Paul Bunyan Famous Hamburgers
602 Northwest Blvd.
In local burger folklore, it’s always Hudsons that gets all the glory. Okay sure, the place has been there serving the same product for a hundred years but so what? Want fries? Too bad – try ordering them and they’ll look at you like you just asked for Bald Eagle McNuggets. Take away the “secret recipe” (do I taste horseradish?) hot mustard and ketchup and the burgers become suddenly a little plain. It’s so crowded in that tiny joint you have to sit elbow-to-elbow with some less-than-appetizing stranger nearly as old as the place itself. Not for the claustrophobic.
Paul Bunyan must be the second oldest burger joint in town, having been in the same spot since sometime in the fifties. My mother worked there during its glory years when she was a teenager. For years it was the teenybop hot spot, a place for car cruisers to gather. By the time I was a kid, the place was pretty run down, and they demolished and rebuilt about ten years ago. It seems like the place lost a bit of charm after the rebuild – I can remember sitting outside the place at grungy carved-up picnic tables and having corn dogs and vanilla coke in the shade of some kind of dilapidated multicolored fifties plastic canopy structure that would cast odd pink and orange shadows onto the ground. Now the place is rather plain – grey brick, crisp white interior - exactly like the two newer locations in Post Falls and Hayden. However, the giant original iconic sign of Paul himself still stands out front, winking at passersby.
The menu remains nearly identical to how it was 50 years ago as well. Where else can you get a Blue Ox Burger or a Hammy Whammy (mmmm - layers of thin fried ham and yellow mustard on a double-size roll)? Their food is typically very good – a hometown joint with food made fresh and with a flair for originality you can only find at old small-town joints like this. The onion rings are killer – hand battered and fried to a perfect golden brown until they’re stuck to each other – so good right down to the little crunchy bits left at the bottom of your little red-and-white checkered tray. They will flavor your Coke with vanilla, cherry, chocolate and probably a dozen other flavors. They have fresh Huckleberry shakes for goodness sake, although they will cost you. In fact, I noticed that everything on the menu suffered a dramatic price hike recently, and a meal here can add up quick. The food is normally worth it here, but you could spend the same amount at Applebee's or something and at least feel a little fancy.
Unfortunately, a recent visit to Paul Bunyan was marred by a bad customer service experience. Hungry after work one day last week, I cruised into the drive through and ordered my usual Double Bacon Cheeseburger and small onion rings with fry sauce and a large Cherry Coke. The wait is always long here, but it’s forgivable since everything is made fresh when you order it.
I pulled up and peered into the closed drive-up window as one of the girls yammered away on the phone, talking and laughing, which she continued to do for at least five minutes during which time I could clearly see my finished food sitting there waiting to be bagged and handed out to me. My patience was wearing thin for this girl who seemed gum-smackingly oblivious to my basic need for sustenance. She eventually put down the phone and handed my bag of food out to me and immediately closed the window, and I got halfway home before I realized she had forgotten to hand me my large Cherry Coke. I was mad, but I decided I was too hungry to go back, I’d just take the loss and have water, it’s better for me anyway.
I got home, just starving, sat down and pulled my food out of the bag and realized to my horror that the flaky gal had forgotten my darned fry sauce! That was it, my temper was shot. I could handle the forgetting-the-Coke thing, but there was no way I was eating cold onion rings with no dip! I flew back down there (all four blocks), pulled in and barked into the drive-thru box, telling them how they forgot my stuff and how hungry and upset I was and - I’m not joking here, there was a long pause and the girl comes on: “(Audible sigh) …Well, sir, what do you expect me to do about it.” Naturally a million things flooded my brain, all of which I'm too polite to commit to print. Ultimately, I decided to not risk teen-girl spit appearing in my food and calmly replied, “Well, my dear, you can cook me a fresh order of onion rings since mine are ice-cold by now, along with the drink I paid for and the dip I ordered in the first place, and the sooner the better because I am rabidly hungry and now grouchy as a bear.” (audible sigh…smack of gum) “Well, I guess we can do that.” Damn skippy you can, miss thang!
When I got to the window, all the Paul Bunyan girls lingered in the back like a flock of turkeys, bobbing their necks trying to get a look at the mean grouch. You could feel the tension as top-ponytail girl opened the slider, wide-eyed: "Oh mah gawd ah am sooooo soooorry bout thay-at!" she drawled, dripping with faux sincerity. I grumbled "Whatever...I'm just hungry, I guess..." and grabbed my food and drink, and noticed three cups of dip in my bag. I wouldn’t let one bad experience permanently ruin my relationship with Paul. Anyway, the employee turnover there is so fast, by the time I visit again, there’ll be a whole new set of counter girls for me to razz.