Friday, April 24, 2015

Feltner's Whatta-Burger Still Going Strong.

One of the most popular places for travelers to stop in Arkansas happens to be a roadside burger joint of some renown. Let me tell you about Feltner's Whatta-Burger in Russellville.




Robert “Bob” Feltner started serving up hot custom made burgers and mammoth orders of French fries back in 1967. The restaurant has expanded a little since then, and Mr. Feltner has passed on from this world, but the eatery’s still going strong.

Over the years, in that brown building with its big A-frame in the middle, you’d find all manner of decorations—from kites and stuffed animals to homilies and sayings on wooden plaques, trophies and portraits of local sports teams, big framed Reader’s Choice awards from the Arkansas Times, and letters of
thanks from just about everyone. The décor has changed from time to time over the years, but it’s always been worth a stop just to read the walls.

The décor may change, but the service doesn’t.
When you go in, a member of the wait staff takes your order on a white paper bag. That bag is passed back to an assembly line sunk a few inches below the level of the dining portion of the restaurant. Matching caps bob above the counter as the guys and girls at the griddle and fry stations go about filling orders. The
heated buns and freshly cooked burgers are passed along to the next station, where condiments and vegetables are added. American cheese goes on the bottom; condiments are on the top bun, and the vegetation is sandwiched between that condiment-soaked top bun and the meat. Mayo here isn’t mayonnaise; it’s
Miracle Whip, and it lends tartness to the burger assembly.

Each order on its white bag is filled, and if there’s more to the order than fills the bag more white paper sacks are attached by clothespins. When each order is completed, it’s slid out to the register to the cashier, waiting with a
tray for your drink, shake, or pie order and a squeeze bottle filled with Hunt’s ketchup. Napkins are on the table.

Burgers are custom made with whatever you want on them, but locals know the terminology of the place. For instance, there’s the Whatta-Sissy topped
with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayo reportedly named after the chosen burger of Mr. Feltner’s daughter. This combination somehow conveys savory and tart, creamy and crisp and juicy all in one bite.

You don’t order the full sized order of French fries
unless you have a small army with you. The acceptable choice is the half-order, which is still a lot of fries. There’s now even a “personal size” that contains about the same amount of French fries as what you’ll get in a large order at a burger chain. The fries are crunchy on the outside and a little soft inside, decent for ketchup but perfect for dipping in your chocolate shake. That’s right—in the shake.

And the shakes are something else. A 16-ounce medium is usually enough. Few order the extra large—
32 ounces of  thick and rich, able to hold up a straw indefinitely, but still slurp-able through same straw dairy delight may be too much of a good thing. They offer chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, as well as pineapple, peanut butter, cherry, banana and butterscotch, and they’re almost always available. There are also fried pies in chocolate, apple, peach, and cherry.

In case you were
wondering, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger has nothing to do with the Texas-based Whataburger chain. Different individuals around Russellville have told me different stories about what happened there, but what they all seem to agree on is that there was some sort of agreement reached years ago that Whataburger would never come to town and Whatta-Burger wouldn’t expand outside of Russellville.

So if you’re in the area, be sure to drop in… especially if you’re making that trip from Little Rock to Fayetteville, and need a bite to eat.  Take exit 81 on I-40 and head south on Arkansas Avenue (Arkansas Scenic Highway 7) until you come to the front entrance of Arkansas Tech.  Feltner’s Whatta-Burger’s on the right.  Call orders in ahead to (479) 968-1410, and if you need more information, check out the website.


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