I grew up in a small town, and one feature that seems to be consistent among them is the existence of some kind of burger joint. I’m not talking about the little Arctic Circle or A&W’s that you can still find up and down the coast or out in the eastern part of the state … but the little independent places that somehow just make the food taste better because of the (perhaps pretend) nostalgia that you can soak up while you linger over your meal. It’s like traveling back into time, leaving the modern trend of ‘little plates’ and shiny minimalism behind.
I never met a guy at a malt shop as a teeny bopper, never actually lived the drive-in teen-age hangout lifestyle. But growing up I was saturated in the 1950′s nostalgia wave – starting with the re-runs of the Mickey Mouse Club and Annette Funicello, the Happy Days tv series, all the old re-runs of Leave it to Beaver with these strange families with stay-at-home moms AND sometimes live in maids.
So when I moved to Camas, WA several years ago, I was just enchanted by the local burger joint, Top Burger Drive In. Mind you, it’s not a drive-UP … but a bona-fide, new-fangled almost drive IN. I could just imagine it on a warm summer night, well, a summer night anyway, maybe not warm – cars with kids in the parking lot, roller skated waitresses bringing out burgers and fries and cokes.
Now, you don’t drive up, place your order and drive out again 45 seconds later with your grub. You leave your car there in the window and wait for them to cook your food. Sometimes, if the line is four deep, they might have you pull into the parking lot for a spell. My boys and I always get the seasoned fries … heavenly.
Inside, there are photos of the building when it was new. You can get hand-scooped ice cream from a tub in the cooler, or you can get the soft stuff from the machine. I think they even have chocolate dip for the soft cones. There are flavored candy sticks – the straight candy cane style, with different flavors that you can suck on until they make a sharp point at the end.
There are booths, black and white checkered floors … and even if it is new, even if it wasn’t there when your grandparent’s were teens, is sure FEELS like it was.
In the summer the kids sit outside on the picnic tables, eating their ice-cream cones and being cool. The old high school used to be down the street, before they build the new one and then a new elementary school and now the town seems quieter, the kids are mostly bussed out to the new developments to the west, to their new schools. I imagine the business has slowed, now that the area boasts a Five Guy’s, a Sonic, and a Wendy’s within three miles.
Personally, I like to be in a place that doesn’t feel like the attempt to look old school is forced. They don’t have to try - they ARE old school. I like the food – it takes awhile, you have to sit down and visit while you wait for your ‘fast’ food. There aren’t any video games or bells and whistles to distract, no kids on skates rolling out to the cars.
Another place I only recently found is in another neighborhood entirely, in a most unlikely place. Skyline Burgers sits out in the middle of nowhere, up on top of Skyline Boulevard in Portland’s west hills, with not much else around it at all. You don’t see very many houses as you drive around, they’re mostly set back in among the trees amid long driveways the hill dwellers seem to like. Pammy showed me this place, we met there for lunch one day last spring, and now I look for reasons to drive over that way to stop by. I had the same feeling, that this was a place that had once been kind of hopping, but that now was competing with… well, there’s not much else up there but I imagine they mostly just get the locals because there is no other reason to drive up that hill, except to get over it to see what you can see maybe. Although it always is busy and full of diners when I’ve been there.
They make milkshakes out of pie. That right there should convince you to make the drive up Skyline and go check them out. But they also make really good sandwiches and burgers.
You can tell they’re invested in the community – even though it’s hardly a small town, rather a neighborhood. Kid’s drawings cover the walls. Every time I’ve been there it’s been packed. It’s the kind of place you come home to, I guess.
Burgers are great – I prefer the whole lettuce to the shredded (per the Top Burger), but that’s just my taste. They also serve salads, chili, soups … just a nice cozy diner … out in the middle of nothing.