It's hard to conceive of any restaurant that can take on the nostalgia-laden power of Russellville's famous Whatta-Burger. There are spots like the Big Red Drive-In that cater to locals and those that serve pretty good upscale burgers like Stoby's. But when it comes to picking up that important interstate-drawn traffic, Mr. Feltner's has long been the champ.
Until now. Of course, Whatta-Burger will survive not only for the nostalgia but also for the width (and girth) of its popular menu. The power of the name alone should insure success for years to come. However, the war over the best burger in Russellville has been won by the latest entrant to the battle.
CJ's Butcher Boy Burgers sprang up three years ago on the north side of I-40 in an old Waffle House location. From the outside, the eatery appears to be yet another white-and-red burger joint, the sort you'll find about every 20 miles or so up and down the interstate. Inside, though, there's a pleasant surprise at the meat counter.
That's right, meat counter. Out on display for all to see are the makings of your lunch or dinner, from chuck steak slabs to ground burger to rolled balls of fresh beef that aren't removed from that case until you place your order.
Just like other '50s- and '60s-style burger joints, you order at the counter and pick up your order there, too. There aren't many choices; in fact, it's limited to just eight. The choices here are easy — burger, fries, drink, shakes. That's it.
And if there are fries on that order, once you've made your selection you get to see your fries made right then, from scratch. One of the handy crew grabs a spud, makes sure it's well washed, pumps it through a fry frencher into a fry basket and sets it on to, well, fry. On the other side of doneness, it's sprinkled with spicy salt and dropped into your basket.
Burgers are plucked from the meat counter when they're ordered, hand-patted into shape, and grilled to a delicious doneness before being topped with your choice of lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and condiments. For an extra 20 cents more, you can have your choice of cheddar cheese, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms or jalapenos on your burger. Bacon's an extra 79 cents.
My companions and I all went for the No. 1 — the 1/3 pound burger combo ($6.98 with fries and drink). And none of us completely finished our baskets. Maybe because the meat is chuck rather than regular ground beef, that third of a pound is still a third of a pound after it's cooked. Or maybe it's the plentiful toppings. Or the load of fries. What we all agreed on, though, was that the burger was savory, the fries were spot-on delicious, and the service was quick and polite. And we were all impressed by the restaurant's cleanliness.
Of course, curiosity gets the better of us all, and I went for a chocolate malt (No. 7 represents shakes and malts on the menu, and they, like the drinks, only come in one, 20-ounce size). It took two of us to finish the thick dessert — which passed the standing straw test and included a generous malting.
Remember CJ's Butcher Boy Burgers next time you're headed west on the interstate, especially if you're into fresh beef and fries.
2803 N. Arkansas,
Russellville (north off I-40 exit 81)
CJ's offers something else you won't find anywhere else around — a free jukebox programmed with hits from the '50s and '60s. So whether you're sharing a shake with the one you love and want to listen to “Under the Boardwalk” or “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” — or you want to expose your kids to greats like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — CJ's will save you a lot of pocket change.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Credit cards accepted, no alcohol.