Back in February, I put up a quick blog post about a Hardees at a rest stop in Indiana. I didn’t really review anything because I didn’t eat. It was more of a post to wax nostalgia and complain about the 20 inches of snow I just drove through. Still, someone berated me for writing a post on my blog that they didn’t think should be there. My blog. I’ll post what I want.
I was back in Illinois this week for work and I ended up in Rantoul, IL. There’s not much in Rantoul anymore. It’s a town of about 13,000 just north of Champaign. It used to be home to Chanute Air Force Base, but when the government shut the base down, the town hit tough times. The major employer was gone and everyone associated with the base left town.
Since you already know that I work in TV, I’ll tell you I was in town for the University of Illinois’ Camp Rantoul. U of I is one of two schools in the Big Ten that do a preseason camp. They live in a hotel next to the practice facility and they’re given a strict schedule of when to eat, when to sleep, and when to practice. It’s a great thing for the city because the practices are open to the public and people do show up to watch. You’d think it was an NFL camp.
Because of impending weather, I didn’t get a lunch break. We were trying to get our show in before the storm hit and the school moved their practice up by two hours. Once the show was over, I was starving. I was tired though and I really just wanted to get home. This was the first time I had been to Rantoul since the AFB closed, so I had no idea what was actually in the area. I drove through downtown to see what was there, but I eventually ended up back on a stretch of road with plenty of fast food choices.
Hardees in Rantoul is located on Century Boulevard just a few blocks from the boundaries of the old air force base. It’s a typical fast food place. The chain was started in the 1960’s. In the South and Midwest, the restaurant is known as Hardees. It’s a sister restaurant to Carl’s Jr. Both chains are owned by CKE Restaurants and their menus are similar if not identical.
Hardees has changed it’s menu drastically since the 1980’s and 90’s when my family regularly visited the stores. At that time, they were big into roast beef and fried chicken. The roast beef is long gone and the fried chicken only exists in some of the Southern stores. Now, Hardees main menu item is the Thickburger.
After the Thickburger campaign started, I would stop fairly often to get the Monster Thickburger. This is the ultimate fast food burger. It two 1/3 lb angus beef Thickburgers, bacon, cheese, and mayo. Sounds awesome, right? It weighs in at an astronomical 1, 410 calories. I dropped some of those by leaving the mayo off, but still. That’s ridiculously high. They are soooo good though.
On this stop to Hardee’s, the Monster Thickburger was tempting, but I passed. There were a few people in line in front of me that were just leaning on the counter waiting for their food. After it was all bagged up, they asked for trays because they decided to stay instead. The guy working had to unbag everything and put it on trays. Instead of just taking the bags and sitting down, they demanded their food be put on trays.
After that fiasco, I put in my order for a French Dip Thickburger and a medium order of fries. I passed on the combo because I didn’t want a Coke. My plan was to stop at the Circle K down the street and get a Polar Pop of Pepsi. The burger and the fries cost a little over six bucks. The burger was thrown into the ready to go tray from the kitchen almost right away, but it sat there for close to ten minutes. I assumed they were waiting on fries but nothing was ever said to me. Both clerks ignored me standing there and kept tending to the drive thru. I eventually got my meal and headed back to the truck to start the hour drive home.
I pulled the fries out first. They actually have really good skin on fries. They don’t call them fresh cut because they’re still bagged. They label them as “Natural Cut Fries.” They were hot since they did come right out of the frier, but there was no salt on them at all. Still, the natural cut made them more delicious even if it is only psychological.
I didn’t get the Monster Thickburger. Instead, I went with the French Dip Thickburger. Hardees took two of my favorite foods and combined them into one sandwich. The burger is a 1/3 lb Angus beef thickburger with sliced roast beef and Swiss cheese. It comes with a side of Au Jus which proved to be a challenge while eating in the car. The sandwich was pretty good. I always did like the roast beef from Hardees and this tastes like the same thinly sliced roast beef they used to serve. I really didn’t notice the cheese, but I did look to make sure it was even there. The burgers are good for fast food burgers, but the taste of the roast beef over powered it. I didn’t get to use the Au Jus. When I got into the truck, I threw the bag on the floor then ate the fries. When I picked up the bag to get the sandwich, I ended up with Au Jus on my lap. The cup that it was in broke open and there was juice all over the bag.
Hardees was one of my favorite fast food joints growing up. They’ve gone through so many changes in the last 20 years that it’s not even close to the Hardees I remember. I love a lot of the unique menu items they come up with and I find it hard to believe that people still prefer McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King over Hardees.
If you’re curious, the closest location to Lansing would be either Owosso or Marshall.