9785 Ferguson Road
After a long weekend soaking up culture down in Ennis, and sun out at the FOE pool, yesterday's return to traffic, cubicle walls and that car alarm that keeps going off outside my window was, honestly, kind of a bummer, dudes. By the time the work whistle blew me back into the world at the end of the day, I was hungry for a little more summer, and maybe a burger too.
I'll cruise past drive-ins and greasy spoons in winter and spring, but once the weather heats up, I get to thinking about the rusty-roofed shack in Yankton, South Dakota, called Tastee Treat, where we'd stop for shakes and loose-meat sandwiches (don't recall that sounding gross at the time) after a day on the river. These days I don't mind if the meat sticks together, but it's not a proper summer without a fair amount of time at a greasy old drive-in.
Keller's was a little too familiar, and Sonic would've been too easy. Instead, I punched through rush-hour traffic on I-30 and took Ferguson Road down to Dairy-ette, after hearing its reputation for homemade root beer and great fries. That's all old news to anyone who's lived near Dairy-Ette in East Dallas since its 1956 opening. It built its reputation on homemade root beer and fries.
To anyone who grew up around Dairy-ette, that's all old news. It's a neighborhood standby -- one guy next to me recognized the cook as the son of an old high school friend from roughly "100 years ago." Dairy-ette opened in 1956, and not a whole lot looks to have changed since then.
The inside's all wood paneling, with brown and red vinyl booths, covered in '50s boomerang shapes. One recent addition hangs on the wall: a poster for a Bryan Adams High School class reunion that was held in 2003. In the parking lot, a squat black Porsche Carrera faced a Dodge Ram with a four-wheeler in the bed, and deer-killers on its headlights.
The drive-in waitress was chatting up a driver in one of the parked cars when I walked by, and inside I was alone except for an older woman in a booth, picking at her fries and sipping a big Dr Pepper.
I took up a red stool at the counter and grabbed a worn-in sports page while I waited to order. A swinging door opened to the kitchen, where the cook, in a stained white T-shirt and a stained white apron, checked his BlackBerry while meat sizzled on the grill. A few more tables filled up: a father and son who ordered identical burgers, and a married couple with a young daughter that took up seats at the counter next to me.
I settled on the place what I'd be getting: cheeseburger, fries and a root beer. Cheese tots were near winners, and any of the "Steak Sand," "Egg Sand" or "Fish Sand" are on my list when I go back. Probably, the "Club Sad" on the menu is just missing a letter, but for $4.50, I wouldn't risk it.
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Root beer is recommended. The waitress brought it out in a thick frosty mug -- not too sweet, and without the strong bite of, say, Barq's. The burger came wrapped up in paper held shut with a toothpick, soaking up the grease from the bed of fries underneath. It was a big, hand-formed patty, and melted cheese dripped out as soon as I unwrapped it.
The first few fries were some of the best I've had in town -- thin-cut and crispy, unseasoned, so you still taste the potato, and enough grease to make that OK. It was almost enough to make me quit worrying about In-N-Out's cautious overtures at moving to Dallas. But down around halfway through the fry basket, things turned soggy real fast. The first half of the fries may well have matched their 2006 Best Fries in Dallas days, but I left the bottom of the basket as an offering to the grease trap. Still, I can hardly complain about half a basket of great fries, with the root beer and the rest of the atmosphere, when I got out of there for under eight bucks -- cash only.