Spring is one of my favorite times of the year.
The flowers are starting to blossom, the grass is gaining a touch of green and the trees are awakening from their winter slumber.
So are the local ice cream shops across Iowa and the Midwest.
Even though winter is trying to hang on, local eateries such as Grinnell’s Dairy Barn and Montezuma’s Dairy King are already bustling with business. In fact, Debbie and I have already visited the Dairy King three times for a meal since it opened in late March.
I got to thinking about a tasty ice cream cone or a double cheeseburger with mayo and pickle and an order of onion rings and it reminded me of my growing up days in the south.
My hometown of Tulsa was home to a number of drive-in’s and small eateries.
Pennington’s Drive-In on south Peoria Avenue was a long-time iconic eatery just a mile from the Arkansas River that flowed on the western edge of downtown Tulsa before rolling south. That section of Peoria Avenue was referred to as Tulsa’s Restless Ribbon, a two-mile stretch of pavement where boys cruised in their hotrods with their girls on Friday and Saturday nights. I often took my old 1959 Chevrolet Impala, my first car, to the Restless Ribbon back in the day to park and check out the girls. I’m thankful for the sound advice of my mother and the good Lord for keeping me on the straight and narrow and out of trouble’s way.
Pennington’s featured 60 drive-in spots and was in business from 1951 to 1987. They served tasty shrimp baskets, burgers and their famous Black-Bottom Pie, a Southern creamy icebox delight made with bittersweet-chocolate and a graham cracker crust. The food was served by a car hop on metal trays that hung on your car window.
Customers ordered their food at Pennington’s on the Order-Matic speaker systems that according to an article I read about the restaurant, was later used by another famous Oklahoma car-hop stop: Sonic Drive-In.
Boots Drive-In on south Sheridan Road was another Tulsa favorite where teenagers from Will Rogers High School, my alum mater, and neighboring Hale High School would hang out after a football or basketball game. And I can’t forget about Shaw’s Drive-In on south Yale Avenue, another favorite drive-in eatery in Tulsa.
And of course, I can’t forget about the numerous 10-stool eateries across T-town. Bills, Ron’s, Ted’s Hamburgers, where customers could eat their meal seated in old wooden school desks; and Freddie’s Hamburgers, a Tulsa favorite owned and operated by a high school classmate of mine, the now late Fred Willis. Freddie’s was a yearly fixture at the Tulsa State Fair. When at the fair, my dad always enjoyed eating at Freddie’s and visiting with Fred, who was known for his friendly demeanor.
I can’t forget about Weber’s Drive-In where they served famous Weber’s Root Beer and the Chuck Wagon Drive-In in Tulsa. The Chuck Wagon eatery resembled a chuck wagon and they provided car-hop service or you could pick up your meal at the to-go window.
Goldies Patio Grill was a Tulsa favorite for years. There may still be a few of them around. They featured chargrilled hamburgers, fries and a pickle bar. They bar featured about every kind of pickle that could be pickled.
A column on food wouldn’t be complete without mentioning another Tulsa institution of tasty delights, Coney-I-Lander. The eatery, which served grilled coneys served on a bun with chili and cheese, has been around since 1926. One of my favorites is still located on the original Route 66 that rolled through T-town, less than a mile from my boyhood home.
After moving to Missouri, then Iowa, it took me awhile to grasp the concept of a Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich.
My first experience of eating a loose meat sandwich happened while I was a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I stopped at a drive-in on Broadway in downtown Columbia near the university for lunch. I checked out the menu and decided to order a couple zip burgers, thinking they were a local name given to a hamburger.
I opened the first one and about half of it fell on my lap and the floorboard of my pickup truck.
“What the heck is this,” I’m thinking, as I try save part of my meal.
That was a new experience for a southern boy.
After moving to Iowa, it didn’t take me long to be introduced to the famous Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich. In the south, we called them a sloppy joe, a saucy, tomato-based creation severed over an open faced bun.
Debbie loves Maid-Rites. I’ve eaten local versions of loose meat sandwiches at football games and community events many times through the years. I know people love them and that is OK. I’ll stick with a regular cheeseburger.
And chili in the north is called a soup. In the south, chili is a meat dish that some eat with a fork, not a spoon. You can still eat it with a spoon if you wish.
One of my favorite Iowa and Midwestern eateries is Culver’s. I stop every chance I get for a double deluxe with onion rings and a cold glass of iced tea. I hope to see you there soon.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.