Monday, November 19, 2018

Hail Azar!



Hi guys. Thanks for sticking with me. I know it's been a rough Big Boy Month so far. My last couple of posts have come off sounding like angry Yelp reviews, and everyone knows the true meaning of Big Boy Month is to say nice things about Big Boy. We've all grown up with the stories about how if you maintain a positive attitude regarding Big Boy restaurants all November long, the Big Boy himself will sneak into your house while you sleep and fill your shoes with tartar sauce (or thousand island if you live in Michigan.) I've got to straighten up and fly right if I have any hope of waking up to my good Chuck Taylors brimming with regionally variable special sauce. Good thing I went to the last operating Azar's Big Boy a few weeks back, and had a perfectly acceptable lunch. Thinking back on it really makes me feel the Big Boy month spirit. 

I really like the Looney Toons aesthetic this rug brings to the party. 

An old Azar's location built in the Googie style. Look it up. 

The Azar Brothers, David, Alex, and George opened their first restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1954. Their arrangement with the Big Boy brand was unusual, but not unheard of. Azar’s operated as one of at least two subfranchisees of Frisch’s Big Boy, rather than being a direct franchisee of Bob Wian's Big Boy system. As such, Azar's operated very similarly to Frisch’s, offering tartar sauce on their burgers and Buddie Boy sandwiches. There were once around 26 Azar’s Big Boy locations operating in the very noncontiguous territory comprised of Northern Indiana and Colorado. Today, there’s just one Azar’s left, still controlled by the founding family, open for business in Fort Wayne where they started. Longtime readers of this blog and people who know me in real life will know that I can't resist the siren song of the last operating location of an otherwise defunct restaurant chain. Azar's Big Boy is perhaps the Big Boy location that best exemplifies the kind of place I seek out.

Standard Marriott-era Big Boy building with unique Azar's signage. 


The last Azar's Big Boy still has unique menus. I found this exciting, and you should too. 

However, I didn’t have high hopes on my way to Fort Wayne. Since Azar’s was a Frisch’s subfranchisee, what I anticipated was a Frisch’s with a different sign, and my opinion of Frisch’s was not high. Still I was curious enough to make the three hour drive. I arrived midday on a Saturday and found Azar’s tucked away on a quiet corner on Fort Wayne’s south side. It was housed in a 1970s era building with recognizable Big Boy architecture of the era and a vintage Azar’s sign out front. I was surprised to find a decent amount of unique branding in the entryway. Old photos of old Azar’s locations lined the walls, and an Azar’s Big Boy rug decorated the floor. I was shown to a table in the solarium and was surprised to find I had been given a menu with unique Azar’s branding. It resembled an older Frisch’s menu, but the name "Frisch" was nowhere to be found.
The view from my table; I love a good solarium

My waitress was quick and attentive despite the dining room being mostly full of thanks in part to the weekend breakfast buffet. Fearing another Big Boy burger with dry overcooked eighth pound patties, I ordered a larger Super Big Boy, which has two quarter pound patties, plus an extra slice of cheese. I looked around while awaiting my order and found decor that was essentially identical to a modern Frisch’s. The condiments on the table were all branded with the Frisch’s logo. I imagine printing Azar’s sugar packets for one remaining location doesn’t make business sense, and Frisch’s corporate still has a say in the decor package, which felt perfectly pleasant, if a little generic. 

This Big Boy belongs at the end of movie credits after the key grips, because this Big Boy is the Best Boy. 
When my food arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find an extra pickle slice atop my burger, something I had never encountered at a Frisch's Big Boy. I have absolutely no proof that this is the case, but I suspect the extra pickle on top is something that Azar's had always done to set them apart from Frisch's. Even if it's a recent addition it's a nice little extra that makes what is already a unique Big Boy a little more unique. (Not even Cleo McDowell, real person and father in law of Prince Akeem of Zamunda, thought to put a pickle slice on top of his Big Mick burger.) The Super Big Boy was perfectly prepared, with patties that were cooked through, but not dry, and was topped with just the right amount of tartar sauce. It had the flavor of the Frisch's burgers I remember from high school. The fries were standard crinkle cuts, as they are at Frisch's, but were freshly cooked, and a little seasoned salt from the shaker on the table gave them a nice smoky flavor. The coleslaw was functionally identical to Frisch's coleslaw, which is to say it was pretty good. 

There can't be many of these Azar's signs left. 

When it came time to pay, the cashier had the decency to leave the register after we had concluded our transaction, thus enabling me to swipe a complimentary lollipop from the basket near the register. I assume they're mostly meant for kids, but I never pass up a free lollipop whether I'm at Big Boy or the bank.

(I had no such luck with the lollipop basket back at the Port Clinton, Ohio Frisch's. After the manager saw fit to mock the way I ate my pumpkin cheesecake, he lingered at the till, daring me to grab a free lollipop so that he could taunt me a second time. It's worse at the Michigan Big Boys. They don't even offer free lollipops.)

The depth of field in this picture symbolizes the deep history of the Big Boy brand, or something. 

I walked out the same foyer adorned with old photographs of old Azar's locations with my lime green complimentary confection and receipt in hand as I walked the perimeter of the building to take my final photos of the exterior as senior citizens dining inside pointed and gawked at me through their tableside windows. I didn't care. I had found a Frisch's worth eating at, and it wasn't really a Frisch's at all. It was an Azar's, the last of its kind. This is where I'll be stopping for my Big Boy fix from now on. I'll be back often. It's the perfect lunch stop if I'm on my way to Evansville for dinner at G.D. Ritzy's.



4 comments:

  1. Enjoying this series (and the blog in general)! I've also been inspired to hunt out some "broken chains" of my own. fye and its nearly-defunct sister stores (Sam Goody, et al) come to mind, but unfortunately, the last location in my area closed last January (but I was able to photograph it - Spin Street Memphis, in case anyone is interested and/or knows anything about the chain). Restaurants seem to be the best bet for this sort of thing. I've already been to one of the final ten Bonanzas in the lower 48 (photos to come soon), which have since become the final eight Bonanzas. Also have adopted plans to go to one of the three remaining Danver's restaurants... well, three remaining in greater Memphis, and one additional outlier in Tupelo, MS, that appears to be under different, disparate management. A restaurant brand that used to span the southeast only to have retreated to one core market and one separate outlier - sounds like the definition of a broken chain right there!

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    1. Hiya, thanks for being a Broken Chains fan. I need to get to an original concept Bonanza while I still can. I'll probably end up checking out one of the Pennsylvania Bonanzas. The Bonanza Steak and BBQ I visited in Indiana was a solid concept, but the new corporate overlords don't seem to be doing anything with it. I took the time to read up on Danver's and it sounds like my kind of place. I look forward t reading about it on the Mid-South Retail Blog

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    2. My pleasure! I was wondering how that concept Bonanza shaped up. Doesn't surprise me that it seems overlooked. That's too bad. And thanks! I think next summer might be the earliest I can squeeze that post in. I've got a lot of content, but not enough time to sit and write...

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  2. The lollipop guild is watching you. https://youtu.be/2XzFNLJIpUQ

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