Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I think Whataburger's is the fanciest

and i'm not alone... I wish I would have written this article...

There's something about Whataburger
Texas-sized burgers, heavenly ketchup and a killer breakfast menu set this fast-food giant apart

D'IBERVILLE - The orange and white striped roof and "flying W" logo of Whataburger fast-food restaurants elicits a Pavlovian response in me. Once I see it, I immediately crave one of three things: a breakfast Taquito, the chain's hearty, distinctive take on the breakfast burrito; a Whataburger with cheese and jalapenos; and last, but certainly not least, an order of fries with at least two little tubs of the deliciously sweet, one-of-a-kind ketchup.

Until a few months ago, the closest Whataburger to the South Mississippi was in Mobile, which is where I developed a lifelong attachment to fast food during college. To me, it was the little things that made Whataburger different from its closer-to-campus counterparts: the soft buns for the Texas-sized burgers, the way the cheese melts to the inner skin of the breakfast burrito, almost forming another heavenly layer, and strangely, the ketchup.

Apparently, I'm not the only Whataburger ketchup fan. On the company Web site, there's a section where customers can write about their Whataburger experiences. Janna Otting of Mesquite, Texas, had this to say about her meal: "I don't know what it is, but there's just something about the taste of a Whataburger. I can even distinguish the smell of a Whataburger from other burgers. And I absolutely love your ketchup. I always have to get at least four ketchups with an order of fries."

"It's higher quality, fancy ketchup," says Dick Meader, one of the partners who opened the D'Iberville franchise in September. Of course, all fast food executives would say this, but Whataburger's ketchup is actually far better than any I've eaten. It doesn't hurt that it comes in cute, user-friendly little tubs that are perfect for dipping.

Though a few Whataburger fans might beg to differ, it's silly to say the restaurant's menu revolves around the ketchup. From its beginning as a small burger stand in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950, Whataburger prided itself on offering big, juicy hamburgers. It didn't even offer French fries until 1962. If I had to compare the burger to something South Mississippians are familiar with, I would say it's more similar to Sonic, than say, Hardee's. It's big, and you have to hold it with two hands.

The burgers are a great standby, but one of my favorite items on the menu is the Taquito, available from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. daily. It's a truly heavenly concoction of scrambled eggs with either sausage, hash browns, or bacon, wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. It comes with picante sauce. Add cheese and a side of fries (and plenty of ketchup), and it's the ultimate in comfort food.

Alas, one of my favorite lighter items on the menu, the chicken fajita, is no longer available, but Meader says the restaurant is considering bringing it back. They now offer a grilled chicken strip salad, however, that Meador says is one of his favorite meals. He adds jalapenos and cheese and light vinagrette.

On the flip side, healthwise, Whataburger also makes thick, old-fashioned milkshakes that are delicious.

Cooks don't start making your food until you order it, and there's no food sitting under heat lamps. This can mean a short wait, but it's well worth it.

A classic fast-food success story, Whataburger is approaching 600 locations in the U.S. and Mexico. The buildings' look has evolved from the older, 1950s-style A-frame, like the one in Mobile, to a more traditional, lower-to-the-ground building. Many franchisees like to decorate the interiors with photographs showing the history of Whataburger, but some give the eateries a more regional flair, like one in Texas that is a virtual shrine to the Dallas Cowboys.

Being the first South Mississippi Whataburger, the D'Iberville store shows pictures that help diners get to know the chain. There's a picture of the first, humble hamburger stand all the way down to the recently built, 6,000-square-foot Corpus Christi flagship restaurant, which overlooks the water, a bronze statue of the founder and fountains. The Gulfport restaurant will probably tie in pictures from Gulfport's history, he says.

After more than 50 years, Mississippi finally figures into Whataburger's growth. A Jackson restaurant opened a few weeks before the D'Iberville one, and groundbreaking on one on U.S. 49 in Gulfport should happen any day if it hasn't already. Meador says he hopes to open that restaurant by Christmas. Depending on customer response, there could be as many as 15 Whataburgers built in the area in coming years, Meador says. "Response so far has been great," he says. "We get really hectic in here and people are driving from Pascagoula and even Hattiesburg to try us out."

South Mississippi's first Whataburger is convenient to both Wal-Mart and Lowe's off Interstate 10 in D'Iberville, so many people make a meal part of their one-stop shopping. But even if it's not in your neck of the woods, Whataburger is open 24/7, so if you have a craving in the wee hours, they're ready to serve you.



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