There’s the undisputed champion of fast food “roast beef” places, Arbys, which has more than 3300 units. There have been some ‘also rans’along the way, the Roy Rogers chain (once over 300 units) tried to be a national contender. Hardees, with over 3000 units, has always featured a similar product on their menu systemwide after acquiring both the Roy Rogers and Rax Roast Beef chains.
And there have been local/regional chains as well, which have somehow managed to survive, despite being outspent in marketing and dwarfed in the number of locations.
I recall visiting a Lion’s Choice, in St. Louis, (25 outlets), and this gem I visited to day, “Beef-A- Roo” in Rockford, IL. “BAR” has 7 locations and has been around since 1967, and while their initial focus was on roast beef, they now have a full menu, offering burgers, dogs, salads, wraps, soups and other sandwiches.
Like Arby’s “roast beef,” the meat at Beef-A-Roo appears to come from an emulsification process, that is, beef, a solution, seasonings, perhaps other ingredients are made into a slurry, packed into a mold, and pre-cooked. The meat has the same texture and color as Arbys, and or course, neither resemble pure “muscle meat” as one would find at a quality deli or prepare at home.
Regardless, it remains popular, and even tho Arbys has a good presence in Rockford, locals love their Beef-A-Roo, and I have to say my perception
of the roast beef sandwich was despite the similarity, I prefered this. To me, it was more flavorful than the competitions, and as I am a nut for any kind of bread, I have to mention that hands-down, Beef-A-Roo may well have one of the best buns in the industry. It’s terrific, soft yet firm, a slight buttery taste, and toasted.
I also tried the olive burger, a popular item in the Chicago area (i have reviewed others), tho different variations can be found. BAR’s closely resembles that one you will find on
most menus, with sliced green olives and melted white cheese. They added a sauce, and I really couldn’t tell what it was, resembling a mayo, and it’s not named on their website menu. The burger patty has come from the type of automation that makes it appear as if it was hand-formed (meaning not a perfectly round, “hockey puck” type patty like most fast foods) and like the roast beef, it was more flavorful than most of its competitors.
Read a bunch of BAR’s reviews and you’ll see people crow about the fries, and they are good, as good, or better, as the golden arches, which many people hold as the fast food gold standard. They are thin and crispy shoestrings, nicely salted, piping hot.
Other people think BAR is spendy, but I disagreed, came away with two large sandwiches, fries and a drink for under $10.
I wish they’d expand, at least regionally. In the meantime, you’ll have to go to Rockford, IL and try their food at one of seven locations.
I have seen the same name on other restaurants in the Midwest, no idea whether they were once affiliated, are franchises or operated by other members of the founding family.