Monday, April 4, 2011

Wayne's Drive Inn - Where else could you order 'steak fingers' with a large 'Love Potion No. 9?'

I'm writing from Las Vegas, and though I'm eager to share some fabulous food finds in this city (and some we uncovered during the few days we spent driving to reach it), I still have a bit of unfinished Oklahoma business to which I must attend - the business of introducing you to the last location in my three-site, "ultimate burger crawl" through south western Oklahoma.

Just to recap, my first stop was the Meers Store & Restaurant, in the middle of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, serving up large, but lean Longhorn burgers, some giant-sized sides and some not-so-lean desserts.  My second destination, Burgess Grill, in downtown Lawton, boasted a wide selection of burgers and typical diner fare with a few interesting additions (orange chicken or a Kamikazeburger, anyone?) and a huge local following. After visiting these two favorites, the third stop could only be Wayne's Drive Inn - another local institution and a popular contender, together with Burgess and Meers, for the best burger in/near Lawton, OK.  Since each restaurant has its loyal and vocal champions, I decided to test this decades-old rivalry myself and settle it once and for all.

The original Wayne's Drive Inn opened in Lawton in 1950, but it was actually the second venture of Oklahoma-native, Wayne Abshere, who started his restaurant business in 1947, with a hamburger stand in Arvin, California.  When Abshere moved back to Oklahoma, he and his wife, Mary, opened Wayne's Burger Bar.  Two satellite locations followed, but by the early 1960s, the current location on Sheridan Road was the place to find Wayne's delicious, reasonably-priced diner food.  Like Burgess, Wayne's is a family affair - Abshere's three children worked at the diner through college, and the business is now owned by his sons, Bob and Chuck.

The original burger bar featured inside counter seating, but the current building is a classic drive-in, complete with curbside service from personable car hops.  Matt and I made the trip for dinner with a friend, so my backseat pictures didn't come out too well, but if you've ever been to a mom-and-pop drive-in, I'm sure you can imagine the atmosphere at Wayne's - they even have the old-fashioned window trays! 

The menu is pretty extensive but, for the sake of comparison (and because they're incredibly tasty), I went with a bacon cheeseburger.  We were advised to save some room for a Wayne's classic - 'steak fingers' served with onion rings, fries and garlic toast - so we asked for an order to share.  To quench our thirst, there were the usual fountain drinks, as well as shakes and slushies, but I was intrigued by a beverage called Love Potion No. 9.  I'm not a big soda drinker, but the general consensus was that it tasted something like Cherry Mountain Dew.  Of course, the 'new' name makes it sound much more exciting - that's some effective marketing!

Now for the breakdown: the burger itself was delicious.  Moist and surprisingly large, it was topped with a generous cushion of lettuce, rich, melted cheese, a few strips of perfectly crispy bacon and a lightly toasted bun. The onion rings were good, if a little overly greasy, and I was amazed at how skinny and light the fries were. As for the steak fingers, well, let's just say they might be an acquired taste.  Essentially, they're a thin log of ground steak, covered in a thick layer of batter and deep fried to a glistening, golden brown (think 'steak corndog,' but with a savory-not-sweet batter). I was hoping for a magical experience, but unfortunately found them incredibly greasy and a bit mealy in texture. It's definitely an experience, but not one I'm sure I'd repeat. In all fairness, since I'm not a huge steak fan and don't usually enjoy fried foods, I may not be the best judge of this particular local favorite.

Who knew steak had fingers???

So, now the all-important question - did my visit to Wayne's shed any further light on my search for the 'best burger' in this little corner of the world? Well, not so much.  I enjoyed the Wayne's Drive Inn experience, but it wasn't my favorite burger.  However, I did love the toasted bun and thought that the portion size and price points were 'just right.'  After my extensive and oh-so-scientific testing, I don't think I can award the 'best burger' honors to just one burger joint - there were features of each that I really enjoyed, and also a few areas with room for improvement.  I can, however, provide a recipe for the 'best burger' in Lawton, OK: 

Best Burger in Lawton
1 lean and delicious Longhorn burger from Meers Store & Restaurant
1 perfectly toasted bun a la Wayne's Drive Inn
1 serving of richly caramelized onions from Burgess Grill
1 generous serving of fresh lettuce from Wayne's Drive Inn
3 just-so-crispy strips of bacon a la Meers Store & Restaurant
1 helping of gooey, melted cheese from Burgess Grill

Find a quite place to enjoy. Assemble ingredients and serve with a chaser of Burgess' Coconut Cream Pie or Meers' homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. Perfection.

Wayne's Drive Inn on Urbanspoon

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