When I was growing up, all I knew was the fast food hamburger. A fifth-grade field trip to Discovery Place in North Carolina introduced me to Fuddrucker’s, the most grown-up burger I had ever seen, where you could order your sandwich in a variety of sizes and with pretty much any topping you can imagine.
Since then, I’ve had fancy $20 burgers in New York City, burgers made of buffalo meat and clog-your-arteries burgers cooked in butter and piled high with bacon, cheese and greasy onions. I’ve even seen a burger with buns made out of, of all things, Krispy Kreme doughnuts (seen, not tasted!).
But sometimes all you want is a good burger, plain and simple. So I decided to pick up my friend Laura for lunch at Olde Time Burgers on Walton Way (in the same shopping center as the black-and-white spotted building).
With its stark white interior and plain black chairs, the restaurant ain’t fancy, but the line of folks waiting to order told me something pretty good must be happening in the kitchen. As did the crowd of older folks who tottered out with big smiles and their brown-bagged to-go orders clutched in trembling hands.
The woman in line ahead of us heard us talking about how we’d never been to Olde Time Burgers and gave us a quick history.
Olde Time Burgers opened originally in 1953 as What-a-Burger (pronounced Watta-burger) in Harrisburg. It became Broad Street Burger in the 2000s, and when the Kroc Center was built, the original building was demolished and the restaurant moved to a new location on Walton Way, along with a new name.
“It’s not quite as good as the original,” she said confidentially. She remembered going to the What-a-Burger as a little girl, and the older couple who ran it. “But it’s pretty good. I’m here just about every week!”
The Bautistas now own and operate Olde Time Burgers. Their Filipino roots are reflected in a decorative, hand-illustrated sign offering lumpia, eggrolls filled with beef or pork. But otherwise, I imagine the no-frills menu is much the same as it was back in 1953 – burgers and cheeseburgers (either all the way or old-fashioned), hot dogs and sausage dogs, fish and chicken sandwiches, and milkshakes in vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.
The prices can’t have changed by much, either. A single burger or cheeseburger is less than $3, while combos, which include fries or onion rings (add an extra quarter for onion rings) and a drink are less than $6.
“They have the best onion rings in town,” confided our helpful friend as she walked off with a box full of food for her office. So we ordered them, along with burgers (I chose all the way, but without mayo) and a drink.
We found a seat near the front of the restaurant as it was beginning to fill up with diners – medical staff in scrubs, men in business suits who pulled off their jackets and rolled up their sleeves, even a few teens. It wasn’t long before they called our numbers.
The tiny, flimsy orange tray held a white Styrofoam soda cup plus the burger and onion rings, each wrapped in crisp white paper. I added a dollop of ketchup from the bottles near the cashier, plus straws and napkins.
It’s not a huge burger (my husband, who went to the What-a-Burger when he was a kid, remembers them as the biggest burgers he’d ever seen), but it’s a good handful – a soft white bun, the browned patty, tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle and ketchup and mustard. (Laura ordered an old-fashioned burger, which had the same toppings minus the ketchup.) And it was a good burger – like something I might fry up for myself at home – simple, straightforward, fresh and not at all greasy.
Our friend in line also didn’t steer us wrong when it came to our sides. The onion rings really were the best I’ve ever had – crisp and golden on the outside and tender on the inside. And yes! (internal fist pump) – as I bit into the onion ring, the breading actually stuck to the rest of the onion instead of sliding off, which is one of my pet peeves.
As we left, too full to order a milkshake for dessert (this time), the experience just reinforced to me that good food really doesn’t have to be fancy, and a good burger doesn’t have to come slathered in special sauce or stacked with gooey, greasy toppings. Olde Time’s certainly figured that out – with 50-plus years of happy customers to prove them right.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Olde Time Burgers, 1244C Walton Way
HOURS: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to
SECOND HELPING: (706) 736-4464 or find them on Facebook