Culver's deserves that consumer's choice award

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Culver's, home of the ButterBurger, was recently named the number-one fast-food chain for food and beverage on Chain Restaurant Consumer's Choice Award list. And with nine Colorado locations for Culver's, if you haven't yet indulged yourself with one -- or more-- of its hand-spun frozen custard concretes or a sandwich with a signature buttered bun, that's a shame. You are missing out on a deliciously non-healthy meal that could include surf and turf -- done the fast-food way.

See also: - Cow Town: Culver's and Smashburger have other buns on the run. - Chain Restaurant Consumers' Choice Award winners announced -- and local spots make the list - Burger King's new Whopper, molten fudge desserts, cheesy tots and chicken nuggets

The Culver's restaurant at 9790 Washington Street is Thornton is done up '50s diner-style, and the blue-and-white checkered walls, the oldies on the sound system and the wholesome-looking employees all add to the throwback vibe of a time when music was softer, fat calories were harder, and people used words like "keen" and "icebox." I checked out the enormous menu behind the counter, complete with pictures, and I was quickly keen on getting something from the icebox.

Culver's was actually born in Wisconsin in 1984, not in the '50s. George Culver bought and gutted an A&W restaurant, started serving burgers on those buttered buns, and by 1987 the Culver family was franchising. The chain remained relatively small and local until 1995, when expansion took it outside of the Midwest. Since then it's been growing slowly but steadily, and the owners have been experimenting with more compact Culver's restaurants for urban markets.

The menu is not compact, though, and I ordered a fair representation of the offerings: fried chicken with mashed potato and green bean sides, a sliced prime rib sandwich with buttered bun, and sides of onion rings and Wisconsin fried cheese curds, fried jumbo shrimp and a blueberry-banana mini mixer.

As I made my way to a shiny clean table in a sparkling clean dining room, I noticed that Culver's house root beer was on tap, and pocketed plastic bibs were offered. I got both. Although the bibs were clearly intended for toddlers -- the string ties were short -- sometimes "adults" need protection from themselves. And sometimes they need root beer, too. Culver's isn't bad. Less fizzy than A&W and Barq's, it had a good caramel flavor and wasn't too sharp.

My food came in under fifteen minutes, and I went for the smoking hot fried chicken first. The bird -- breast, thigh, leg and wing -- was well-cooked, without layers of crunch masking the actual meat appears. And after many trips to Church's, KFC and Popeye's, it was a welcome change to find fried chicken that wasn't loaded with salt. In fact, the chicken was a touch under-seasoned -- it needed more pepper -- but I guessed by the older demographic in the dining room that this Culver's may be catering to a crowd that prefers less kick.

Under the bland gravy, I detected real mashed potato characteristics like lumps and a mealy consistency. Although the beans fell in that weird zone between tender-crisp and fall-apart -- I expected the latter -- overall, this was a plate I'd order again. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

To cleanse my palate for the next course, I snuck a few bites of frozen custard mixer -- and discovered that Culver's beats the crap out of DQ Blizzards. The custard was soft, smooth and rich, and the blueberries and banana chunks were fresh.

Next up, my fast-food surf and turf: a thinly-sliced steak sandwich with real melted Swiss cheese and grilled red onion slices and a side of A-1 sauce that I wouldn't use on a steak, but makes a decent steak sammie even better, coupled with a side of large breaded and deep-fried shrimp. The shaved prime rib was a tad overcooked for my taste -- I like it raw and wriggling but it was flavorful and tender, and the legendary butter bun was everything advertised: a soft, smushy egg bun soaked in butter and grilled to a light gold. I could swear the cheflings in the back had buttered the top, too, but I couldn't prove it.

I had a few more bites of custard. I was starting to regret not getting a larger size.

I like lighter, more tempura-style breading rather than crumb-breading on onion rings, and Culver's does them right: These onion rings were lightly beer-battered and crisp, with the onions cut medium-thick. The fried cheese curds weren't off-the-charts good, but they were fine if you eat them before they cooled down.

An-n-n-nd back to the custard mixer. It was just too good, with a super-thick consistency that barely melted around the edges throughout my entire meal. Next time, ordering a small won't be an option. In fact, I think I'll order a chocolate-fudge-peanut-butter-cup-butterscotch concrete mixer with marshmallow crème.

And in the meantime, Culver's has this consumer's vote.

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