wheelchair access: Easy

Web: www.culvers.com

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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