During my time spent at the Drive-In, located at the northernmost end of Weber Street, here are some things I enjoyed: the covered outdoor benches, the friendly employees, and the pleasant-looking lawn-mower repair shop located nearby.
I also loved seeing the 1950s-era restaurant stand proud as one of a few remaining icons of its type, right there with BJ's Velvet Freez on North Union Boulevard and Cy's Drive-In Restaurant on the west side. Previously owned by the folks from the equally iconic Little Market & Deli, it's recently gotten a refresh from new owner (and former Leon Gessi Pizza owner) Bill Miller.
Here's what I don't get, though: how Miller could have told the Indy's Matthew Schniper ("At the Drive-In," Side Dish, March 15) that he had revamped the menu "to match a more gourmet, 'country club style.'" Not only is the food at this neighborhood landmark exactly what you'd expect — chili dogs ($1.86), corn dogs ($1.86), onion rings ($1.75/small), etc. — but it often fails to stand out even at that level.
Maybe he was referring to the option to add Hormel pastrami to any burger for 50 cents extra. And though we skipped that, we did try the featured meat on two seemingly interchangeable options: the pastrami, lettuce and tomato sandwich ($2.89) and the hot pastrami grilled 6-inch hoagie ($3.89), with lettuce and tomato. Either way, both were actually good: The first came on buttery toast, with a fair share of mayo, while the latter added melted Swiss cheese.
Some of the ice cream we tried was pretty tasty, too. Though built on the same soft-serve you could get anywhere, both the Oreo flurry ($2.55, small) and hot-fudge sundae ($1.54, small) did their part to beat the heat. A lime slushie ($1.49, medium) offered so much less, tasting like an old, powdery Necco Wafer.
Still, I'd gravitate toward the dessert menu. Because those pastrami sandwiches aside, almost all the hot food that required a little assembly was pretty bad. And I say "assembly" because most of the product arrives frozen from U.S. Foods, a store manager confirms — and you can tell.
The Papa Half-Pound Double ($3.25, plus 50 cents for cheese) is OK when covered with lettuce, tomato, onion and house Thousand Island, but eat the gray-ish patties on their own, and you begin to wish your only drink wasn't a neon-green slushie. Or try the supposedly hand-tenderized chicken breast sandwich ($3.26) and watch mayo, yellow mustard, lettuce and tomato put up a valiant fight to save the dry, bland and freezer-burned cutlets.
Even the three chicken strips ($2.79) were noticeably rubbery after cooling for only a few minutes. Not sure, but this could be because of the "14% of a solution" they contain, which we learned of when a U.S. Foods delivery driver set down a box of the "uncooked, homestyle chicken tenderloin fritters" near our table. (And I don't mean to say that other restaurants don't also source the mass-produced; but here, when it was bad, it was very bad.)
So I guess it comes down to a question of what you're after. If you're looking to get a feel for what dining out used to be, the Drive-In's the place. If you want to eat something you couldn't just grab from the frozen-foods aisle at the neighborhood Safeway, I'd go somewhere else.