|Now I give you everything. © Ryan Schierling|
Southern Californians wax poetic about In-N-Out Burger. Residents love it, expats long for it. Non-believers lambaste it, converts celebrate it, food tourists do the requisite research and try to give it a straight-up fair shot.
We are food tourists.
In-N-Out set up camp in Texas this year, initially blessing three stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Like loaves and fishes, they multiplied to nine stores with another currently on the way. It can't be long before they're here in Austin, San Antonio and Houston.
Texas is the fifth state to grow the SoCal chain in an easterly direction, and the 63-year-old, privately-owned company (no franchises), was received with open arms and people camping out for days prior to the first opening. Building a distribution center in Dallas, In-N-Out secures a 500-mile radius for new stores which could include a nice bible-belt swath of the midwest - including Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and wee bits of Tennessee and Alabama.
The thing is, at least in Texas, there are no shortage of local burger chains with a similar "all-fresh, never-frozen, no-microwaves" policy. I will admit that In-N-Out's "burger on top" model pleases me greatly, and our visit to the Arlington location this week impressed me. The store was bright, immaculate, and well-staffed with well-trained disciples who were eager to serve. We'd read up on AHT's research and had suggestions from Wm. A, so we were ready to make an inaugural order.
I went with a double-double, animal-style, extra-toast. Julie had a grilled cheese with grilled onion and chopped chilies. French fries were ordered regular, no alterations, to see what the benchmark was. Drinks were fast-food Texas proper, which is to say, Dr. Pepper.
Service was quick. We pulled into the lot at 1:40 p.m. Despite having 15 cars in the drive-thru when we walked through the front door, a line of ten ahead of us and every seat in the joint occupied, we had our food and were seated in a booth in little more than ten minutes. The way this In-N-Out turned a busy lobby was pure professionalism. The burgers were solid and tasty. I knew mine was going to be a messy handful (which is why I went with an extra-toasted bun), and Julie was pleasantly surprised with her veg option. The fries were certainly fresh... I mean, they were a whole potato less than an hour ago. But that's about all the praise I can heap upon them - they were bland, blonde, flaccid and under-seasoned. Internet reviews tend to echo these sentiments across the board, and most seem to prefer to order their In-N-Out fries "well-done," "animal-style" with melty cheese, grilled onions and a hearty dollop of spread (Thousand-Island-ish dressing), or they just skip the fries altogether and order a second burger.
When they inevitably break ground here, Austin competition will certainly be P. Terry's Burger Stand, which is as close to In-N-Out as you'll get in Texas (except they have a delicious Andrew Brooks/Spirited Food fresh veggie Austin-hippie burger that both Julie and I really dig).
And, you know, it only took eight little chapters in the bible to go from full-on vegetarian to meat-eating*. Texas is a red-meat-eating-sonofagun-state, so when In-N-Out comes to town, get yourself in line before someone calls you a Godless-pinko-communist-veggie-burger-eating hippie (even if you're only going to order the grilled cheese, which is quite delicious.)
*Genesis 1:29-30 - "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be food for you. And to the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food. And it was so."
Genesis 9:1-3 - "Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon all of the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, now I give you everything."