WEST The contents of the signature burger at Triple XXX Family Restaurant — an old-school dive nestled just off the campus of Purdue University — are simple.
Buns. Patty. Cheese. Lettuce. Tomato.
Oh, and of course a generous glob of Jif Peanut Butter.
Named after Duane Purvis, the All-American running back who wore Purdue’s black and gold from 1932 to 1934, the unique burger is a staple at the popular breakfast and burger joint. It’s been featured on The Food Network. ESPN has written about it, too. Guy Fieri wasn’t a fan of the restaurant's strange spin on the traditional hamburger when he visited in 2007, but locals, alumni, and employees alike all swear by it.
“You’ve got the savory from the pickles and the burger, and the sweet from the peanut butter,” Spencer, a waiter, said. “It just goes together.”
Truth is, with a side of curly fries and a chilled mug filled with homemade root beer, the meal is sexier than even the establishment’s name might suggest.
As they are before most every home game in West Lafayette, the seats at the circular counter inside Triple XXX and its outdoor tables were all filled Saturday morning. Those who couldn’t beat the rush faced wait times of nearly an hour, but few were deterred by the lines. The food inside is simply worth it.
Peppered in among the crowd of fans sporting the distinct “old gold” of Purdue on this particular game day were others covered in a very different hue of the color — Missouri gold. Tigers fans flocked to Northern Indiana this weekend for Missouri’s first road game of 2018; and in the hours leading up to Saturday night’s 6:30 CT kickoff, many made their way to Triple XXX to get a taste of the famed peanut butter burger.
St. Louis resident Mark Vanemon was among them. His visit to West Lafayette alongside his son Nate, a Missouri grad, is something of a homecoming. The elder Vanemon, who wore a Purdue hat and a Missouri polo Saturday morning, graduated from Purdue in 1979 and hasn’t returned since. When Missouri scheduled a trip to take on the his alma mater this fall, he did, too.
When Vanemon got to town, there was no question about where the first meal would be. Despite being away from Purdue for a shade under 40 years, the burger remains in his memory. He knew exactly where to take Nate and the group of friends who traveled with them.
“This was one of my favorite spots when I came here,” Vanemon said. “I had to make sure they got to try it, too”
Menus, napkin holders, and many other items around the restaurant bear a common tagline: “We were here before your mother was born.”
The clever line is a nod to the history the West Lafayette location bears with it, one nearly as unique as the burger itself.
The name “Triple XXX” originated in Texas with the Galveston Brewing Company in 1895; the three X’s signified the company’s beer as the highest grade being produced, and later became the brand name. A biography on the back of the restaurant's menu notes that old Looney Tunes cartoons borrowed the three letters when the story line featured barrels of gunpowder.
Prohibition and a series of hurricanes cratered the business in the early 1900s, forcing the company to restructure itself. It started by producing its own brand of soft drinks, and later opened a set of drive-in restaurants. By the late 1910s the very first Triple XXX Thirst Station had been opened.
In 1929, the West Lafayette restaurant was established and became one of over 100 locations across the United States (along with one in Vancouver). It is the only remaining original Triple XXX in the world. And while the name has been shortened – the “thirst station” now removed – and much of its history across the country forgotten, the old-fashioned burger joint lives on at Purdue.
Along with the peanut butter burger, the history was another part of the pull for the Vanemons' return to Triple XXX this weekend. Its vast roots are also intertwined deep within the family’s history as well. Mark’s father attended Purdue from 1946-1950, and passed down stories of the renowned restaurant and its special burger to Nate, Mark’s son.
The stories brewed a desire for the younger Vanemon to someday visit Triple XXX. On Saturday, that finally happened.
“It was here when he was at Purdue,” Nate said. “He always talked about it, so this is pretty cool.”
As the Vanemons and their group waited for a table under the restaurant's roofed outdoor seating, they spoke about what to order once inside.
The breakfast is great, Mark told everyone. So are the biscuits and gravy. But for him, there was never a question about what he was going to get.
“I’m going for the burger,” he said. “No doubt about it.”
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.