Fast food chains haven’t really been on the menu at Polk Eats. If you’re interested in the history of the fast food industry, however, Krystal is an important name. The first Krystal was opened in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1932. The chain was designed as almost an exact copy of White Castle – the first fast food chain, founded in 1921 (19 years before the McDonald brothers opened their hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California), and the company that made the hamburger a staple of American diets. American history professor David Gerard Hogan wrote a fascinating history of White Castle called Selling ’em by the Sack. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in how our chain restaurant landscape came to be.
I have fond memories of enjoying White Castle hamburgers growing up. Since we don’t have any White Castles in Florida (according their Web site, the closest one currently is in Murfreesboro, Tennessee), Krystal in Lakeland is the next best thing. So my wife and I stopped in for lunch one day recently. We liked the interior – a little aged but clean and lots of windows to provide natural light. The service was, well, not stellar, but not rude, either. Let’s call it brisk. We did appreciate that the staff brought our food to our table after we ordered, not something we expected from a fast food chain.
Krystal does serve breakfast, but we were there for lunch. The menu is basically “slider” themed – small burgers, small chicken sandwiches, small hot dogs (pups), etc., with a variety of sides. We ordered 2 combo meals to share – 4 original Krystal burgers with fries and a milkshake (I ordered vanilla), and 3 bacon/cheese Krystal burgers with fries and an Oreo milkshake (which required an upcharge). I didn’t realize until we got there that they offer milkshakes, so that was a nice surprise.
The milkshakes came out first. They were surprisingly good, nice and thick, better than we had expected. Then the food, which was presented quite well for what it is. It was only after we got our food that we noticed something missing. No napkins or condiments. There were a few unused napkins already at our table, but there was no common area (for example, around the fountain drink area) to find the usual fast food supplies. We had to ask for ketchup at the counter and were only given 3 packets. I appreciate trying to control costs, but napkins are a basic necessity, and 3 packets of ketchup was a little light for the amount of food we ordered.
As for the food itself, I have to confess the burgers didn’t taste the way I remember. They had less of the distinctive White Castle fake-onion-grilled flavor, and the steamed buns were a little too doughy. The fries were good but fairly conventional fast food fries. If you’ve had White Castle burgers and like them, then this should be a “close but not quite” experience. If you’ve never had White Castle, Krystal will not quite give you a true simulation. (My disclaimer is that it has been more than 10 years since I ate at White Castle, so maybe they have changed.)
A lot of this is about expectations – if you like an occasional fast food meal, or if you have the same White Castle nostalgia that I do, then Krystal is a pretty good bet (make sure you get ketchup if you go through the drive through!). If not, then I have a hard time recommending it based on our one-time experience. I do feel comfortable recommending the shakes, however. Our total came to a little over $15, which is a pretty reasonable price for the amount of food we ordered. Krystal is on East Memorial Boulevard, a few blocks east of North Massachusetts Avenue.
If we have inspired you to visit Krystal, or if you have already been and want to share your experience, please do so via the comments section below. And if you have Polk County restaurant tips, we would love to hear from you via our Contact Us page. Thanks for stopping by and happy eating!