Given the name of the place, one wouldn't immediately think of the Triple XXX in West Lafayette to be a family restaurant. But the Triple XXX in the name has to do with root beer quality, not the type of films they're showing.
The Triple XXX Family Restaurant has been an institution in West Lafayette since 1929. It was built above the levee of the Wabash River near Purdue University (see map) and is the oldest drive-in restaurant in Indiana. Bert Wright served burgers, root beer and shakes to a number of Purdue students and local residents for a number of years. Today, Greg Ehresman and his wife, Carrie, run the Triple XXX using the same business practices Bert put in place nearly 80 years ago. The restaurant really stands out as the main two-story building is painted with orange and black stripes.
Where the Triple XXX name came from started back in 1895 when Anheuser-Busch - yes, that Anheuser-Busch - established the Galveston Brewing Company in Texas to brew their beers. The beer was designated as "high quality" and three X's were put on the beer barrels to signify their quality. When Texas began their own Prohibition in 1916, Galveston Brewing Company was shut down. However, in it's place, the Southern Brewing Company sprang to life making high quality root beer and ginger ale. The owners of the Southern Brewing Company trademarked the "XXX" designation, but in their infinite wisdom felt that "if XXX is very good, then Triple XXX must be the very best!"
Triple XXX had a number of "thirst stations" in 35 states primarily across the middle and western parts of the U.S. in the 20's where "distributors" would sell the brands root beer and ginger ale. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the Galveston Brewing Company came back to life and began to brew beer again. But the company continued to make the Triple XXX brand of root beer, as well. It's a pretty fascinating story and to learn more about the Triple XXX brand and full history, click here.
The Triple XXX in West Lafayette was one of those "thirst stations" and is one of only two remaining remnants of the Triple XXX root beer chain (the other being in Issaquah, WA). And not much has changed from the time it opened. The original car port is still in place, as well as the original counter and stools. It really does have a lot of history behind it.
My first trip to the Triple XXX was in 2001 when we went out to West Lafayette for the Iowa-Purdue football game with our friends Scott and Marcia Schroeder, and Dave and Pat Heusmann. Scott had heard about the Triple XXX and was intrigued by the place. It turned out that it was just up the hill from our hotel. We ate breakfast there on the Sunday morning before we left to go back home. The inside of the Triple XXX is adorned with pictures of former Purdue athletes and other pictures of the place from over the years. It is truly a diner in every sense of the way. Oh, and the breakfast was very good.
On a recent trip between Indianapolis and Chicago, I stopped off in West Lafayette to try one of the Triple XXX cheeseburgers. Since the opening day in 1929, the Triple XXX grinds their own high quality sirloin meat. They use real cheese and fresh ingredients for toppings for their burgers. The menu consists of primarily their "Prime and Choice Cuts", which is the Triple XXX's names for their various burgers and sandwiches. The Prime Cuts are primarily larger sandwiches and burgers served with "side cuts" (fries), while the Choice Cuts are sandwiches or burgers sold alone.
And the burgers are not called "burgers" at the Triple XXX. As they grind their own sirloin, they call them "chop steaks". So, during my recent visit, I ordered a chop steak with cheese and a glass of the Triple XXX root beer that is still the same recipe after over 90 years.
As I sat and waited for the burger, I had a sip of the root beer and looked around the place. The history of the restaurant is told in pictures on the wall of the Triple XXX. I could just imagine the thousands of students who have sat at the counter having a burger during the noon time, or a late night breakfast after the bars closed. It's a pretty cool place.
I got my burger, which is cooked on a very old grill top, probably helping lend an even more distinct taste to the burger. It was moist and tender. It wasn't all that big after starting out as a 1/4 pound hamburger. But it was good, nonetheless. I can't say that it was anything that I would crave, but given the history of the Triple XXX I was very happy to have stopped in and tried one.
The Triple XXX is one of those cool places that you could just go in and take in the historical experience of the restaurant. The food is above average and the atmosphere is fun. The Triple XXX is truly a piece of Americana at its best.