Steak 'n Shake (NYSE:SNS) in the 1990s was a lot like its menu. Reliable. Affordable. Ultimately, fulfilling. Thanks to an enviable streak of double-digit percentage growth in sales and earnings, the stock was a steady gainer.

The company was born in Normal, Ill. in 1934, but there was nothing normal about its consistency in a fickle world of dining. But earnings stumbled in fiscal 2001. Then the top line barely inched higher in fiscal 2002. Results were restated to rectify the accounting of leases. Management turnover was running high.

Before long, the company found itself having to close poorly performing units in rural locations. The problems ran as thick as the fries ran thin. But if the stock's double over the past year, and last night's healthy start to fiscal 2004 is any indication, Steak 'n Shake looks like it's ready to serve its shareholders again.

Not to be confused with burger chains like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) or Wendy's (NYSE:WEN), Steak 'n Shake offers a cozy medium between casual dining and fast food. You walk in with $10. You are served on actual tableware without ever leaving your table. You walk away with change.

By promoting its ticket-hiking milkshakes, accepting credit cards, and working on marketing initiatives while scaling back its once ambitious expansion, Steak 'n Shake has returned to its winning ways. Growing earnings by 35% in the year's opening quarter is good. Doing so on a robust 11% uptick in comps is even better.

Steak 'n Shake is looking to earn roughly a buck a share this year. So, no, the stock isn't exactly cheap at 20 times that 2004 guidance. However, the company appears to have found its way again, and sometimes you have to pay up for a reliable, affordable, and ultimately fulfilling investing experience.

Is the notion of digging into a steakburger melt and a chocolate mint shake tempting, or are you wondering where the calories will go? Can you still enjoy your food and lose weight? All this and more -- in the Fools Fighting Fat discussion board. Only on