Cheeseburger in Paradise is now Beef ‘n Buns ‘n Paradise because, it seems, Jimmy Buffett can’t abide others cashing in on his tropical fantasies. These days, McClure lives even closer to this drive-through destination for burgers, dogs, shakes and a brief respite from the industrial life of East Frederick. She, in fact, lives next door. About two years ago, she bought the business and its adjacent rental properties from the previous owners, Rod and Vicki Sipes, who decided to make their own paradise in Florida — with or without cheeseburgers.
McClure runs the business with respect for Beef ‘n Buns’ place in Frederick’s dining ecosystem, sensitive to the community’s wants and economics. She has barely touched the menu since taking over operations. She hasn’t added birria tacos, butter boards, ramen lasagna or any other dish that has had a moment on TikTok before crawling into the curio cabinet of 21st-century cooking. No, she understands why locals come to Beef ‘n Buns, and it’s not for the trend du jour. It’s for the comfort. It’s for a sense of continuity in a world largely absent of it. It’s for bubble gum Parrot-Ice after a Little League game.
Beef ‘n Buns is the kind of small-town burger joint that doesn’t usually survive the march of time, certainly not in an era when Shake Shack, Five Guys and In-N-Out seem hellbent on muscling out any competitor with local color. But McClure isn’t the type to back down from a fight. She possesses the right mix of warmth, good humor and the inability to suffer fools. There’s a sign above the order window at Beef ‘n Buns, not far from the fake palm-frond fan and the surfboards propped in the corner. It pretty much sums up the McClure ethos: “ATTENTION: Do you want to speak to the MAN in charge or to the WOMAN who knows what’s going on?”
McClure read the room correctly when the Sipeses first considered selling the shop: If not for her intervention, the business would have probably gone the way of Freez King. Other buyers, McClure told me, “just wanted the land, and they didn’t want the business. Or if they wanted the business, they didn’t want to keep it the same. They wanted to put something else in here. And I just got to talking with Rod and Vicki, and I’m like, ‘Look, what do I got to do?’”
Can a business person who helps preserve local culture ever be 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 regardless, McClure grades high on my internal Rate-a-Restaurateur scorecard. (Bet you didn’t even know that exists, right?) The verdict: First-time restaurateur buys a local institution, during a pandemic no less, and sets aside her ego to maintain the continuity of a place that’s been serving Frederick since 1995. Four stars.
The food is pretty fine, 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’s perched atop the burger. And the devil-may-care attitude of a third animal protein (sliced ham) because, in this paradise, you can have whatever you wish for, sort of 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 wicked as the Cape Maye — and just as wicked good.
The hot dogs are the all-beef variety, fat and snappy. You can tuck one of these jumbo links into a toasted bun, with your choice of toppings, including a housemade chili. I dig the dogs. The chili tilts toward the sweet end of the spectrum, closer to sloppy Joes than to the cayenne-infused Texas stew I prefer. Should you try the chili dog, I’d suggest ordering the version with a streak of nacho cheese, which cuts the treacly meat sauce. Unless, of course, you happen to like the sweet tomato shimmer of sloppy Joes; then, by all means, go with the standard chili dog. This is paradise, after all. All your desires should be satisfied.
Beef ‘n Buns offers a lengthy list of sandwiches and subs. I prefer the meat-heavy 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 tucked into a toasted kaiser roll. Smoky, tangy and a touch spicy, this pulled pork outperforms countless versions I’ve sampled at actual barbecue joints. The corned beef for the Reuben is not prepared in-house, but you won’t care once it’s piled high inside griddled slices of rye. The steak and cheese, with its neat row of tomatoes and squares of American cheese, would keep a Philadelphian up at night, but it’s a tasty jawn all its own.
A stop at Beef ‘n Buns is basically a license to indulge. What I mean is that once you make the decision to go, all moderation and dietary rules should be temporarily suspended. Which doesn’t mean you should order whatever random temptations appear before your eyes on the dizzyingly long menu. You can safely 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 layered into a waffle bowl and accessorized with housemade peanut butter sauce, crushed peanuts, whipped cream and crumbled Reese’s cups.
I should note that Beef ‘n Buns is not a traditional drive-through. You don’t pull your vehicle up to the window, place an order and peel off with your bag. You must call ahead and pick up; Beef ‘n Buns doesn’t do online ordering. If you’re not in a hurry, I’d suggest walking inside the shop’s enclosed porch, where you might meet McClure or her daughter, Ashley, or even her mother, Terry Fox. Any one of them might be working the front window. You can thank them for preserving local culture and then bring your order to the patio, where you can sit near a gator holding a soft-serve 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.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: $2.99 to $15.99 for all items on the menu.