Photographs by Shea Stewart
A Dairy Queen Cheeseburger is served here with onion rings — and undesired pickles.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
It was the pickles that got me.
The slathering of mustard and ketchup I could withstand on my supposed Dairy Queen Bacon Cheese Grillburger. But pickles? Not on my burger.
Address: 1550 Country Club Road, Sherwood
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Cuisine: Fast food and ice cream
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Alcoholic beverages: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
This was my own undoing, of course.
Stepping to the front of a long though relatively quick-moving line stretched to the door (even at 1:15 on a Monday afternoon in February) at the newish Dairy Queen Grill and Chill in Sherwood, I'd requested my Bacon Cheese Grillburger without tomatoes. But, having not eaten a Dairy Queen burger in probably a decade or more, I'd forgotten about the fast food restaurant's suffocating love of condiments.
And, I forgot about those blasted pickles.
Still, the misstep was not entirely my fault. This new Dairy Queen is apparently adjusting to growing pains and large crowds, so instead of receiving a Bacon Cheese Grillburger ($4.19 for the burger alone; $6.49 for the combo with medium fries and a drink), what I got was a simple Cheeseburger ($2.49), minus bacon but loaded with mustard and ketchup.
Not thinking the trouble was worth the reward (plus, the restaurant was slammed), I ate my mistaken meal, but the situation made me wary.
On a second trip a week or so later, the restaurant redeemed itself. A shorter line, a more collected self, and a correct order on my part: a Bacon Cheese Grillburger. No tomato, no ketchup and certainly no pickles.
This was the burger that took me back to childhood, when a visit to the local Dairy Queen was favored over all other fast food restaurants because, well, all those ice cream treats. A Dairy Queen burger is not going to rival the best burgers around Arkansas, but, grading on a fast food curve, it holds its own.
The burger patty is a little dry, but still delivers a satisfying beefy taste. The bacon offers a modest smoky flavor, and the rest of the burger accessories -- cheese, lettuce, onion and mayonnaise -- blend together to create a sensory-pleasing taste and texture, which was aided by a touch of nostalgia.
Dairy Queen -- it's good to have you back, and closer to home, old friend.
Central Arkansas is not devoid of Dairy Queens, but most of the Arkansas locations are sprinkled in corners of the state. The closest ones to the Little Rock metro are in Conway, Hot Springs or White Hall. Those Dairy Queens -- part of more 6,700 restaurants in the United States, Canada and 25 other countries -- are a good drive away from downtown Little Rock.
So, the Sherwood Dairy Queen has been busy -- really busy -- since its opening New Year's Eve. A second Dairy Queen -- from the same franchisee -- is scheduled to open this spring on University Avenue near 12th Street in Little Rock. It, too, will be hopping once open.
The Sherwood location is bright, shiny and new, tucked in behind some big box stores and office buildings within sight line of U.S. 67/167. The restaurant is roomy, even with a crowd, and includes patio seating -- a spot sure to be popular once things warm a tad. Inside, there are two-person booths and tables, and four-person booths, plus several flat-screen TVs on the walls -- tuned to Fox News Channel, ESPN and The Weather Channel on my visits.
Near the self-service beverage dispenser there's a large cooler containing Dairy Queen's famed ice cream cakes and treats, such as Dilly Bars, Buster Bars and Starkiss.
Customers order at the counter -- video menu boards tout Dairy Queen's offerings, from burgers, sandwiches and chicken strips to Blizzards, sundaes and Orange Julius drinks (bought by Dairy Queen in 1987) -- and sit down, with limited table service offered. (Remember this: You can order your ice cream dessert when ordering your meal and request it to be delivered later.)
The menu is expanded from the Dairy Queens of my youth, so I never got around to a Chili Cheese Dog or side order of Cheese Curds. Then there are all the various frozen treats, from Blizzards and shakes to Peanut Butter Parfaits and more. And there's also the Orange Julius menu offering smoothies -- a menu that on my trips (including one drive-thru trip, with the line moving efficiently) I never ordered from.
The Chicken Bacon Ranch sandwich ($7.88 for a combo with an extra 69-cent charge for onion rings), served on an artisan-style ciabatta roll, received no added taste punch from the nearly non-existent ranch sauce (not to mention the flavorless Swiss cheese), but the chicken was juicy and the roll a pleasant surprise. Plus, the sandwich is only 500 calories, which makes it a good option for those also ordering ice cream.
The onion rings were worth the extra 69 cents. The thick breading provides a crunchy texture, and the onions inside are sweet and still snappy.
On my last trip, I should've ordered onion rings with my Chicken Strip Basket combo ($6.59) instead of fries, which were lifeless. The four chicken strips were wrapped in a peppery breading and the chicken was tender, but the strips shined because of a flavor boost from a delicious Buffalo dipping sauce.
Again, grading on a fast food curve, the food at Dairy Queen is good; not great. It seems like the food at Dairy Queen is something you enjoy for the most part because you know dessert -- and all that glorious ice cream -- is coming. I know I always have and did on these recent trips, too.
The Blizzard was first introduced in 1985, and no Dairy Queen meal is complete without one. The constant grinding and swirling sound of the Blizzard machines is an audible reminder that these thick concoctions of soft-serve vanilla ice cream and cookies, candy or other treats are being constantly whipped up.
My first Blizzard at this Dairy Queen was a medium Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ($3.89), a favorite, and I ate every scrumptious bite. Likewise with the Mint Oreo Blizzard, the March Blizzard of the Month at the Sherwood Dairy Queen.
And my lackluster Chicken Strip Basket meal was offset by the small Salted Caramel Truffle Blizzard ($3.39) I ordered for dessert. This is a treat that promises salted with sweet and delivers, with the toffee pieces, cocoa fudge and chocolate chunks adding texture and flavor. I should've gotten a large ... or at least a medium.
There are many, many "treats" on the menu, so there's still a lot on my ice cream wish list at Dairy Queen, including a simple Dipped Cone and Hot Fudge Sundae, so I'll be back. And I'll order food, as long as I know there's a treat awaiting. In the end, ice cream makes everything better. Even pickles on a burger.
Weekend on 03/09/2017
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