Saturday, Mar 09 2013 01:00 PM

PETE TITTL: More than just another burger joint

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Terry Cumberworth, left, and Tim Miller seem to enjoy lunch at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers at 2649 Calloway Drive in Bakersfield.

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  2. 2 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, which Pete Tittl picked as one of the best new chain restaurants in town, offers this enticing concoction called the Hawaiian dessert.

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  3. 3 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    At 2:30 p.m., Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers still packs a near-full house.

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  4. 4 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    The Chicago hotdog combo made with kosher Vienna hot dogs may become one of the favorites at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers at 2649 Calloway Drive in Bakersfield.

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  5. 5 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A double bacon cheeseburger with fries from Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers at 2649 Calloway Drive in Bakersfield.

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  6. 6 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers at 2649 Callaway Drive in Bakersfield.

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By PETE TITTL, Contributing columnist

Back in the day, when our children were younger, our summer visits to family in Wisconsin were dominated by trips to Culver's, a chain that boasts of great frozen custard and "butter burgers." Based on the passion generated by that restaurant chain (with locations all over Texas, Wisconsin and various states in between), I always wondered if such a place would be a hit in Bakersfield.

Now we have a very similar restaurant, which may actually be a step above Culver's: Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, which opened after the first of the year on Calloway just north of Rosedale, across from Dewar's. It has only two flavors, vanilla and chocolate, but it offers them with mix-ins and toppings that jazz it up and transform the dense, soft-serve product into something special. And it has burgers with a "butter-toasted bun" that are just as appealing.

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FREDDY'S FROZEN CUSTARD & STEAKBURGERS

2649 Calloway Drive

587-3374

FreddysUSA.com

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday (drive-thru open an hour later each day).

Prices: Custard, $3.69-$5.59; sandwiches, $2.99 to $6.49; hot dogs, $2.59 to $3.89; combos, $5.29 to $8.79; "other foods," $1.89 to $7.99; child's meal, $4.49.

Payment: MasterCard, VISA, American Express and Discover accepted. Personal checks not accepted.

Dress: Casual

Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; no alcohol served; some vegetarian options.

Food: ***1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Service: ***1/2

Value: ***

Another burger chain I'm fond of that isn't in Bakersfield is Steak 'n Shake, a chain I first visited back in Florida in the 1970s. It was McDonald's before McDonald's was McDonald's, opening in 1934 in Normal, Ill. This was back when people were suspicious of what was in the hamburger meat, so founder Gus Belt would make sure the meat was ground in front of customers and was fond of including expensive cuts of beef in the mix, hence the restaurant's name.

I mention Steak 'n Shake because the burgers are quite similar at Freddy's, and they could discombobulate those unfamiliar with the style. These patties are not thick like those found at Juicy Burger. They have a thinness and a crunchy texture, which, with the butter presence, makes for a winning product. But it can get positively crumbly at the edges, and that might take some getting used to. You can get the burger in single or double size, as part of a patty melt with Swiss cheese and exceptional grilled onions (very sweet and dark) or "California style" with Thousand Island dressing.

I got the bacon and cheese double steakburger combo ($7.79), and the crisp bacon was glistening under the bun. Do not eat here before your cholesterol test, or you will fail it.

The potatoes are real shoestring fries (reminding me of the thickness of some laces I had in a pair of boots). They're not fresh-cut, but they do have seasoning salt on them and can be hard to resist. On another visit we got the chili cheese fries ($3.49), featuring a quite average chili and a gloppy yellow "jalapeno cheese sauce."

My companion ordered a Chicago Dog ($3.29), made with mustard, relish, tomato, pickles, diced onions, peppers and the key ingredient, celery salt. They use Vienna Beef dogs (a plus) but they're skinless (a negative). It's presented on a butter-toasted bun.

We also had the chance to sample the grilled chicken breast sandwich ($4.69), which is disappointingly simple (lettuce and tomato). But I must say the veggie burger ($4.89) is a great choice, using a patty made from black beans and probably mushrooms. We're lucky to be living in a time where technology has made the meat substitutes so appealing.

There's a lot of good to say about the frozen custard, which gets its rich taste not just from the eggs added but from additional butterfat. Think of it as fresh-made, ready-to-melt Haagen-Dazs. We sampled a signature turtle sundae ($4.39) made with hot fudge and hot caramel, and, on another visit, the Hawaiian, a specialty "concrete" ($4.89, with macadamia nuts, pineapple, coconut and strawberry). The best thing about them is they ended up being served before our regular food was done, so it's like starting a meal with dessert. I highly recommend it.

I know some may look at the typical long lines of a new restaurant in Bakersfield and be discouraged from visiting, but we were stunned at the speed of both the ordering process and the food preparation on our two visits. The line stretched to the door both times (don't even get me started about the drive-thru), but every cash register was manned by cheerful people. There is one station handling the ice cream, and they call out your number when ready. The sandwiches and other foods are served when your number is called at another window. I peeked inside and it looked like they had a squadron of people working all the orders as they came in. They have a system that works and the right people in place to make it happen.

Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

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