By Joy Neighbors
Americans eat an estimated 7 billion hot dogs from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day, which could explain why July is designated as National Hot Dog Month.
When you’re craving one of those iconic dogs, why not enjoy it with a little nostalgia on the side at an authentic drive-in?
In 1921, J.G. Kirby started the Pig Stand Drive-In as a quick way to serve barbeque on the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway. This new kind of restaurant allowed customers to drive in, park and place their order with a carhop — a combination of a waitress and busboy. When the food was ready, the carhop delivered a tray of food to the car window and hung it on the door. Folks enjoyed quicker service and the novelty of eating from the comfort of their cars.
By the 1950s, drive-ins were extremely popular with teens and adults. Carhops donned uniforms and roller skates to deliver those orders even faster. Drive-in food became synonymous with tasty hot dogs and steaming burgers ordered with a side of fries or onion rings, and topped off with a thick milkshake, malt or root beer float. Many of these drive-ins became known as root beer stands because a frosted mug of root beer could be ordered to go with your meal or to take home.
But the 1960s brought changes to in-car dining. Instead of drive-ins where you pulled in and parked, customers could pull up to a speaker, place their order and then drive around the restaurant to a pick-up window to take it home to eat. These restaurants were dubbed drive-throughs, and it’s still the way we order fast food on the go today.
If you’re searching for that blast from the past, here are a few great regional drive-in locations to check out this summer.
In Washington, Mason’s Root Beer Stand is celebrating 70 years of authentic in-car dining experiences. The menu features hot dogs, coney dogs and corn dogs plus burgers and BBQ. Sides include crispy fries, crunchy onion rings and breaded mushrooms. For true drive-in connoisseurs, there are frosted mugs of root beer along with malts, shakes and floats.
Dubois County boasts the Jasper Dawg Haus with a menu that mixes it up with old and current favorites. Choose from hot dogs, brats, hoagies and Italian beef gyros along with cakes and donuts for dessert. Doggie Boxes are available in four sizes with various offerings of natural casing franks, 100% Angus beef, Founder’s Bratwurst, Italian sausage and smoked cheddar pepper brats. Top off that dog with spicy chili, kraut, bell peppers, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and the traditional mustard and ketchup.
Another great drive-in spot is Bo-Mac’s Drive Inn in Shoals, Indiana. They have the typical hot dog, coney and corn dogs available but there’s plenty more to choose from including street tacos, catfish, pulled pork, broasted chicken dinners, pizza — even the infamous southern Indiana pork tenderloin sandwich. Dive into an order of fries, onion rings or fried mushrooms, but save room for ice cream, shakes, floats, malts and sundaes.
Cross the Illinois state line and head to Robinson, home of the second original Dog-n-Suds Drive-In. Founded in 1953, it’s now the oldest one in operation. Besides scrumptious hot dogs, coney dogs, pronto pups, slaw dogs and hamburgers, fill out your meal with curly or cheese fries, funnel cake fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, mushrooms and dill pickle spears.
Head west on Route One to Olney, Illinois, home of Hog and Dog Barbeque. Grab an original hot dog, chili cheese dog, coney dog, slaw dog or BBQ Bulldog for good eatin’. Burgers, tenderloins and BBQ pork round out the menu. Sides include fries with chili cheese, BBQ, bacon and cheese, onion rings, breaded corn nuggets, green beans or mushrooms, and a hand-dipped shake rounds out the meal.
And for a final stop, check out Famous J’s Drive-Thru in Mount Carmel. Here the dogs are special with names like Chicago Dog, Cincinnatian, Texan and South of the Border. Or select from one-of-a-kind hamburgers like Pizza Burgers, Hawaiian Burgers or a Haystack. Dive into crunchy fries, battered onion rings and fried green beans. For a bigger appetite, there’s pulled pork and tenderloin sandwiches. Don’t forget the ice cream with 12 hand-dipped flavors to choose from.
One hundred years ago, drive-ins changed the way Americans enjoyed a meal, and today they can still bring a smile to your face. Plan an evening out for dogs, burgers and a tall, frosted mug of root beer, and for a short time, enjoy a meal that hearkens back to when life was simpler.