There are few things about living in Dallas-Fort Worth that make me feel smug. It’s hot as hell here, there’s too much concrete, and the traffic is miserable. My city doesn’t boast the stunning natural beauty of San Francisco, or the hallowed cultural institutions of New York City. But it is, at least, home to a location of Braum’s, the best American fast-food chain that I’d wager most Americans have never heard of.
Founded in Oklahoma City in 1968, Braum’s is a decidedly unique concept. It’s equal parts burger joint, ice cream shop, and small grocery store, all tucked under one roof. The menu is classic American comfort food — think burgers, fries, a chicken strip dinner served with a side of chocolate pudding. The burgers are solid, but the real star of the show is the full line-up of ice cream in classic flavors like peanut butter cup and mint chip, made with milk sourced from cows at the chain’s own creamery in Tuttle, Oklahoma, and all of which taste perfect by themselves, or scooped into a hot-fudge-drenched sundae.
And although it is small, the grocery section at any Braum’s location punches well above its weight. After eating a cheeseburger and slurping down a chocolate malt, you can stock up on eggs, butter, bacon, and fresh produce staples, but the real allure is the chain’s milk. Growing up in small-town northeast Texas, there were plenty of folks I knew that made the special trip to Braum’s to buy a gallon of milk instead of the grocery store. It’s hard to explain, but there really is a difference — Braum’s milk tastes creamier and fresher than the typical gallon of milk, especially those that have been ultra-pasteurized to maximize their shelf life at the expense of flavor.
In fact, the milk—and the company-owned creamery where it is produced—is the cornerstone of the Braum’s business model. The chain makes and produces all of its dairy products and bakes its own burger buns, and as such, Braum’s only opens locations within a 330-mile radius of its production facility in Tuttle. From there, refrigerated trucks are dispatched every other day to make deliveries to its more than 300 stores scattered across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri.
In a time when many fast-food chains are chasing every trend and trying to keep up with the times, Braum’s is almost aggressively the same as it’s ever been. Its pink-and-navy color scheme makes dining inside one of the restaurants feel like a brief trip back in time, and who doesn’t love the child-like appeal of choosing an ice cream from among a vast array of flavors and seeing it hand-scooped into a crunchy waffle cone? The prices also feel nostalgic, at only around $2 for a double-dip, especially in an era where some swanky pints are selling at the supermarket for upwards of $9.
Most of those 300 locations are in small towns, which means that Braum’s is a bit of a well-kept secret, especially for folks who don’t often find themselves vacationing in Branson or road-tripping to Oklahoma City. But if you’ve got one within 100 or so miles of where you live, it’s definitely worth making the drive to experience the surreal, of-another-time vibe — and excellent ice cream — that only Braum’s can offer.