Maybe we’ve been talking too much about diners and roadhouse food on the Food Show (weekdays 2-4pm 990 AM) but Ted’s Frostop, right here in New Orleans on Claiborne, is a place long overdue for a visit.
I remember going to Frostop when I was a kid. We didn’t eat out very often at all, so my memory is distinctive enough that I practically remember my first discovery of it like it was yesterday. My two older brothers and I shared a table by a large window, opening a foil wrapper to reveal a large hamburger with a sesame-seeded bun, and a unique flavor of overriding mustard, onion, and pickles. I have never forgotten the taste of that first Lot-O-Burger, melted cheese dulling the piquant taste cacophony of raw onions, pickles, and yellow mustard, just enough to be exciting and memorable all these years.
I have racked my brain in conjunction with my brothers and Tom about where we had those burgers, but we can’t figure it out. My brother said it had to be near our house because a classmate’s mother brought him a Lot-O-Burger for lunch every day. My brother lamented the same cheese sandwich on white bread with pickle he ate while watching Billy consume his Lot-O-Burger. This was at the same time I ate my same sad lunch. We both had lunch envy for all of third, (and in his case, fourth) grade.
My older brother was a little more helpful in placng our old Frostop. The question reminded him of those halcyon days of his youth bringing dates there for a milkshake after sports events. He says the Metairie Frostop we went to was near Lakeside Shopping Center on Veterans Highway. I’m still unclear exactly where it was, but his thoughts are a starting point.
Since we reminisce a lot about favorite past tastes on the Food Show (yes, still on the air 990AM 2-4) I had to revisit the Lot-O-Burger.
We found ourselves in Uptown New Orleans on a recent Saturday afternoon, and we swung into one of the two remaining outposts of this New Orleans institution since 1926.
Looking every bit the part of a joint from the 1920s, I don’t think anything has changed on the outside of the place since it arrived on the scene in the early 20th century.
Inside appears to have been completely refurbished in keeping with the original look. Sixties-style clubby banquettes are maroon and white Naugahyde, and are so fresh they appear almost new. They were pretty filled with people when we arrived. Parents and kids played pinball and people met friends and it appears to be an Uptown hangout in 2022, much like I suspect it was nearly a hundred years ago.
Everything is frozen in time, including the menu placards. I stared over the head of the person taking our order. We would have a Lot-O-Burger of course, but what else? The menu was larger than I expected, and I wondered if it had always been thus? We also got a chicken nugget basket (a phrase no one had uttered in 1926) and some of the iconic crinkle-cut fries. Tom had a root beer, and I got a chocolate shake.
The cups for these are themselves souvenir items, but I suddenly remembered the frosty mugs. I went back to the counter as they were filling the paper cups and asked about the mugs. They directed me to the other side of the counter where a small refrigerated machine chilled plastic mugs with none of the character of the glass ones, and none of the character of today’s paper cups. We did the "frosted” fake mug anyway, for old time’s sake. In my paper cup, the shake was so thick the straw stood up, requiring cheeks to suck in cavernously for consumption.
And then our order was called. The chicken nuggets were completely ordinary, but that doesn’t mean bad. Who doesn’t love a strip of fried chicken? This can be frozen and still be good.
But chicken nuggets are not why we went to Frostop. We went for the iconic burger, and we were not disappointed. One bite into the Lot-O-Burger causes a rush of memories. The mustard/pickles/onion clash was upfront immediately. The meat seemed a little lackluster, but it is most likely to be the same grade as “back in the day.” Meh.
Everything else about the sandwich, the aluminum/paper wrapper that envelopes it is familiar from so long ago. The paper boat holding the fries is exactly the same. The Sixties-style napkin holders with useless thin paper napkins are also the same.
I don’t remember enough about those Lot-O-Burger runs from long ago other than that distinctive taste. The place seems exactly the same too. Only the customers have changed, and maybe there are fewer of them than when Frostop offered a new eating experience.
But the same can be said now. In nearly a hundred years, so much has changed, and everything old can seem new again. Worth a visit, just because.