In-N-Out 'Pittsburgh Style'

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Shockingly, I had never been to an In-N-Out. Until today.

There are many reasons to love this legendary, California-based fast food burger chain.

They have been family owned since 1948. They’ve paid their workers higher than minimum wage, with medical benefits, for at least fifteen years. They have a commitment to fresh and natural ingredients. These were the reasons they were one of only a few chain restaurants praised in the book Fast Food Nation.

In-N-Out has also achieved cult status. They garnered mention in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski and earned the love of several celebrities, including renowned chefs Gordon Ramsay, Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali and the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller. (Child claimed to know the location of every restaurant location between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, and had the burgers delivered to her during a hospital stay.)

The chain was one of the first to feature a secret menu (now officially called “not so secret” on their website), and their “animal style” burgers and fries are among their most sought after choices.
None of this would be possible if the food did not measure up to the hype.

But In-N-Out’s commitment to freshness and quality shines in its food.

Yes, it’s ultimately a fast food burger; and poesy aside, there’s nothing unique about the product: burgers with lettuce, tomato, and a sweet pink “spread” (Thousand-Island-like), with an option for fresh or grilled onions.

Ordering “Animal Style” gets you a burger cooked with a layer of mustard, grilled onions, pickles and extra spread. Animal style fries are served with two slices of melted cheese, spread and grilled onions.
Writers wax rhapsodic. A 2014 BuzzFeed article invoked heaven, angels, and gods about two dozen times praising In-N-Out, such as burgers “handmade by angels.”

A HuffPost author notes how everything is handpicked (lettuce), handsliced (tomatoes) and fresh baked in store each day (buns).

Gordon Ramsay called them “extraordinary,” admitting to surreptitiously ordering a second double cheeseburger through the drive-thru after finishing his first one inside.

So when I went to Los Angeles for a conference, I decided I had to finally try In-N-Out. There was only one problem: the downtown location of the restaurant has closed and the nearest one was six miles away. That translates to nearly an hour in LA traffic and I didn’t have a car. What to do?

I schemed. I had enough time between the end of the seminar and my flight, and learned there was a location less than a mile from the airport. But it was not advisable to walk there, along freeway ramps and other non-pedestrian friendly challenges.

Enter another not-so-secret hack: the airport’s In-N-Out is right next to a long term parking garage. While you’re not supposed to, apparently it’s all the rage to ride the free shuttle from the airport to the In-N-Out — er, I mean the parking garage — and then back. It’s considered wise to generously tip the driver so as not to raise any questions. Which is exactly what I did.

Finally, I was at my Mecca, my Holy Grail.  I got in line with a big smile and told the cashier it was my first time. She exclaimed, “Oh then you get a hat!”  Which I proudly wore while diving into my two cheeseburgers (one Animal Style) with fries. (I did pass on their legendary shakes and got an iced tea instead, which has pretty much the same effect as exercising vigorously for 45 minutes.)

The burger was excellent. It tasted fresh and clean, bursting with gooey goodness that had me picking the crumbs off my tray.

I should note I had my burger “Pittsburgh Style,” which is not a secret In-N-Out menu item but something we ‘Burghers do —spread a layer of French fries right on the sandwich.  Perhaps this is something In-N-Out should adopt, at least if they ever get as far east as my home town.

In the meantime, I’ve checked one more thing off my culinary bucket list. All for $9.10, and a free hat to boot.

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, an Ann Arbor firm specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He has many years of restaurant and catering experience. Follow him at @nickroumel.

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