One of the great treats of living in northern Illinois is being able to hop over the state line into Wisconsin. The land of beer, cheese, sausage, milk, football, hunting, fishing, camping, farming and hard work is a near infinite portal to the pursuit of happiness.
I need to tell you about just one of those diversions: the Culver’s Butterburger.
In an era when dairy products are viewed as gateway fats, it’s crazy to promote a burger naming butter as a signature ingredient. But in Wisconsin, what else is more appropriate? This burger is not politically correct. It’s frank, and honest.
In fact, the Butterburger is a winning trademarked name that has been touted proudly since 1984. And its sidekick? Fresh Frozen Custard, which is made with, yes, you guessed it, eggs. Not a lot, but they are in there.
The Butterburger is raw culinary honesty at its best. Culver’s makes no bones about promoting the zest and robust fullness of their foods. Yep, it’s got fat, and it tastes good. The Butterburger is a visual treat too. Packed with yellow cheddar, red tomatoes, green lettuce, pickles, and purple sweet onion, it looks like a miniature carnival carousel. It lacks only a calliope and an operator.
We were told about the Butterburger nearly 20 years ago, but never had the temerity to go to Culver’s and try one on. The thought of it repelled. We visualized a hamburger swimming in butter, squirting mayonnaise, dripping juice with every bite.
And then the ads started. We saw Craig Culver, capped and jacketed in blue, coaching the cook staff on the proper way to flatten the fresh beef patty on the grill. It had a family feel about it, and somewhat reminiscent of another family burger business, Wendy’s.
But the ads persisted, and one day, they introduced the Butterburger Deluxe Double. Two beef patties, mayo, and all the colorful rest. That was when I learned that the butter was actually brushed onto the bun and grilled before the burger was assembled. Well, that’s not so bad, is it?
So on a hot day in September, we drove to a Culver’s in Wisconsin, just over the line, and against all dining habits and trashing healthful instincts, guiltily ordered up two Deluxe Doubles to go. We waited a full five minutes as they actually cooked the burgers for us, squashing them down just like Craig instructed. Then, presented with a bulging bag of two you-know-whats, we drove like bootleggers off to a neighboring lakeside park to enjoy our feast with some ice-cold beers.
The experience was “our first” of a sort, and it was sinfully delightful. Forbidden foods should be like that. Reaching into the bag, we pulled out two promising, boxed beauties. They looked just like the ads. Sitting down on a bench, we marveled at the sensory delights of a bulging fat, colorful, shameless sandwich, dripping in beef juice and mayo. It was hot, succulent, cheesy, and messy, with chunks of tomato and purple onion escaping out the sides of our mouths. To some it might just be a burger. To me, it was ambrosia.
Just wondering how deeply we had entered into the badlands of fat, I checked the Culver’s website, and found that our Butterburger Deluxe Double weighed in at 810 calories, with 155 mg. of cholesterol. Bad? Eaten every day, not good. But once in a while, I could live with.
Incidentally, I took the fight to Wendy’s and bought a “Double Dave” named after the late Dave Thomas, founder, and felt the experience similar, but lacking the purple onion and extra mayo and raucously celebrated butter, it was a second place presentation. The Double Dave also boasted 810 calories and 175 mg. of cholesterol, but without the hutzpah, the bravado of the Butterburger’s brazen image, it didn’t deliver the guilty satisfaction I felt in Wisconsin.
The Culver’s website also gave me a look at the larger picture. It’s a family run, privately owned business, 736 restaurants sprinkled across the midwest and south. Wendy’s has 6,000. The company is HQ-ed in Sauk Wisconsin, a smallish town north of Milwaukee.
Culver’s targets its charitable giving and philanthropy towards agriculture, supporting the education of young farmers with activities in the National Future Farmers of America, Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, and most intriguing, Cows on the Concourse, in Madison Wisconsin.
Welcome–a burger most proud!