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Good to Go: Dairy-Ette Is the Ultimate Quarantine Food

New signs hang outside Dairy-Ette, which has been slinging burgers since 1956.EXPAND
New signs hang outside Dairy-Ette, which has been slinging burgers since 1956.
Nick Rallo
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Good to Go is a column where our food writers explore Dallas' restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.

The notice on the door asks you to stay in your car, which is exactly why you came to Dairy-Ette. It’s a brand-new sign for this weird dystopia: It reads “NOTICE!” in a kind of look like you’d find on leaflets blowing in the wind in a zombie film. “If you are coughing or sneezing, please stay in your car,” it says.

Dairy-Ette, the Dallas treasure griddle-smashing beef since 1956, is only a drive-in right now. “Please throw away your own trash!“ says another hand-written sign.

One of the stranger sights during this pandemic has to be the jarring visual of disease protection gear in our neighborhood restaurants — especially the ones that have been open for decades.

And who could have imagined this moment: The most perfect food for the year 2020, wherein a pandemic bolted its way through the world as billionaires sponged up returns, is the 1960s-era drive-in burger and root beer fountain joint.

Who could have predicted that the perfect isolation food — you absolutely can’t leave your car — is housed in a nearly 65-year-old, greasy spoon that trends and influencers have passed by like a comet. Prettier, farm-to-table things have never been welcome here; and in a pandemic, their crushed burgers (on this visit, my patty melt looks like Andre the Giant had been sitting on it) have never been so wonderfully anti-restaurant.

The paper bag is almost invisible from tater tot grease, serving as a window to reveal the cheeseburger it’s carrying. It’s like an egg with a flashlight at its base. The patty melt has cheese that glows like a birthing pod on a spaceship.

The cheeseburger patty is, as always, seared with a heavy hand. Crunchy bits eclipse the edges. Root beer still shows up as cold as the scoop of ice cream that wants to submarine in the creamy bubbles.

Cheese fuses to the wrapper of the patty melt at Dairy-Ette.EXPAND
Cheese fuses to the wrapper of the patty melt at Dairy-Ette.
Nick Rallo

Five customers wait for deliveries. The parking lot reflects Dallas heat, and the black trash flutters in the wind like a crow. There has never been anything seasonal about Dairy-Ette, and maybe that’s a comfort to lean on right now. There was never a real “need” to dine-in here — it was always a “want.” For now, your car is the dining room.

I imagine the best way to dine at Dairy-Ette would be to bring a red-checker, cloth table dressing, drape it over your dashboard, light some votives and enjoy your drink of choice. This drive-in, the entire restaurant, is the ultimate “quarantine kit.”

Another truck roars into a spot under the awning. There’s a hawk riding the White Rock breeze above. I’m listening to the Succession season two soundtrack in the car while corn dogs hit the deep fryer.

Who needs a 50% capacity when I’m 100% in love with Dairy-Ette?

Dairy-Ette, 9785 Ferguson Road (Far East Dallas). Open for takeout and drive-in.

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