To be honest, it sounds pretty bad.
The peanut-butter burger has been a customer favorite at Bearden’s since the restaurant opened in 1948. Still, I do not want to try it, nor does anybody else in my party of eight, which includes one little kid who considers a spoonful of peanut butter the perfect meal. I order the famous burger out of curiosity, but I also order a back-up sandwich.
“For people who have never had it, it’s kind of a reach,” says Bearden’s general manager Parke Whinery. “But it’s just a great tasting burger.”
Bearden’s uses Jif, which when spread on the warm patty, melts into the burger. Like the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, the two flavors blend together to create a new taste altogether. It’s sweet, nutty and meaty — all at the same time.
Bearden’s is about a half mile from Lake Erie and within walking distance of the Cleveland Yachting Club. It’s always been a favorite of boaters ordering carry-out and families headed for a picnic overlooking the water at Rocky River Park.
Or at least it was, until the orange barrels arrived. Lake Road was under construction for almost three years, and for half of that time, traffic was one way on the street, with people avoiding it as much as possible. The restaurant just couldn’t survive, and on Dec. 31, 2010, Bearden’s closed.
About a year ago, local businessmen Jim Griffiths and Doug Walters bought the lakeside legend and began renovating it. The new and improved Bearden’s opened last October.
When word got out that Bearden’s would be re-opening, there were three questions on everybody’s minds: Are you going to make onion rings? Are you going to bring back the train that runs on a track around the restaurant? And are you going to still make peanut-butter burgers?
“We said yes to all three and they were satisfied,” Whinery says.
On the day we are there, we’re satisfied, too. Bearden’s has always been known for its burgers, which are delivered fresh twice a week in batches of more than a thousand. “A solid burger,” is how one diner in my party describes it. The shoestring fries are like McDonald’s fries when you’re lucky enough to get them perfectly cooked and served hot, tender and fresh.
The onion rings steal the show for sides, though. Bearden’s uses 300 pounds of onions every week. They are hand-cut and battered every single day. “They are a huge draw,” Whinery says.
The most popular addition to the new menu, which remains largely unchanged, has been fried clams. Whinery was inspired to serve them after seeing a picture of Jackson’s, which is what the restaurant was called from 1936 until it became Bearden’s in 1948. “I saw right across the top of their sign it said ‘Fried Clams,’ ” Whinery says. “You just don’t find those anymore. They have been a terrific hit.”
Bearden’s now also serves Build-a-Breakfast. Diners choose their wrap, a meat, fillings and sauces. When I return to Bearden’s for breakfast, I choose a spinach wrap with two eggs, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. It comes to $3.15, is ready in four minutes, is as delicious as I imagined it and is big enough to keep me full until the afternoon. I don’t opt for it this time, but the pulled pork, hickory-smoked bacon or steak burger would have made the wrap even more filling. Sauces include sour cream, maple cream, lemon cream and salsa. You can even have a couple onion rings or hash browns thrown into your wrap.
The biggest change to the restaurant has been the décor, which had been more or less the same since the place opened — cozy, but very dark. Now, the booths are a cheery seafoam green that happens to exactly match the shade of the restaurant’s famous cotton-candy milkshakes. The floor tiles are a soft gray and white, and the lights have been described as “cool steel saucers.” Skylights were added to brighten the room even more and the booths were raised off the ground so that diners can actually see out the windows.
The service has changed, too. Previously, orders were taken tableside, but now diners place their order at the counter before sitting down, and then the meal is delivered. Once everyone is seated, though, the meal still has the leisurely pace of a family restaurant.
Outside, we notice one last change — a ’65 Mustang that is embedded into the side of the building. It’s become a hot spot for taking pictures and even launched a classic car cruise-in on Mondays from 5 to 9 p.m.
Everyone in my group enjoys both the atmosphere and food. And despite the chicken sandwich I ordered being tender and tasty, I didn’t need the back-up. The peanut-butter burger may be unusual, but there’s a reason it’s been on the menu since 1948. It’s delicious.
Info to Go
19985 Lake Road
Rocky River, Ohio