Towards the end of the last century I arrived in Northampton as a wide-eyed bumpkin from leafy Bedford and I asked the grizzled old hacks at the Chron what this dirty old town actually had.
The enormous desk of sports reporters immediately held forth on the array of first class teams on the patch, the crime reporter proudly pointed out our Crown Court, the chief reporter announced we had one of the ten most deprived boroughs in Europe but the legendary Graham Tebbutt (always the editor’s right hand man whatever his job title) said simply… Buddies.
In describing the American style diner’s chief attraction a far-off expression came into his eye, perhaps even a tear of happiness.
“They give you too much,” he said.
Since then, as my family and my waistline expanded, we have been back to Buddies many, many, times.
It’s ribs, burgers and chicken style fare is good solid food and while other eateries may dazzle with their fine dining Buddies has always won out because it was the one place the whole family could agree on.
You never felt over-dressed or underfed, you could order a salad but you could also have a side of cheesy chips. It was a guilty pleasure that you didn’t have to travel all the way to New York to enjoy.
The news that the chain had changed hands and changed its menu at the start of the year was something of a shock. Not necessarily a bad shock but the menu of old Buddies was very much part of the experience.
There were dozens of named burger options on it referencing superheroes and film stars and I would always peruse them all before ordering one of the two or three things I usually had.
When we were presented with the new easy to hold menus at the Sixfields Buddies – all that burger choice has been crunched down into a list of toppings which does make sense, but is Buddies really about making sense?
I ordered the Honey and Mustard Chicken Sandwich while number three son Billy ordered the BBQ Chicken Stack. I had my fries ‘wet’ (smothered with runny cheese and embedded bacon bits).
So much for salads. It is relevant to note that only an hour earlier I had been complaining about the middle-aged nature of my silhouette in my cycling gear and made promises to myself about a healthy start to the year. Buddies still has the power to flip over that kind of thinking as fast as the waiting staff can take your order.
I couldn’t see any tuna steaks on the menu (I used to enjoy a Caesar Salad with a tuna steak on it) and our neighbour on the next table said his old favourite the CBC (a chicken and bacon combo) had also gone, but broadly foodwise it’s the same beast it always was. In fact neighbour guy said he thought his burger was higher quality than previous offerings. The chips were thicker than fries, which suits me and the portions were big enough to make you feel like you had treated yourself.
Bill and I both cleared our plates and in the interests of research got stuck into the puddings too. The banana cheesecake was enough without being too much and Bill reported that the giant fudge sundae delivered to him was good too.
Again we cleared our plates and the food for both us came to around £40 with drinks. The bill arrived with jelly beans instead of humbugs and lollies. I like jelly beans more to be fair.
The service was really prompt and friendly which has always been a hallmark of Buddies.
So there have been changes here and there but the familiar Buddies feel is retained. The way you used to have it will probably be a talking point for you when you go but my feeling is that if Buddies was a cheeky little treat for you back in the day, it will continue to be so.
I always felt as a Bedfordshire incomer, that Northamptonians had a suprising affinity for America. George Washington’s family did come from the county and outsiders notice that ‘buddy’ is frequently substituted for ‘mate’ by locals with apparently no interest in Country & Western music to explain it.
I always wondered what this most down to earth of places found sound alluring about that most over the top of countries, perhaps it is more about revolutionary republics than showbiz and superstars. But Buddies is not Northampton trying to be America, it is Northampton showing America what it could have been: a guilty pleasure we can all agree on.