This is the Place
Great Atmosphere, Great Food, Don't Miss the Woody Burger and Malibu Chicken
I had heard of Woody's Drive-In for years, but had never been. Which is a real bummer, because I love old fashioned burger-and-shake shops. And Woody's is that in spades.
It's a bit hard to find, if you're not familiar with the area, where Vine and Van Winkle wind around, creating a wormhole in time and space that always ends up getting me lost. In fact, I ran across Woody's completely by accident because of it. The sign boasts Burgers, Homemade Fries and Shakes, as well as Carhop, Walk-Up Window and Dine-In Service. I love all of that. What jumped out was on the part of the sign below, where they promoted a cheese-burger special and that they have Free Wi-Fi.
Part of the building is a peaked structure with thick, wood shingles. Sticking out the back is the rest of the building, a long rectangular structure where the carhop menus are posted. The walk-up window is between those and the entrance to the small dining room. But, even before opening the glass door, I was grinning like a kid.
The "roof line" is wallpapered with old-fashioned classic cars. The booths a very comfortable, although the vinyl needs repairs. The walls are covered with antique Coca-Cola signs and ads, as well as Elvis posters and a larger-than-life poster of James Dean. And, the roof extends into a shallow A-frame above the cars.
I ordered and paid at the register, going with the Woody Burger and fries. The girl waiting on me asked if I wanted it with ham or pastrami, and I asked which was better. She said the pastrami was a lot more popular. So I went with that. And, had I known they had Ironport at the soda fountain, I would've gotten that. However, I was going to a movie after, and was going to have a monster cup of soda there, so I went with water.
My food was ready rather quickly, with the girl who took my order calling out my name, then walking out my tray to me when I started to stand up.
I am a regular at Ab's Drive-In, and you can't really avoid making comparisons. At Ab's, 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. At Woody's, I found myself in the same position but, rather than the almost shoestring fries that Ab's serves, these are thick cut and clearly fried till the outside is crispy. I hit them with salt, "while they're vulnerable," to steal a phrase from Emeril. Then, although I knew it would be too hot, I couldn't stop myself from dipping in their fry sauce and taking a bite.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: “Oh, man. That's good.”
It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. That's one thing that so many restaurants have forgotten. It they're thick cut fries, they should still be crispy on the outside. Too many place serves thick fries that have the consistency of mashed potatoes that were left out in the air too long. That's certainly not the case at Woody's. My only criticism was that the fry sauce was nothing special. Just ketchup and mayo. Why not step it up and give the fry sauce a little something extra, like Ab's sweetness or Neil's Charbroiler's hit of smokiness?
Criticism aside, the fries are awesome. And, like the Philadelphian, a small is plenty for anyone. I ended up not finishing them, because the portion is so large.
Next came the Woody Burger. First of all, it's on a bakery bun that they cut and grilled to get a nice crust on the inside. Love that. It's a quarter-pounder with cheese, and layered pastrami that about matches the burger in weight. It's not brined Greek pastrami, like at Crown Burger or Apollo Burger. So don't think that you can get your Greek burger fix. This is all American, even has American cheese, torn up lettuce, tomato slices and pickles. Just looking at it, you know it’s going to be juicy and delicious.
First words out of my mouth when I took the first bite: "Oh, man. That's what I'm talking about."
The flavor is excellent, The ratio of peppered pastrami to burger is perfect, and the amount of veggies is just right. And that bun. The grilling makes it a real pleasure, both in texture and flavor. The crunch and the soft outside is a great contrast, and the grilled butteriness is just what a good burger needs.
Last words when finishing the meal: "Why is
this place in the center of the Van Winkle Sargasso?"
On my second visit, I was hard pressed, because I wanted to repeat the Woody Burger, but I needed to try something different from the menu. I was so concerned about it, that I almost missed the turn into the place, despite the prominent signage and distinct building. Ugh. I was tempted to try the car hop, but didn’t want to pass on my time warp to a better time.
Upon entering, the first thing I noticed were the old hubcaps on the wall, above the classic-car wallpaper. Like before, it just made me smile. The framed gold record and the old Elvis poster just added to it. I walked up to the register and started scanning, looking for something that would jump out at me ... and came to rest on the Malibu Chicken Sandwich. I asked the girl at the register if it was good, and she said it was one of her favorites. Fair enough, I went with it. She then asked if I wanted to make it a combo, which I did, and she asked if I wanted regular or curly fries. I love curly fries, but the fries were pretty good the last time, so I asked her which was better. She said, “They’re both good, but the regular fries are made fresh here. We cut them and everything.” Good answer. So I went with that.
This time, I remembered that they had Ironport at the soda fountain, and made a bee line for it after paying my bill. After filling my cup, I noticed that they also had Mello Yello at the fountain — another of my favorites — that you just don’t see in Utah! Woody’s was just getting better and better.
My food was ready rather quickly, with the girl who took my order calling out my name. She didn’t walk it out to me, because people were starting to file in for lunch. Interestingly, of the four people in line, four were gray-haired old men who were on a first-name basis with the girl at the register, as well as the woman cooking in the back. Again, it just left me feeling like the place was a portal back to a better time.
When I picked up my tray, I was surprised to see that there was a square of red-and-white checked wax paper on the tray under my Styrofoam plate. It was a nice little extra that you just don’t see anymore, with the corporate fast-food chains using printed liners to promote their goods or their humanitarian efforts. This wasn’t fancy, but it was homey.
As soon as I sat at my booth, I hit the thick-cut, skin-on fries with salt and picked up my sandwich.
First words out of my mouth: “Very nice.”
It was on a nice floured bun, the chicken breast cooked up on their big griddle, with ham and Swiss cheese melted over it. There was lettuce and tomato, and it was all wrapped in a piece of white paper like it had been tucked in for the night. Again, something you don’t see much anymore. And I took a bite.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: "Oh, yeah, baby."
The sandwich was excellent, juicy, with the nice blend of flavors from the chicken, ham and cheese. It was nothing fancy, but it was a good, quality sandwich, without the flavor-muting breading of the chicken cordon bleu sandwich at Arby’s.
Next came the fires. As before, they were off the hook. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and flavorful without being muddied by being fried in grease that needed changing. Not only was the restaurant itself clean, but so was its fryer grease. Excellent!
Last words when finishing the meal: "I’ve gotta come here more often."
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.