This is the Place
Fat Boy and Fries, YES — Grilled Chicken a DEFINITE No
Restaurant: Ab's Drive-In
I frequent Ab's Drive-In pretty regularly. I love old-fashioned drive-in burger joints. Ab's is doing their part to keep the old-fashioned drive-in alive. And, in the words of Milton Friedman, I "exercise the democratic power of the dollar" when it comes to things I like.
The location in West Jordan is the second, and they have done a lot to make it look and feel like the kind of place that I grew up seeing on TV on programs like "Happy Days." There is no big Italian guy named Al in the back, and they didn't have an American Bandstand mix playing overhead, but that's about all it's missing.
Ab's Drive-In is all about burgers, shakes and fries. Their signature burger is the Fat Boy. (Their signage outside proclaims them "the home of the Fat Boy.") And it is a good burger. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
When you enter, you are greeted by all kinds of black-and-white checkered décor, old-fashioned chrome stools at the bar (and, yes, the counter and the edges of the tables are wrapped in chrome, too). There are old pictures of the original Ab's, and Ab himself, telling a little of the place's history, and rolls of paper towels on the tables, rather than napkins.
I ordered and paid at the register, which took a little time, because the kid at the register was new, and kept having problems, requiring another girl to come over and help him. Twice. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that he was so painfully uncomfortable, that I just kept thinking, "Why are you leaving him up here alone? Save him! Save me!" Then I gave him my name and found a place to sit. The place can get pretty busy, and they sometimes fall behind on wiping down the tables. This was just such an occasion, so I didn't get to sit in my favorite booth (near the back door, because the A/C is a little weaker there — it is always on the chilly side in there). Service is uniformly fast, and this was no exception, when he called out my name to come pick up my tray. I ordered my usual, the Fat Boy with Fries, fry sauce and a Dr. Pepper.
Every time I pick my tray, I stare at those thin-cut fries, fresh out of the fryer and just can't wait to salt them — "when they're vulnerable," as Emeril would say — and dig in. That's a strange thing about Ab's fries. I almost always start out with my main course but, here, it's always that first French fry, hot and dipped in their own mix of fry sauce.
First words out of my mouth when I took the first bite: "Oh, yeah."
I don't know what it is about their fries that makes them so great. They're fresh cut (I've seen them slamming the potatoes through the cutter on many an occasion — and I do mean "slam"). But they are crispy and thin, like McDonad's fries used to be when I was a kid — but better. And their fry sauce is excellent. It's not just ketchup and mayo, like most places. It's sweet. And that just really kicks it up a notch (sorry, Emeril, I did it again).
Next came the Fat Boy. It's a double burger with cheese, shredded lettuce, ketchup and relish. Yes, I said relish. I can't name one other burger joint that puts relish on their burgers. And that's another thing that really makes Ab's stand out. The Fat Boy is a good burger, and consistently so. In-N-Out Burger holds nothing over Ab's in this department.
Another thing that I really like about Ab's is the ice in their drinks. It's crushed ice — you know, the good ice. And I love it. I imagine it makes the ice machine more expensive, but it sure makes a big difference to me. If I'm in the area, and even if I can get a cheaper drink at the gas station across the street, I go to Ab's.
Last words when finishing the meal: "Why isn't there one of these a little closer to home?"
On my second visit, I was unsure what to order, because going to Ab's and not ordering the Fat Boy is like going to Disney Land and not getting on a ride. However, no restaurant should have only a single note.
The first thing to strike me as I entered Ab's, though, was not about the food. It was the music playing. In most of the times that I had been to Ab's I had never noticed them playing anything other than '80s hits or nothing at all. This time, though, they were playing the most twangy, throat ululating country music that I had ever heard. And it definitely did not jive with everything else Ab's has going on. I looked at who was behind the counter and everyone I saw was unfamiliar to me, where I was used to seeing faces I recognized. Hmn. Interesting.
I looked at the wall menu board and decided on chicken, but was unsure which: grilled or breaded. So I asked the kid at the register. He said that he liked the grilled and that I could have it with lemon pepper or just grilled. Again, I asked which he liked, and he said just grilled. So I went with that, told him to add bacon, for an extra buck, paid at the register, and had to repeat my name twice, because the god-awful country music was playing too loud. Guess I should have said it three times because, when the woman called my "name" when my food was ready, it had grown an extra syllable, and really sounded nothing like my actual first name. But, luckily, I was the only man in the place, so it was clearly mine.
When I sat back down, I realized that there were actual napkin dispensers on the tables. That was a bummer, because I kind of liked the rolls of paper towels on the tables. And my sandwich was also looking a bit suspect.
First words out of my mouth: "That's a very white grilled chicken."
I was afraid that the chicken would be bland, because I could see no seasoning on it, and even the grill marks were barely light brown.
First words out of my mouth after the first bite: "And it tastes white."
It was quite possibly the most bland piece of chicken I had
ever eaten. If not for having added the bacon, I think it might have
been completely devoid of flavor whatsoever. How disappointing. Maybe I
should have gone with
The fries, as always, were awesome, with their fry sauce. But that was not enough to save the day. Particularly not for a $8.99 sandwich combo.
Then I took a drink and insult was added to injury. Where was the good ice? My cup did not have the crumbled ice!
Last words when finishing the meal: "I hate being disappointed."
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.