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American cheese, griddled onions, seared beef on the patty melt at Dairy-Ette in Far East Dallas.EXPAND
American cheese, griddled onions, seared beef on the patty melt at Dairy-Ette in Far East Dallas.
Nick Rallo

Why I Am Eternally Thankful for Patty Melts

Thanksgiving or not, I’m thankful for patty melts.

Sitting at Dairy-Ette with a root beer, glass glazed with frost, iPhone’s predictive autocorrect hopes to change “patty melt” to “party melt.” Sure — that’ll do just fine. Do whatever you want, iPhone. Either way I’m having a buttery, toasted party melt.

It’s right at noon at Dairy-Ette, and it’s griddle-steam humid inside the drive-in. The root beer foams to the rim, then settles. My fingers leave blank prints on the icy sheen of the mug — one sip of the soda tastes like cloud-scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream. The patty melt drops after a few minutes, wrapped like a gift in wax paper and skewered with a toothpick like time hasn’t advanced at all.

To be clear: There’s no plate, not even a basket. Just wax paper, translucent in a leopard-spot pattern from the beef grease. The patty has a hard sear, encrusted under a nest of melted American cheese and buttery onions (ask them to salt and pepper the beef to take it into the stratosphere). The basic white bread makes a CRASH-crunch sound during a bite. We need this sandwich; and Dairy-Ette, open since 1956, needs us. Patty melts won’t buy themselves, and the restaurants that serve them won’t stay open unless we go there and order things. It’s a simple formula.

A mug of cold root beer and a patty melt at Dairy-Ette is a Dallas classic.EXPAND
A mug of cold root beer and a patty melt at Dairy-Ette is a Dallas classic.
Nick Rallo

Patty melts are the bees of the food world: If the patty melt disappeared off the face of the earth, start building the bunker. Search “patty melts near me,” and there's a good chance you’ll find a handful of neighborhood bars and family-owned joints who love the classics. If you find your patty melt search has dwindling results, less so than say, a fried chicken sandwich in 2019 A.P. (After Popeyes) — it’s time to be a patron of your favorite spot. Go there. Grab a bar stool, the ones that twist, and a patty melt. Tater tots pair perfectly, if you ask this aficio-tot-o. Order one patty melt to eat-in, and then get one for the road. They travel well.

So, I’m thankful for patty melts, because they’re standing tall and shielding us from the onslaught of trends at the few joints that still serve them. You won’t find lines wrapping around the block for a patty melt. Usually.

Hillside Tavern is one of the newer spots with an eye-opening patty melt: Chef Nathan Tate’s version has a zapping electric charge from cherry and pepperoncini peppers. The Parlor Patty Melt at BrainDead is still a crackling-genius application of American cheese. Jonathon’s Oak Cliff hosts a patty melt that causes solar flares and electronic disturbances. All and in between, they are fantastic sandwiches.

Dairy-Ette’s unadorned patty melt, under five bucks and plate-free, is something special. Sandwiches come and go at Dallas’ best joints — Dairy-Ette’s version has me wrapped up in knots. Sitting at the bar stool, the vanilla soft serve smudging root beer with snow-white ice cream, the lingering sweet root beer in your head, the melty cheese, buttery dashes of onions and seasoned beef is an unending well of comfort in this waning year.

Dairy-Ette, 9785 Ferguson Road (Far East Dallas). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m daily.

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