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The Spur Burger: A South-African-Texan-Native-American Tradition

America has brought many great things to the world. Imagine life without the light bulb, the cotton gin, the automobile, or (gasp) Facebook. Even worse, imagine life without themed family restaurant chains!

Okay, I can imagine the world without restaurant chains and I think it would be a pretty nice world. But anyway, America invented them and they’ve shaped modern life as it exists today.

America is overrun with chains: T.G.I. Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday (we like to name our chains after days of the week), IHOP, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Chili’s…the list is never-ending. Such chains are successful in the U.S. because, in my opinion, Americans fear the culinary unknown. We like to know that no matter where we are in the country, we can always enjoy a Ruby Tuesday shrimp quesadilla for $8.99.

The American passion for chain restaurants went global long ago, and South Africa was not spared.

Spur logoSpur Steak Ranches, founded in 1967, is one of the largest and most recognizable South African chains. According to their website there are nearly 300 Spurs worldwide.

Every time I pass a Spur I chuckle at the logo, which shows an Indian chief in a feather headdress. I don’t associate Native Americans with steak. And I don’t think Native Americans even wear spurs, anyway. But whatever.

Joe and I hate chains and try to avoid them, but I’ve been wanting to eat at Spur for a while, mainly so I could blog about it. I got my chance last week, when we came home from a weekend away and had no food in the house.

Each Spur location has a unique descriptor to set it apart from the other Spurs. There is the Oklahoma Spur, the Cancun Spur (huh?), and my personal fave, the Texakhana (sic) Spur. Joe and I ate at the Golden Spear Spur, located in Cresta Mall.

Outside Cresta SpurThe guy on the right was our waiter. I can’t remember his name but he was great — we got special treatment because I told him I was an American having my first meal at Spur.

Don’t mind the eerie red glow in the pictures — it was part of the ambiance.

Inside SpurGolden Spear Spur. I love the neon-lit, cactus-shaped totem poll in the center of the room.

Spur menusThe Spur menus brought me back to life in the D.C. suburbs, where chain restaurant dining is impossible to avoid. There are so many menus — they hardly fit on the table and you don’t know where to look first. When our drinks arrived we had to awkwardly pile the menus on our laps to make room. 

Spur isn’t cheap by South African standards. Main dishes range mostly between R70 and R100 ($10-$13); our mains at the fabulous Goblin’s Cove Restaurant in Magaliesburg were cheaper. And yet Golden Spear Spur was fairly full, even though it was a rainy Sunday evening and everything else in the mall was closed. Curious.

Once the menus were cleared, I was able to read the “Legend of Spur” printed on my placemat. The Legend reads:

Many moons ago a young brave came to the land of the flat mountain.

He saw that people hungered for juicy, tender steaks, perfectly grilled, delicious burgers and garden-fresh vegetables. Working day and night, he created a meeting place where the people of the village could gather to enjoy the feast. At last everything was ready.

“Light the fires,” he cried, and the friendly glow of the fires caused a warm welcome as the smell of delicious meat drew the people to his gathering place! Young and old came to the feast — so many people that they formed a line snaking across the plain.

And the young brave smiled, because he saw that this could be a new beginning, and the tribes rejoiced and were content.

A sign hanging from the ceiling said South Africans voted Spur burgers best in the country in 2009. I love a good burger and they were the cheapest thing on the menu anyway at around R55 each. I ordered the Goodie Burger, a cheeseburger topped with a pineapple ring (not uncommon in Africa) and creamy mushroom sauce. Joe chose the Peppamelt (sic) Burger, covered in melted cheese and “pepper sauce.”

Spur burgers with sauceI opted for house veggies — creamed spinach and mashed butternut — rather than fries. Both were very bland. Joe’s burger came with fried onions and french fries. The gelatinous substance in the ramekin is my mushroom sauce. Ew. Thank god I asked for it on the side. I’m not sure what the sauce on the pineapple is. It was sweet and tolerable.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Heather eating spur burgerI must admit, it wasn’t that bad.

The burger was small by American standards. But it had the pleasant, charcoal-y flavor of a burger right off the grill. The meat itself seemed to be of decent quality — neither Joe nor I got sick afterward. I have an iron stomach and rarely get sick from food, but Joe is a delicate flower. I can say with confidence that since his stomach survived unscathed, Spur burgers are safe for the general public.

My assessment: Spur is a suitable dining establishment if you’re stuck in a small South African town, or trapped in a Joburg mall, and have limited options. The service is friendly, the decor is amusing, and the burgers aren’t horrible. Skip the tasteless sauces and side dishes.

I’d rather eat at the Lucky Bean though.

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53 Comments

  • Reply Richard Brooksbank April 23, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    You made me laugh with this one Heather. It is a restaurant chain that is so familiar to us in South Africa, particularly if you have young children, that you don’t analyse it at all but it is really interesting to see it through the eyes of an “outsider”. My child is now much older and Spur is no longer a place I go to but I have to say that they still do a pretty good burger.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm

      Thanks, Richard. I read a blog called Roets Uprooted (http://roetsuprooted.blogspot.com/) that’s written by a South African woman living temporarily in the States. She writes a lot about American foods and food establishments, and I love reading about her impressions. So I figured South Africans would probably enjoy my impressions of the food here 🙂

  • Reply Mia April 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Ah, Spur, the restaurant no parent with kids can avoid. And the crazy thing is, many people I know ever so often crave Spur fries with “pink sauce” – it is all about that sauce. It is supposed to be 1000 Island sauce, but it you can cover everything in it. And it makes everything at Spur better.
    I did a blog post on it as well, just before we came to the States. It makes for great entertainment, starting with the ridiculous decor that has remained the same since “many moons ago”.

    • Reply 2summers April 23, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      I just went back and read your post. I was wondering what the whitish-pink sauce on my burger was. Now I know! I didn’t really notice what it tasted like though.

      I also neglected to write about the “children’s area” at Golden Spear Spur. It was creepy — there was this little windowless room in the back with a bunch of computer monitors, and small children staring mindlessly at the screens playing video games. Of course I didn’t take photos of that room, which is probably why I forgot about it until now.

  • Reply eremophila April 24, 2011 at 12:39 am

    I admire your dedication to journalism, which took you not only to a mall but to an eatery such as this one. Please, the only dissension I have is in calling it a restaurant.
    If I could, I’d give you a medal for bravery.

  • Reply Tilly Bud April 24, 2011 at 12:59 am

    I have to take exception to this post and the comments! I ADORE Spur burgers, made with real meat and all the trimmings. Here in the UK we have McDonalds, who offer cooked cardboard, and Burger King, who offer a slightly more palatable cooked cardboard. I miss a decent burger.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

      Tilly Bud, you are right that the burgers at Spur are far superior to McDonalds. (And I’m sure they are 1000% better than Wimpys, which I’m not brave enough to try even for the sake of the blog.) I seem to have hit a nerve with this post! Everyone has an opinion about Spur 🙂

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 10:36 am

      Yes, it’s usually in situations like that that I wind up eating at places like Spur. I used to play on a traveling softball team and we were always road-tripping to small towns in the American South. Chain restaurants were the only option.

    • Reply bloues April 24, 2012 at 10:34 am

      When were you in Upington. If it was during the last five years Spur should have been the last place you went to.

      I have fond memories of the Spur here since my childhood, but the Dros at Pick ‘n Pay is far better, but no restaurant beats Bi-Lo, on your way to Olifantshoek. The restaurant at the Casino also offers decent meals and a far better play area for the kids than Spur.

  • Reply Greg April 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    We noticed Spurs in the airports (I don’t remember seeing them elsewhere) but didn’t try one. I’m not one for chain restaurants (with the exception of an occasional trip to Wendy’s, I like their burgers). We were surprised by the number of KFCs we saw in SA – it seemed like there was one in every town.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Yep, KFC is definitely the most ubiquitous fast food chain in Africa, and probably in the world. I’ve seen at least one in every country I’ve ever visited. Everyone loves chicken and it’s plentiful and cheap.

  • Reply amblerangel April 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Hilarious picture was worth the blog post- totally weird from stem to stern….each one different? Do you think they meant Texarkana?

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      I’m assuming that name is loosely based on Texarkana. I noticed that some of the other branch names are misspelled names of Indian tribes, towns, etc. For instance, there is a “Durado” Spur and I think they might have meant Dorado, as in El Dorado. Maybe it’s intentional.

  • Reply clouded marble April 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    An interesting post!

    When I was little we only got to eat at places like Spur and Wimpy on special occasions so I’ve always had a taste memory of the food there. Sadly, in recent times when I ate there the quality of food, and tastes, just weren’t as impressive. I hate leaving an eatery with the thought that my money could’ve been better spent.

    I wish you’d brave the food at Wimpy. It will be interesting to read your take on their Hash Brown Burger 🙂 That’s about the only thing I order there, and I have a preferred way of eating it.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      Actually, I did eat at Wimpy once, on a work trip a few years ago. I had a toasted cheese, which I found to be perfectly acceptable. I’ve been warned away from the burgers many times though 🙂

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      PS – What is a hash brown burger and what’s your preferred way of eating it?

      • Reply clouded marble April 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm

        The actual name is Bacon, Cheese and Hash Brown burger. It’s basically a Wimpy burger with extras. From the bottom up – bun, relish, beef patty, cheese, two strips of bacon, hash brown patty, cheese and the other half of the bun.

        I don’t eat it as a whole – my jaw can’t open that wide 😉 I usually side at least one of the bacon strips with the hash brown, and start the meal with the beef patty side. Not a pretty picture, and a bit messy as a take-away, but it can be yummy!

        Must warn you though, I’ve found that not all the Wimpy branches make it . . . just right. The best version I’ve had so far is in the town where I work.

  • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    That sounds like quite a meal! Might take me a while to work up the courage for that.

  • Reply Jaco April 24, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Oh my goodness! I know it is wrong, but I crave a spur burger right now. Or a Steers burger. You should try the monkey-gland sauce. And I must admit that a Wimpy burger is the best cure after a night out. Yes, you heard me. Wimpy burger for breakfast. No wonder I am loosing weight in the States! I am eating FAR less fast food than in South Africa. Mia makes sure that I eat my veggies and that I go to the gym. I am visiting Joburg in May, and I plan to satisfy my burger craving as soon as I touch down at OR Tambo!

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      I just asked Joe confirm that there is in fact something called monkey gland sauce. He says it’s true. What?! Is it actually made with monkey glands? Please tell me that you are both pulling my chain.

      Just an FYI, the best burgers on earth are served at chain restaurant called Ted’s Montana Grill (owned by Ted Turner). It’s pretty unoffensive as far as chains go (they try to be environmentally friendly and they source their own meat, etc.) and the burgers are out of this world. Not sure if they exist in Ohio but if you ever see one, go.

      • Reply Jaco April 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm

        Our favorite burger place in Dayton at present is Smash Burger. Fresh and wonderful! I am a beeeeeeg sucker for burgers and hot dogs! In&Out Burger is also one of my favorites, but I think they are only on the west coast. Mia and I are flying to San Diego on Tuesday, so at least we are getting to see the world beyond Ohio!

        A few places you should try: Wolves in Illovo. Very indy vibe, it is Mia’s favorite haunt in Joburg. It is just a nice spot to relax and feel creative. Also try Motherland Coffee in the Rosebank Zone. Yes, its a mall. But the coffee is great (they partner with Bean There from Stanley44) and the internet is free. So a good place to work from, and a great place to build the energy reserves back up after a gym session. And autumn should be amazing this year! Try to get to Zoo Lake and the surrounding streets of Parkview and Forest Town and Westcliff (I know you have been there many times before). The autumn colours are great! Tyrone ave in Parkview has a view nice places to sit and watch life go by.

        Another great stroll is upper park way (it is the street that runs around the Johannesburg Zoo). There is a crazy house with amazing life-size sculptures in the garden. And you can say hi to the cheetahs while walking past their enclosure!

      • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 8:24 pm

        Wow, thanks for all the recs. I have been to In-n-Out Burger on visits to LA – delish.

        I’ve been to Wolves once and loved it. Amazing red velvet cupcakes! Motherland is on the list – I’ve heard it’s great and keep walking by but haven’t been yet. I also love Tyrone Ave. Great suggestion about the street around the zoo. I haven’t been to the zoo yet and this sounds like a nice way to experience it without actually paying to go in 🙂

  • Reply @injoburg April 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Haven’t tried Spurs yet, but whatever you do, avoid the WImpy burgers like the plague. On a long trip north from Cape Town to Kamieskroon it was the only roadside food option, but the burgers were disgustingly acrid and tasteless.
    Now Nando’s is a chain I was pleasantly surprised with.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      I agree, Nando’s is the best chain option in this country. I like the spicy veggie pita with pineapple (I ate that a lot when I was working in Bryanston and dining options were limited.) Nando’s has a few locations in DC so I was introduced to them before I moved here. Hope you’re having fun in Zanzibar!

  • Reply Jaco April 24, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Oh, and monkey-gland sauce is very very real. Although the ingredients are actually not that exciting!

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough April 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    For whatever reason, the burger makes me hungry–guess I haven’t had one in while. I remember how excited I was every time I got to eat a burger when we were living in Vientam. It was pathetic how I craved food from home!
    Kathy

  • Reply Kerry April 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Ah, the Spur… the stuff a south african middle class childhood is made of. Everytime there was a birthday thats where we went! Im curious to know, however, what gave you the idea that the burgers were not to be trusted?

    • Reply 2summers April 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      Thanks for reading, Kerry! In the U.S., chain restaurants are notorious for serving low-quality meat that occasionally makes people sick. The book “Fast Food Nation” delves into this phenomenon and the cultural patterns in America that led to assembly-line-style restaurant food. But I wasn’t basing what I wrote on anything I’ve heard about Spur, specifically. I was really just trying to be funny 🙂

      Although it is actually true that Joe has a sensitive stomach and poor quality restaurant food often makes him sick. So the fact that he felt fine the day after his Spur burger is a good sign for Spur!

      • Reply Kerry April 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

        thats ok, i was just curious, thought maybe there was an underground propaganda movement spreading bad things about the good old spur! how dare they desecrate my childhood memories! 🙂 Clearly you were right about hitting a nerve!

        its funny though, on my last trip to Cape Town my husbands family came down with us, from Portugal, and we took them to the Spur, just for a laugh, and they loved it! they also have 2 small children, so that could have been a determining factor… we thought they were joking when they said they wanted to go again… but no, they really did love it! they went 3 times in one week. die-hard Spur fans!

      • Reply 2summers April 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm

        So they came to visit CT, the food and wine capital of Africa, and went to SPUR three times?! Wow, that’s really saying something. 🙂

  • Reply Kerry April 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    p.s. the secret recipe for the pink sauce, according to my “sources” is equal parts mayonnaise and tomato sauce (ketchup)… uber-gourmet stuff that sauce!! 🙂

    • Reply Lara January 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      The pink sauce is not just mayo and ketchup, that is the closest u can get to it from home but it deffinatly tastes different it is amazing on everything, I miss spur just cause of that sauce!! and you are right u will deffinatly hit a nerve with south africans and spur…I make it a point to go every time I go back!!!

      • Reply 2summers January 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

        Thanks for the comment, Lara. I’ve certainly learned that South Africans have a passionate love affair for Spur. I must say, I still don’t really get it. I’ve been there twice now and I can’t say I’ve loved it either time. I guess it has to be in your blood 🙂

  • Reply shahilj October 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    South Africans also have the culture of going to chains rather than independent stores. I do hate this trend but this does mean that the chains have to make food of decent quality. Nandos and Chicken Licken are good examples. And the new Fish and Chip (there are a few different ones) are another. Spur makes consistent food. The burgers are not the best but are good and you won’t be let down. Anyway, I love the onion rings especially drenched in the 1000 island sauce. Anyway, try Wimpy. I know the one in Sunninghill is good. You’ll be surprised…

    • Reply 2summers October 23, 2011 at 7:43 am

      I’ve been to Wimpy on multiple occasions, mostly while on road trips. I’m not a fan of the burgers at all — I usually find that a toasted cheese with tomato is a safe bet. (Although sometimes the toasting is a bit inconsistent!)

      I do like Nandos better than other fast-food chains that I’ve tried here. We actually have Nandos in Washington DC now too! I’s say their food is one step above regular fast food (and more expensive too). But the bottom line is, I’d rather not eat at a chain if I can help it 🙂

  • Reply jo November 7, 2011 at 10:42 am

    we had a stop over in South Africa and stayed in a hotel close to the Joburg airport. I LOVED Spurs (there was a spurs in the hotel). Being from Australia i had never tried buffalo wings and completely loved them. The staff were great. On the way home we had another stop over and dined at the same Spurs….i think we ordered the same as last time…..buffalo wings and steak with pepper sauce. Travelling through Africa i must say Africans know how to deliver awsome pepper sauce. I loved the deep fried onion on the side and the blue cheese dipping sauce. I still remember the place fondly…i’m sure not all spurs are created equal, but i loved this SA spurs..or maybe i was just so excited about being in Africa, doesn’t matter though, i’d go again and again.

    • Reply 2summers November 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Hey, I’m glad you had such a great experience at Spur! I didn’t try the buffalo wings when I was there. Sounds like I’ll have to go back and give them a try 🙂

  • Reply Fidel November 9, 2011 at 7:38 am

    It’s a shame that the rest of the world views American food as TGI Friday’s, McD’s, KFC and Subway. Even Outback is considered more American than Australian. I wish we could really established authentic American restaurants overseas. And it could be very regional and diverse too. I’d love to be able to go out in town here and have an authentic Philly cheesesteak.

    But I digress, looks like you found a nice franchise in SA to get a little taste of America with a S. African twist. The pineapple on the burger looks good though.

    How’s the voting going?

    • Reply 2summers November 9, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Hey Fidel, yes, pineapple on burgers is actually somewhat common here and I do like it. I’m not sure how the voting is going — there is no way to track the results as far as I can tell. I think today is the last day of voting though so we’ll find out soon enough. Thanks for asking!

  • Reply bloues April 24, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Going to the Spur no, I also cant understand the restaurant’s popularity, but I have many fond memories going there as a child. Back then it was the only restaurant in Upington. We lived on a farm 70km outside Upington and only went to town every first Sunday of the month for church. Then we went to the Checkers or OK for the monthly grocery shopping and the day was finished off at the Spur.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Thanks for the comment! I’ve never been to Upington, but I can relate to your experience of living in a small town where restaurant options are limited. Sometimes place like Spur are all you’ve got.

      • Reply bloues April 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

        Luckily that has changed. The restaurants and the lodges here have assumed the identity of the region. If you are dining, or just having a drink while watching the rugby at Bi-Lo, you really get the feeling that you are in the Kalahari. Complete with Gemsboks, Springboks and Ostriches grazing just outside the restaurant.

        There’s an outdoor play area for the children complete with a slide, swings and tunnels.

  • Reply King Sabuza January 4, 2013 at 9:44 am

    SPUR burgers rock … They beat Wendy’s , Carls’s Jr, McD, BKing. I would even pay the $2000 airfare to get to South Africa and savouring one , one more time

  • Reply Jason Armstrong August 14, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    Viva Lucky Bean

    • Reply 2summers August 15, 2013 at 7:39 am

      Hahaha, indeed. Viva the Leopard, too.

  • Reply Sine May 16, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    The only thing I remember of the one time I ate there was that instead of cheese, as expected, it came with some kind of a cheese sauce, the messiest affair ever (outside of hard-shell tacos). So I resolved if I was going to eat there again, it would have to be a burger without cheese.

    • Reply 2summers May 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

      This is actually a problem I have with South African hamburgers in general. They are always drowning in some kind of weird sauce. Even when you specifically ask for your burger WITH NO SAUCE, it still comes with sauce. (Just maybe a bit less.)

  • Reply Rinay March 18, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    You will never know SA until you really live here a while

    • Reply 2summers March 19, 2015 at 10:28 am

      True. I really didn’t know SA when I wrote this post 4 years ago. I do now though! Although I’m still not a fan of Spur.

  • Reply Elizabeth November 18, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Just found this. Ouch I miss Spur! And Wimpy. Been in the US for almost 5 years now, 2 years in Canada before that. I’m craving a Spur steak now, or a Wimpy breakfast. Yum. Or Steers. So funny how we want the things we can’t have. Enjoyed your blog though! I think my American hubby would say the same! I think I need to take him to Spur next time we’re in SA. The only place I took him to was Mugg & Bean, Wimpy and of course, Ocean Basket.
    I did not know though that Spur doesn’t have the traditional play area anymore. The last time I was at a Spur (ok it was 8 years ago) they still had the slides and stuff. That’s sad.

    • Reply 2summers November 19, 2015 at 7:27 am

      Hi Elizabeth, I’m not sure about the play areas. Maybe it’s just this one that doesn’t have one…I haven’t been to lots of Spurs. Anyway, glad you like my blog. Enjoy your next visit to SA.

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