Monday, April 29, 2013

The Great Drive-In Debate

This "My Turn" column appeared in the Kenosha News this morning:

As I write this, there are rumors that we might see 60 degrees today. Of course, later in the week it’s supposed to be back in the low 40s with a chance of snow showers. Hopefully the warm weather will stick around at some point.

Something that coincides with warmer weather is the urge to visit drive-in restaurants. In Kenosha we are fortunate to have not one, but two ’50s-style hamburger drive-ins to choose from, Big Star and The Spot. And everyone has their favorite. 

First of all let’s make it clear that there is a well-defined difference between a drive-in and a fast food restaurant. There are fast food joints all over America. In fact they are all over the world. You would be hard pressed to go anywhere and not find a McDonalds or Burger King. Now go to those same places and try to find The Spot or Big Star. It’s not going to happen.

Fast food is fast food, no matter where you are. A Whopper is a Whopper and a Big Mac is a Big Mac, whether you are in Kenosha, Wis., or London, England. But a Big Star double-cheeseburger is specific to our fair city, as are the double-cheeseburgers at The Spot. 

Back in the ’70s there were at least five drive-ins to choose from. Besides The Spot and Big Star, there was also A&W (which later became Andy’s Drive-in), Chat ‘n’ Chew and the legendary Fon Tan Blu. Each had its own distinct style and menu. 

Alas, venerable institutions like Chat ‘n’ Chew and Fon Tan Blu no longer grace our hometown. In my humble opinion, with all due respect to Andy’s — which is primarily a sit-down establishment, although if you leave your headlights on they will provide carhop service — Kenosha only has two true drive-ins. The Spot and Big Star are the two remaining survivors, both having their loyal legion of supporters.

Earlier I mentioned double-cheeseburgers. They are the standard for any good drive-in to be judged by. The double-cheeseburgers at both The Spot and Big Star have their own unique characteristics and are outstanding for a variety of reasons.

The freshness of the ingredients in a Spot double-cheeseburger is second to none. The meat appears to have been ground and formed into a patty moments before hitting the grill. If you like your onions grilled, you will love the ample amount slathered on this sandwich. The only downside to this tasty delight is that too much of the cheese sticks to the wrapper! But that would be nitpicking. 

The double-cheeseburger at Big Star is no slouch either. What sets it apart from the rest is its cheese. Some will tell you it is some sort of cheese sauce, while others say it is Cheese Whiz. Still others claim it is Velveeta. It remains somewhat of a mystery. Who knows for sure? Whatever it is, it’s good. And packaging the yummy sandwich in a Styrofoam container solves the oozing cheese problem. You just wait for it to cool and then dig it out with your finger.

Because both drive-ins are so exceptional, a strong debate exists on which is superior. I recently conducted an informal poll on Facebook to see which drive-in Kenosha residents prefer. The question was first posted on March 24th. People are still casting votes in the form of heartfelt comments as I write this. 

Christine posted, “Both have their strong points! Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool…” Another interesting comment came from 3rd district Alderman Jan Michalski, who said, “Big Star, the first hamburger I ever had.” Perhaps Patrick best summed up the debate with, “This potentially can be as divided as Bears or Packers, Cubs or Brewers, Ginger or Mary-Ann. This community is fortunate to have these two unique eateries that we're passionate about. Uniquely Kenosha.” 

So which drive-in emerged victorious in this nonbinding referendum? Which of these storied establishments came out on top? Which does Kenosha prefer? The Spot won the spirited battle with 56 percent of the vote, while Big Star earned a respectable 44 percent. 

The warmer weather is supposedly on the way. Whether you are a fan of Big Star or The Spot, go out and enjoy one of Kenosha’s first-class drive-ins. Speaking from years of personal experience, you won’t be disappointed either way. Trust me.

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