The six-ounce version was enough for me when I visited the westside location last week, piled high just like its brother. If they grilled the patty in mustard and upped the onion count, they'd come pretty damn close to an In-and-Out Burger - animal style. Quality meat that is fresh (not frozen), grilled to order patties, freshly baked buns, and real cheese, such standards are rarely replicated. Ever since my first In-and-Out burger, I have been quietly searching out its equal closer to home. I think I finally found it.
The original Pilot Butte Drive-In was born out of an old A&W at the foot of Pilot Butte to Jack and Dee Mangin, who - with their son - built a family restaurant that served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bill and Tammy Falconer bought it in 2007 and even after adding a new Westside location (in the Safeway parking lot at Simpson and Century Drive) last June, the menu and original recipes have largely remained the same.
Decidedly different than its old-fashioned, car-hop cousin, the Westside PBDI is not a drive-in at all. Previously occupied by Tony's Delicatessen, the space is freshly modern, with vaulted ceilings and clean white walls displaying replicas of classic cars and old- fashioned soda advertisements. A shiny bar top stretches along the front window, sleek padded booths line the perimeter to accommodate larger parties and moveable table-top partitions create a sense of privacy in a closely-shared space. The young couple next to me played kissy-face over a milkshake, but went unnoticed by the kids on the other side.
"Gooey and drippy" were the founders' main requirements for an authentic Pilot Butte Burger. After careful calculations, I can attest this legacy endures. The Hawaiian Cheeseburger ($10.75) gushes with a teriyaki-sauced pineapple ring, thinly sliced ham and cheddar cheese smothering a six-ounce patty - all nested on a bed of secret sauce, and shredded lettuce. Against all odds, the bun stands up to the stacked, saucy interior. The French fries, which must be ordered separately, are not made in house. PBDI batter dips and fries them to a crisp, but are otherwise quite ordinary. Another option is "frings" if you're feeling frisky - the perfect mix of onion rings and fries.
After school or après ski, Pilot Butte's happy hour can't be beat. Weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m. at both locations, the menu boasts burgers, mini-meals and treats - all $2.50 to $6. A mini- burger, with fries and a soda is just $3. Shakes, malts, freezes and sundaes are a dollar off. And the pastrami and Swiss "Sammie" ($3) is ample for the price, with a sharp horseradish kick from the mustard.
Greasy spoon breakfasts are priced to please as well. Five options are promised to be ready in "five to ten for $5" from 7 to 11 a.m. The English muffin French toast with sausage and eggs ($6.99) was dessert disguised as breakfast. Sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, the whipped butter seeped into the eggy muffin craters and powdered sugar snow melted as it met my mouth.
General Manager Sean Baldwin, who helped design the décor, noted the contrast in buying habits between the two locations.
"We tend to sell more halibut and chicken sandwiches," on the Westside, he said. And we definitely "go through more veggie burgers." But breakfasts on the Westside haven't quite "caught on" as fast as he had hoped.
Despite the differences, however, one thing remains constant at both locations: the staff's obvious dedication to giving friendly, prompt service. The management always seems present, and the employees are polite and self-directed. A mistake on my order was quickly remedied without the need to flag down a manager for approval.
Although not usually a fan of cutesy rhymes or catchy menu phrases like "... pick-up and hick-up" or "sweet tooth cures," I can still respect these as remnants of a simpler time (even if it does feel like a smooch from Great Aunt So-And-So).
No one is showing up for heart-healthy food, low-cal snacks, or lightly steamed vegetables - (these don't exist here). But people are showing up. And they have been for 28 years. "Quality food and large portions" is Pilot Butte's credo and it's still living up to it. While the Eastside does maintain the original drive-in charm that made it famous, I do have to say, the westside is the best side.
Pilot Butte Drive-In Westside
320 SW Century Dr. Suite 410
541 323 3272
Sun- Thurs. 7am - 7pm