Fresh ingredients. Locally sourced. Made to order. Community-minded. Those are a handful of words we don’t typically associate with fast food. Count yourself lucky we live in a world where Culver’s exists, because this is one example of an eatery worth its salt. Count yourself doubly lucky to live in proximity of Culver’s of Valparaiso, where flavor, service, and community spirit go together like cheese curds and marinara sauce (*wink, nudge*).
Wendy Gates, owner of the Valparaiso Culver’s location, invited a team of Lifers out to the restaurant for the ultimate taste testing experience, treating us to a variety of menu items to experience the True Blue standard for ourselves. (I suppose you could call us triple lucky.) As we tried not to physically inhale our meals, Gates walked us through each yummy item.
Surprising standouts: the fish (one walleye, one cod) sandwiches, the cheese curds (with or without the marinara dipping sauce), and the veggie burger (a brown rice base with onions, cheddar, mushrooms, and spices). The general consensus was that group members would not typically order these items, but after our taste test, they definintely found some new menu favorites.
“The Culver’s philosophy is very much based around local farmers,” Gates said. “Everything is made from products from farms within this country. Nothing is outsourced. Those cheese curds are made with Wisconsin cheese, legitimately. The beef comes from local farms.” Culver’s of Valpo even hosts a “Thank You, Farmers” campaign in September, partnering with local 4-H teams. If you see a herd of cows standing guard in front of the restaurant come September, don’t be alarmed: they’re dairy cows!
The Lifer team had this to say about the locally-sourced deliciousness:
“Truth be told, I’d never tried the cheese curds, but after so many rave reviews, sampling them was a must,” said Candace Arvin, director of sales at the Life Sites. “So good! Real natural Wisconsin cheese paired with their new marinara sauce made for a perfect start to the meal.”
“I love the cheese curds!” agreed Operations Manager Stephanie Swearington. “They’re delicious, and you can tell they’re made with real Wisconsin cheese.
Made to order
“One of the nice things about our burgers is that, since everything is made to order, we can accommodate your taste with just about anything,” Gates said. This goes for condiments and dressings on all sandwiches. How many fast food restaurants can cook your food specially to order? With Culver’s you’re getting your money’s worth.
Fresh ingredients also guarantee you’re getting real Culver’s value. “Recalls usually occur because of outsourced or non-accredited suppliers—they’re cheaper products, so it’s understandable why some brands would rely on them,” Gates said. “We don’t take shortcuts at Culver’s. I’m a big proponent of, ‘You get what you pay for,’ and I’m more than happy to pay a little more for a meal when I know it’s coming from certified, quality farms.”
“The chili [on the chili cheese fries] tastes like an award-winning chili in a chili cook off contest,” said Stacey Kellogg, editorial director at the Life Sites. “The raspberry vinaigrette on this chicken and walnut salad tastes like fresh raspberries. If you want a vegan option, you can get it without cheese and chicken. And the veggie burger has the perfect consistency, with a delicious grilled taste.”
And then there were the fish sandwiches.
“The fish is amazing, too—it’s actually flaking, it’s so fresh,” Swearington said.
“The walleye sandwich is flakey and flavorful,” seconded Kellogg. “The breading doesn’t overpower the flavor of the fish.”
Other honorable mentions were the buffalo chicken tenders (just the right amount of breading and not too spicy) and the onion rings, which remarkably remained crunchy and intact with every bite - a true onion ring rarity! And, of course, there was the mouth-watering custard. We’ll dish on that in another story altogether.
Culver’s respects and values their customer base. Speaking for the Valparaiso location, Gates teared up describing all the ways they enjoy giving back to their community. Every month, they choose a different organization to partner with. Fundraisers supporting the local police K9 unit, Emma’s Footprints, Hilltop Neighborhood House, and Angel Tree are just a few campaigns they’ve promoted in the past. “All the fundraising we do is within our community, where our clientele is based. To turn around and pay back the organizations that come and dine with us is awesome,” Gates said. “I get goosebumps talking about the different organizations in this community that we’ve partnered with. This is such an awesome community. It really is the best part of what I do.”
“Culver’s has such an amazing product all around,” said Life Sites Executive Team Leader Jenny Craig-Brown. “The flavors, add-ins, and amazing custard were so incredible! I love all the options they offer and the high-quality food they provide to the community they serve.”
Is your mouth watering yet? We know where your next meal is going to be…