Cheeseburger in Paradise is now Beef ‘n Buns ‘n Paradise because, it seems, Jimmy Buffett can’t stand others capitalizing on his tropical fantasies. Today, McClure lives even closer to this drive-through destination for burgers, dogs, shakes, and a brief respite from East Frederick’s industrial life. She does indeed live next door. About two years ago, she bought the business and adjoining rental properties from the previous owners, Rod and Vicki Sipes, who decided to make their own Florida paradise. — with or without cheeseburgers.
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McClure runs the business with respect for Beef ‘n Buns’ place in Frederick’s dining ecosystem, sensitive to the wishes and economics of the community. She’s barely touched the menu since she took over the operation. She didn’t include birria tacos, butter boards, ramen lasagna, or any other dish that had a moment on TikTok before it crept into the curio cabinet of the 21st-century kitchen. No, she understands why the locals come to Beef ‘n Buns, and it’s not for the trend du jour. It’s for comfort. It’s for a sense of continuity in a world largely absent there. It’s for chewing gum Parrot-Ice after a Little League game.
Beef ‘n Buns is the kind of small-town burger joint that usually doesn’t stand the test of time, especially at a time when Shake Shack, Five Guys and In-N-Out are doing everything they can to knock out any competitor with local colour. But McClure isn’t the type to shy away from a fight. She possesses the right mix of warmth, good humor and an inability to bear fools. There’s a sign above the order counter at Beef ‘n Buns, not far from the counterfeit palm leaf fan and surfboards in the corner. It pretty much sums up McClure’s ethos: “NOTE: Do you want to speak to the MAN in charge or the WOMAN who knows what’s going on?”
McClure read the room carefully when the Sipeses first considered selling the store: without her intervention, the company probably would have gone Freez King’s way. Other buyers, McClure told me, “just wanted the land, and they didn’t want the company. Or if they wanted the company, they didn’t want to keep it the same. They wanted to put something different here. And I just started talking to Rod and Vicki, and I was like, ‘Look, what do I do?’”
Can one businessman who helps preserve local culture is ever considered a hero, or at least hero-adjacent? Probably not, because of the financial rewards they can reap. I mean, this isn’t philanthropy. But either way, McClure ranks high on my internal Rate-a-Restaurateur scorecard. (Bet you didn’t even know that existed, right?) The verdict: The first restaurateur buys a local institution, during a pandemic no less, and puts her ego aside to maintain the continuity of a place Frederick has been serving since 1995 . Four stars.
The food is pretty good too. Start with – what else? – the burgers. The Cape Maye burger is a distillation of everything I love about Beef ‘n Buns: the reliance on local beef sourced from Wagner’s Meats and Mount Airy Meat Locker. The Maryland pride, manifested in the form of a crab cake that sits on top of the burger. And the devil-may-care attitude of a third animal protein (sliced ham), because in this paradise you can have whatever you want, a bit like Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel in the final scene of ‘This Is the End. The Cajun Bleu burger (a patty dipped in hot sauce, then topped with sliced ham, fries, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a final drizzle of blue cheese dressing) is just as bad as the Cape Maye—and just as wickedly good.
The hot dogs are the all-beef variety, fatty and spicy. You can stuff one of these jumbo links into a toasted bun, with your choice of toppings, including a house-made chili. I dig the dogs. The chili leans toward the sweet end of the spectrum, closer to sloppy Joes than the cayenne pepper-infused Texas stew I prefer. If you try the chili dog, I recommend ordering the version with a hint of nacho cheese, which cuts through the syrupy meat sauce. Unless, of course, you like the sweet tomato glaze of sloppy joes; then at least go for the standard chili dog. After all, this is paradise. All your desires must be satisfied.
Beef ‘n Buns offers a long list of sandwiches and subs. I prefer the meaty preparations to the salads mixed with tuna or chicken, which would benefit from a pinch more salt and pepper. But let me tell you about the pulled pork sandwich: it blew away my (admittedly low) expectations. McClure and crew occasionally trot out a smoker to slow-cook pork butts, which are pulled, sauced and stuffed into a toasted kaiser bun. Smoky, tangy, and a hint of spicy, this pulled pork outperforms countless versions I’ve tasted at real barbecue joints. The corned beef for the Reuben isn’t prepared in-house, but you won’t care once it’s piled high in grilled slices of rye. The steak and cheese, with its neat row of tomatoes and bits of American cheese, would keep a Philadelphian up at night, but it’s a tasty jaw in its own right.
A stop at Beef ‘n Buns is actually a license to enjoy. What I mean is that once you’ve made the decision to go, all moderation and dieting rules should be temporarily suspended. Which doesn’t mean you have to order the random temptations that appear before your eyes on the dizzyingly long menu. Feel free to skip the fried seafood, pre-battered and frozen, and save your guilt for real indulgences, like the malted shakes; floats; snow cones (called Parrot-Ice); parfaits; or the aptly named Peanut Butter Overdose, in which vanilla ice cream is stacked in a waffle bowl and topped with house-made peanut butter sauce, crushed peanuts, whipped cream, and crumbled Reese’s Cups.
I should note that Beef ‘n Buns is not a traditional drive-in. You don’t pull your vehicle up to the window, place an order and take off with your bag. You must call in advance and pick up; Beef ‘n Buns does not order online. If you’re not in a hurry, I suggest you walk into the store’s enclosed porch, where you can meet McClure or her daughter Ashley or even her mother Terry Fox. One of them could work on the windshield. You can thank them for preserving the local culture and then take your order out to the patio, where you can sit next to an alligator with a soft serve ice cream cone and stare at the Sheetz across the street. You can reflect on what used to be – and what still is – in Frederick.
Beef ‘n Buns ‘n Paradise
1201 E. Patrick St., Frederick, Md., 301-631-0188; beefnbunsnparadise.com.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
Prices: $2.99 to $15.99 for all items on the menu.