cocktails & conversation
food-EFFICIENT ONCE UPON A TIME, DRIVE-IN RESTAURANTS WERE SPECIAL PLACES INDEED.
Story | BRUCE FARR
he rising popularity of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show has piqued our interest in—and nostalgia for—that gloriously AllAmerican tradition of drive-in restaurants. Hosted by Guy Fieri, the program never fails to whet our appetites for all the fabulous foods the dietitians tell us we should avoid, but that we nevertheless crave. It’s not just the food we find ourselves pining for, however, it’s the whole drive-in restaurant experience—the once-sanctified act of pulling into a hamburger stand on a weekend night for an in-the-car meal with your family. You remember: after you’d found a parking space, you would roll down your window and be greeted by a “carhop” who took your order and later delivered it—replete with the wafting fragrance of french fries, onion rings and grilled burgers—on a metal tray that hooked neatly onto your car’s window ledge. Yes, the tradition of drive-in restaurants, fueled in part by the surge of automobile sales in the late 1940s and ’50s, was certainly the “rage of the age,” as one food critic of the time referred to it.
Of course, the explosive growth of McDonald’s and other fast-food chains that got their start in the late 1950s and early ’60s soon diluted and commoditized the uniqueness of drive-ins. And the rest, as they say, is history. Still, memory serves up a heaping helping of drive-in joints that bear mention, some of them with deep roots here in the Lone Star state. Texas Pig Stand: Between 1921 and 1935, a hundred of these classic roadside diners cropped up, with some even as far away as
DID YOU KNOW? We all have a favorite drive-in restaurant, but do you know what reportedly is the largest drive-in eatery in the country? It’s the Varsity, which is located in downtown Atlanta. Situated on more than 2 acres, the drive-in can accommodate 600 cars and 800 people. Varsity reportedly serves 2 miles of hot dogs, one ton of onions, 2,500 pounds of potatoes and 300 gallons of chili per day.
New York. The first “TPS,” however, was located on West Davis Street in Dallas. The popular chain served the restaurant’s signature “Pig Sandwich”—tender slices of roast pork, pickle relish and barbecue sauce—to scads of 10-gallon-hatted Texans in Model Ts. Prince’s Drive-in: In 1932, Texan Doug Prince purchased Weber’s Root Beer Stand on Main Street in Houston, where he is credited with developing the first round hamburger bun. He eventually opened and operated 20 drive-ins, with 18 of them located in Houston. Four Prince’s locations still operate in the Houston area. A&W Root Beer: One of the most beloved drive-in chains, A&W Root Beer, flourished in the 1950s, when the number of U.S. locations swelled to more than 2,000. Anchored by its signature root beer soda served in a frosty mug, A&W uniquely called its curbside service carhops “trayboys.” Sonic Drive-in: With its novel use of carhops on roller skates, this popular chain can be traced back to 1953, when it operated as a small root beer stand called “Top Hat” in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The chain adopted its current name in 1959. Today there are more than 3,500 Sonics in 44 states.