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Classic Indiana: The Breaded Cheeseburger

By • Aug 9th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

A recent family vacation had me “Back Home Again in Indiana” (native Hoosiers and anyone who has attended the Indy 500 over the past 30 years now has Jim Nabors’ velvety baritone voice stuck in their heads – you’re welcome) for a couple weeks of R&R.

My trips back to Indiana- like most homecomings- are typically filled with as much nostalgia as I can pack in: seeing family and friends, taking trips down Memory Lane, revisiting sites from my past.  Not that long ago, all I wanted was to move away… and now when I go back, I revel in all the little things that are unique to the place I call home.

One Midwestern tradition that’s hung on through the decades is the root beer stand.  Not “faux-retro” like Sonic, these largely-independent, often-dilapidated mom-and-pop drive-ins are the real deal.

They’re not retro because a design team came in and made it look that way during the last week of construction; they’re retro because they’re really damn old.  This roadside sign would fetch an eBay fortune as “vintage Americana,” but here, it’s just their sign.

That’s the B-K Root Beer Stand in Warsaw, Indiana, a city of 13,000 in the middle of the state’s North Central lake country.  Despite the “Best Kind” notation on the sign, B-K really stood for “Bergerson and Kenefick,” the 1940s-era founders of a small chain of such stands in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

At one time, there were 238 of them, according to records.  But now, they’re few and far between in a world where McDonald’s isn’t satisfied until they’re selling wraps and smoothies on every street corner and Burger King has cold beer and free Wi-Fi.  These places struggle to survive, each a tiny oasis of remember-when, where the owner himself takes your order with a pencil and notepad when you roll your car window down and brings your food on a metal tray that rests on the glass.

The centerpiece of this lunch was another Midwestern classic, the kind of menu item that you’ll only find in the right kind of place.  Among cheeseburger fanatics, it’s practically a Great White Whale, an elusive mystery that exists in fables but is ever seen by just a lucky few.  Ladies and gentlemen, now presenting… the breaded cheeseburger.

The pork tenderloin sandwich is Indiana’s unofficial state dish, a plate-sized piece of pig that’s pounded paper-thin, breaded, deep-fried, and served right-out-of-the-oil hot with pickles and mayo (or mustard) on an absurdly-small bun.  The breaded cheeseburger is its close cousin.

A thin cheebie is given that same crispy coating to seal in the cheese, which turns into a molten liquid just a tad cooler than fresh magma. Biting into one end of the burger often causes the back side to rupture, resulting in a fiery fromage freefall.  It burns like hell, even through standard-issue cargo shorts.

The taste is a strange thing to describe. Very hot and juicy, since the breading seals everything in.  But it’s small and relatively thin, and that can make the overall experience feel like a letdown, since we’ve all been numbed by the industry-wide Big Badass Burger Syndrome.  My breaded cheeseburger was a nice little nosh that I enjoyed with a not-quite-frosty mug of handcrafted root beer…

And nothing more.  Or so I thought. I mean, honestly, it didn’t taste discernibly different from a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich… just a lot smaller.  So what’s the big deal, right? But damn if I didn’t find myself literally craving another one within the hour.  Blinded by nostalgia or not, THAT’S the mark of a good cheeseburger.

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5 Responses to “Classic Indiana: The Breaded Cheeseburger”

  1. 1
    Jerry Wagoner Says:

    The Breaded Cheeseburgers are made by Pierceton Foods in Pierceton, IN 574-594-2344

  2. 2
    Steve Silveus Says:

    Boy, this brings a tear to my eye!
    I worked behind the counter at this little peice of Americana during the mid 50′s My job was to pass the hot dogs from the kitchen to the waiting car tray, draw the root beer,(I could hold 5 or 6 ten cent mugs in one hand & take the money from the car hop at the same time) Wow! I was GOOD!
    I learned my multiplicaton tables for the 15′s there. 6 15cent hot dogs =90 cents. 7 15cent hot dogs= $1.05 etc etc.
    there was a code from the car hops to the counter guy. it went like this “three,two spanish onion, two large & a float & 1/2″ yeah “1/2″! we actually gave away a baby sized mug to the little kids for free.

    it was my first real job with benefits. the deal was we could drink all the root beer we could hold, FREE. But the hot dogs were just offered at a discount.

    It was at the B& K that I first heard Elvis Presley pouring out “Hound Dog” from a customers car radio I first saw a 1954 Corvette from behind that counter.My first real car date was one of the car hops there. Details on that another time!

    Also, it was here that I learned an early lesson about employees barginaing rights, or LACK of them! We all decided to go on strike during fair week for higher wages. We wrongly figured that all management could do would be to cave in & give us our nickel & dime raises. The off site owner told our manager to “fire us all!”. They & I meekly came back to work feeling lucky to still have our jobs.

    The B&K root beer stand is the oldest standing drive in left around. A real icon. Still going strong!

    Steve Silveus

  3. 3
    Clint Pletcher Says:

    Wow….what memories this brings back. My uncle Paul Pletcher owned a wholesale food supply to restaurants, bars, etc and sold through out the North Central portion of Indiana. He was the inventor of the breaded cheeseburger. In those days it was known as Pletcher’s Foods and later changed to Pierceton Foods and sold to Jerry Wagner. I remember his diligent work in trying to perfect the cheese consistency and finally took it to market sometime circa 1960′s. I would ride with him or one of his drivers calling on the loyal customers. Good ol days when small business could survive in a small niche market. Here’s to “Uncle Paul” since deceased ….one of the most inventive people that I have ever known.

    Paul….if you are listening, I am so proud of this legacy given to our family name…dripping cheese and all!

  4. 4
    Edie Enders Says:

    This sure does bring back memories! I was born & raised in Warsaw. The root beer stand was one of my favorites. Spanish hot dogs were the best! The Flagpole for homemade ice cream. My brother always buys a case of breaded cheeseburgers when I go up to visit so we can indulge. I totally understand what you mean. All I wanted was to get out of there, but now when I go visit, it’s so peaceful and layed back, I love it!

  5. 5
    Nancy S. Says:

    I worked in a little place called “The Igloo” in Silver Lake where one of the menu favorites was breaded cheeseburgers. Most days the employees had one for lunch. I’m now in PA and nobody has ever heard of a breaded cheeseburger. Hoosiers know what really good food is ! (And only about a million calories each – worth every calorie!)

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