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Sonic: Doing a Drive-In Right

By • Jan 9th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

One day I listed every fast-food burger joint I could think of.  A cheeseburger fanatic, I figured I’d already hit every chain at one time or another.  Boy, was I wrong.  I must truly be a creature of habit, because I was shocked at how many establishments I’ve never been to.

Some places simply aren’t anywhere near me (damn you, In-N-Out, mocking me with your West Coast exclusivity three time zones away!), while other places just never registered on my radar screen.  One of those places was Sonic Drive-In.

It must be the eat-in-your-car concept, I deduced.  Eating in a moving car is one thing.  Eating in a parked car just seems, well, unnecessary and weird. But back when Sonic started in 1953, cars were cool.  For the first time ever, your vehicle was suddenly an extension of your personality.  Think “Grease” or “American Graffiti.” Yeah, if I had a ride like that, you’d better believe I’d be showing it off, enveloped in real leather and chrome, sipping a malted milkshake and chowing down on a greasy burger.  Doing it in my 2000 imported pickup truck?  Not cool in the least. It occurred to me that what I needed in order to want to go to Sonic was something like this:

That is a 1955 Chevy Bel-Air 2-door hardtop.  It’s been lovingly restored by my dad, who has owned it since 1966.  It used to be red, then it was blue, and now it’s red again.  It has nifty new updates like seat belts, air conditioning, and an iPod dock.  But the leather interior smells exactly as I remember it smelling as a 5-year-old.  And when I asked my dad if he wanted to grab a burg with me and my 6-year-old daughter, I knew we’d be the coolest cats at the drive-in.

Sure enough, we turned quite a few heads.  My daughter thought the idea of pushing the big red button when we were ready to order was the coolest thing ever…

…until our rolling-skating waitress glided up while carrying a tray of food and balanced it on the half-open driver’s side window.  Sydney and her Grampy got foot-long hot dogs; I went for the Bacon Cheeseburger Toaster.  It’s topped with chopped onions, shredded lettuce, hickory BBQ sauce, and an onion ring.  (I 86ed the tomatoes and pickles.)  And it’s served between thick slices of Texas toast.

Up until this moment, I was in love with my whole Sonic experience.  The attention we got in our classic car, the way people felt compelled to come up and share a story about how they “used to have one just like it,” the quiet pride exuding from my dad, the giddy excitement oozing from my daughter, even a pretty decent-looking burg in a pretty awesome leather-and-chrome setting.

I only wish it were a better burger. I think the skate ride from the kitchen and sitting out on a window tray in late December posing for photos probably didn’t help the overall taste, because it wasn’t exactly hot anymore by the time I bit in.  Despite my recent bitching about how I should’ve gone with toast at Steak ‘n Shake, I now regretted not choosing bun at Sonic.  The toast was overwhelming, and not only in size.

So now I’ve been to Sonic.  It may be a one-time event, because I still don’t grasp the allure of eating off of your steering wheel.  But if it turns out to be my one and only drive-in encounter, at least I did it right.  ‘Cos sometimes, it’s not about the food.

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