Out in Kenner, where I grew up, I recently satisfied a curiosity I have had for a long time. Every time I pass a Ground Pat’i, I wonder what it is like there now. I have had a lot of great burgers in that place, and it has been around a really long time. Could it still be the same?
No. There are no more peanuts on the floor. Otherwise, yes. I found it a charming blast from the past. Here were tremendously hard-working waitresses that seemed like family. The entire place reminded me of a committed staff who worked till exhaustion every day, but seemed to love what they do. A lot like the old days.
Since there wasn’t a lot of time, I had ordered from the car without looking at the menu, which was dumb because, even though I distinctly remembered the burger, there is a lot on this menu. When I finally looked at it at another red light long after the first order, I called in another one, this time for potato skins and house-cut onion rings.
Because the orders had space between them, I had to wait for order Part 2, giving me time to soak up the atmosphere of Ground Pat’i circa 2021. Minus the peanuts, the scene was exactly like it was in my Kenner days, including a claw machine, which I never even noticed till I had kids. Tom was so big on claw machines we might have blown through a whole retirement account in quarters on them. But, oh, what fun!! My daughter calls it soft-core gambling for kids.
Besides my sweet remembrances of our claw machine adventures, I was enthralled with the energy in the place. Very middle America, filled with hard-working diners and hard-working employees. The decor is yesteryear when brown was king, complete with a cooler in the dining room. And it is all very appealing.
Not as appealing as the fat and fluffy baked potatoes, buried under a mound of bacon, oozing melted cheese, bursting from their foil wrappers as they sit on the pewter plate beside the classic Ground Pat’i burger. I fondly remembered that burger, but forgot the potato!!
Had I remembered I wouldn’t have ordered the boring ordinary frozen fries that came with it. Oh well, next time. There will be a next time, when I sit and eat this classic American meal without travel time.
I got into the car with my bags of guilty pleasures - fried onion rings, potato skins, and a burger and fries. They were indeed so pleasurable I was barely guilty. The onion rings were medium-thick, greaseless, golden brown, and really crunchy. Pretty terrific.
The potato skins were a disappointment, and I don’t even know why. Here were potatoes in their skins, smothered in cheese and bacon bits. I think maybe there was too much potato left, making it a baked potato cut into thick wedges. It’s hard to beat a baked potato, but potato skins should be more skin, less potato. (The high water mark for this pedestrian but delicious menu item was at the now sadly-defunct Andy’s Bistro, where I discovered that a good potato skin is deep-fried before baked. Who knew?)
The Ground Pat’i Burger was exactly as I remembered it. No disappointments here. A thick patty on a sturdy bun, blanketed in yellow cheddar, dressed nicely with shredded iceberg and a good tomato, pickles and a slice of raw purple onion. All of this dripping with juices and an appealing ever-so-slight patina of grease from the meat. Classic!
After looking at the menu in detail, I’m glad I just called for the burger because the menu is too daunting to ponder in a car. It is massive, and includes a bit of everything: lighter fare, fried seafood, including a fried flounder sandwich, grilled everything, including brisket, a lot of salads, and even onion soup.
Since the sheer size of the menu at Ground Pat’i haunted me for a while after that first visit, I made another trip there, which reversed much of the enthusiasm the first visit generated. I got that baked potato, which was exactly as it appeared in the window that first time. It is hard to mess up a baked potato, and they did not. Lots of butter, bacon, and cheese on a nice spud.
And I ordered spinach dip, which came with chips I really liked. They were really hard and crunchy and might even have been fried in house. But that seems unlikely at a grubhub like this with so much else going on, and the need to turn it out fast. The dip itself was fine, but perfectly ordinary. I also did finally get the fried flounder sandwich, which reminded me of a glorified fish stick. It instantly drew me back to that time before Tom when I would have thought something like that was good. It was fine, for what it is. Fried greaseless on a sandwich with nice dressings, this was a fast-food fish sandwich plus. Far superior to a drive-thru fried fish, but only committed beef boycotters should waste any attention on it.
And the beef brisket made me curious, so I got it. I wondered why it would be on such a menu, because smoking brisket takes time that could be used on so many other things here. I was intrigued by the pictures of this online, so I ordered it. What I got didn’t look like the pics. I got slices of very nice beef brisket that was tender and had a smoke ring, but it was covered in barbecue sauce, which I should have asked for on the side. It was very nicely done brisket, but unexpected in a place like this. If I wanted brisket I wouldn’t go to Ground Pat’i, but I’ll bet it’s on the menu because it has a fan base.
So after eating my way through a mere fraction of this very large menu, I can say that Ground Pat’i remains very much what it was as I remembered it: a fine place to go for good but ordinary food, in surroundings that are comfortable because they are nostalgia. This is obviously still a winning combination.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The place is packed with customers, and servers that have been there forever. They behave like a family, exactly the environment that will insulate a business from the COVID-induced staffing issues.
While a place like this was a staple of my pre-Tom life, I could see myself returning only if I need a good burger that is not a drive-thru fast food burger, but one I can pick up like one. (That won’t be easy - this is not a burger for driving, hence the lack of a drive-thru window.) It is too big and juicy and just too good for a drive-thru.
The only other reason is purely emotional. I should start saving quarters in case I return to revisit sweet memories of a claw machine, or any lovely reveries of simpler, more innocent times.