PANAMA CITY BEACH— Don’t be fooled by the snowflakes and Hershey’s signs in the windows, Freeze Factory offers more than creamy frozen treats.
Sometimes owner Tam Harp and her husband, Brant, get cravings for a flat-grilled burger in the middle of the night and drive down the street to cook a couple at their restaurant.
“This is five to 10 minutes from our home, so if someone sees light on in here during the night, we are cooking,” Tam said.
During Spring Break, they have extended their hours through the night until 5 a.m., so anyone who gets a late-night craving is welcome when you see the strobe lights flashing. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling over the bright yellow counters with pink trim and ice blue walls with hot pink snowflakes.
“We are going to have really fun music in here — island, but we’ll pop it up for Spring Break,” Tam said.
I met Tam for lunch at the Freeze Factory last Friday, as she was spending her last day relaxing before the college crowds hit. “We don’t do fast food here, and we don’t do gourmet food. We do fun food,” said Tam, wearing her favorite signature color, fuchsia.
The straight-forward menu cuts right to favorite cravings: cheeseburgers, onion rings, chili cheese fries, chicken fingers, homemade chicken salad on croissant and potato salad, as well as a slew of ice cream concoctions: sundaes, splits, shakes and ice cream funnel cakes.
“Powdered sugar, a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, then add chocolate, pineapple and strawberries on a hot cake,” said Tam, as she suggested toppings. “… warm, crunchy with cold ice cream; it’s so good.”
She started me out with a taste of her potato salad, which took me back to my Texas barbecue roots.
“The potato salad is a family recipe; I make it every day,” said Tam, who usually gets it on the side for lunch with her homemade chicken salad on croissant.
The smooth, mustard-based potato salad was filled with “special spices,” mayonnaise, celery and cubed sweet pickles. Though I usually prefer dill, I didn’t even know she had used sweet pickles until she told me — it was a perfect blend. I followed it with a sample of her homemade chicken salad — a creamy combination of chicken that had been put through the grinder (just like my grandmother made hers) mixed with celery, mayonnaise and a “blend of secret spices.”
“I want you to have to come here to get it,” said Tam, who refused to divulge her secrets. “Get it on a freshly baked croissant, and it is delicious.”
I would have ordered the sandwich for lunch, but manager Dan Harden, who recently made his stay at the beach permanent, already had a burger sizzling on the grill. When the burger arrived, I was overwhelmed by its size.
“We gave you The Factory Foreman, double-pattied burger,” Tam said.
If I was going to blow it on eating light today, this was definitely the way to go — and worth it. I quickly realized I was going to have to halve this burger to take a bite out of it.
Tam sat across from me and watched for my reaction, as I bit into the half-pound burger with two quarter-pound patties, melted American cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, onion, lettuce, tomato and pickles on an artisanal bun. So good and juicy, I kept going back for more, stopping to try the fresh cut fries (which looked just like the ones I make at home) and crunchy beer battered onion rings.
“I am so glad you like it. I know what I like,” said Tam, equally as excited about the food.
As half a burger remained, I was ready to stop until Tam began to describe the Nathan’s deep-fried hot dogs. Again, I had to cut the hot dog serving in half. Topped with chili, homemade mayonnaise cole slaw, and shredded cheddar, it was a juicy combination for the senses — hot and cold, sweet and spicy, tender with a snap.
“The ‘Super Dog’ combo meal comes with two,” Tam added, but half of one was all I could handle. “Oh, you have to try the brownie sundae, too.”
With my eyes glazed over, I managed to find room for a few bites of the creamy Hershey’s vanilla ice cream topped with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry on top. Everything I tried was good, though I don’t recommend going for it all in the same meal.
To wash it down, original Factory Freeze frozen slushies include flavors such as Blue Razz, Orange Crush and my favorite, Watermelon Madness, which tastes like a watermelon Jolly Rancher.
“Everything I learned I learned from my grandparents in the restaurant business,” said Tam, whose grandparents ran steakhouses, and fast-food chains and Shell gas stations in the 1960s and ’70s.
“We spent six months of the year here and six months in Phenix City, Ala.,” she recalled. “During the fall and winter, the beach completely shut down. Now the beach is year-round; it’s awesome.”
- What: Hershey’s ice cream, sandwiches, hamburgers, deep-fried hot dogs
- Where: 10472 Front Beach Road(in Surf Style Plaza), Panama City Beach
- Hours: Opens at11:30 a.m. daily; stays open until 5 a.m. the next morning throughout Spring Break
- Details: 588-7265