Make a Pit Stop at Hwy 55
Craving a burger but tired of fast food joints? Head over to Hwy 55 for a classic diner experience and where you’re treated like family.
By April Blake Photos by Sally Scott
The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” has a restaurant equivalent — and just as importantly, never judge an establishment’s food by its location in a strip mall. In the very rapidly growing and bustling area of western Lexington known as Red Bank, Hwy 55 sits nestled among dozens of recently sprung up buildings centered around the Walmart shopping center on South Lake Drive that boasts plenty of parking.
The retro-style diner began in eastern North Carolina by founder Kenny Moore in 1991, and now boasts 138 franchises clustered around the Southeast and as far west as Dallas, Texas. Most locations are centered around North Carolina. Its corporate offices are located on Highway 55 in North Carolina, the namesake of the company. Local franchisees Jay and Heather Webb have owned and operated this Lexington location since it opened on Labor Day weekend in 2012. Jay Webb is no stranger to the business though. With 11 years under his belt at the company so far, he began working as an hourly employee after college and moved to South Carolina when the company started expanding its operations outside of North Carolina. “I was only going to stay in Lexington long enough to open the store, and then move on to the next one,” Webb said. “But then I met my now wife when I was here, and we actually got married in the store!”
That kind of strong family-centric culture is why he loves being part of the Hwy 55 company so much. “We look at our restaurants as an extension of our homes, it is no different than someone coming to my house to eat at the kitchen table,” said Webb. “We tell the cooks, ‘If you wouldn’t serve it to your mom, don’t serve it to our customers!’”
Hwy 55 rolled out a new menu to all of its locations in December, adding an extra focus on their salad offerings as the indulgent holiday season drew close. The Hwy 55 Cobb features a bed of crisp mixed greens, red cabbage, shredded carrots, diced tomatoes and cucumbers, sliced hard-boiled egg and bacon, shredded cheese, and fried onion straws, with or without hand-breaded or grilled chicken. “This will make us a destination spot for salads,” he said. Other featured vegetable-filled salads include their spicy shrimp salad and garden salad.
What Hwy 55 is truly known for is their burgers. They all begin with a five and a half ounce patty that Webb says is fresh, never frozen. Each patty is nestled between a fluffy burger bun and comes with a choice of four toppings, or they have several already designed burgers like the Carolina Classic or the pimento cheeseburger. The 13 burger topping choices are mustard, onions, slaw, chili, mayonnaise, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled jalapenos, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers.
The cheesesteaks are something else that Webb is very proud of. “We have people who come in all of the time who tell me our cheesesteak is the closest to what they’ve had in Philadelphia,” said Webb. They have four versions of the classic sandwich, but the All-American cheesesteak, stacked with tender, sliced steak, smoky sautéed mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and melty cheese is the one that truly hearkens back to the street carts of Philly.
A selection of sides like hot French fries, tater tots, onion rings, fried pickles, a side salad, or a half ‘n half of French fries and onion rings for the undecided, rounds out any of the burgers, sandwiches, or salads that Hwy 55 serves.
Dessert is something not to be missed at Hwy 55 either. They create their signature soft-serve custard in-store each and every day, with a featured flavor of the day. Banana pudding custard is a local favorite that customers look forward to seeing on the menu, Webb said. Their wide selection of milkshakes, sundaes, root beer floats, and concretes are all based on the in-house custard. “Concretes are a destination item that people come to us for because no one else in the area has them,” said Webb. Concretes are a custard with the customer’s choice of toppings mixed in until the ice cream solidifies. The name comes from the unique hardness of the concoction once combined, where it won’t come upside down out of a cup. This one is best enjoyed with a spoon!
Walking into Hwy 55 is a treat for the eyes with its teal blue and hot pink color scheme radiating from the glistening retro-style coverings of the booths lining the side wall. Large scale photographs of midcentury icons and old-fashioned signage line the walls, and the gleaming black and white checkerboard floor finish off the vintage diner look in a modern way that might just make diners want to jump, jive, and wail while they wait for their lunch or dinner to be served up.
A partially open kitchen lets diners see the cooks creating the components of their meals or the servers carefully constructing ice cream sundaes right in view, something that both kids and adults alike can enjoy. Upbeat, toe-tapping music floating from the speakers placed around the store complete the sensory treat that is a visit to Hwy 55.
“Especially on the weekends there are lots of families that come in,” Webb said. He is proud of the family-friendly atmosphere of the store and how it appeals to people of all ages. “We want people to know we are a safe haven in the community ... that if you need to get away, that’s what we’re there for. We’re a locally owned business and put a lot back in the community. We’re here for the long haul.”
Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries
1792 S Lake Dr., Lexington