Over on his blog, a friend of mine admits that he just doesn’t grok the whole “Dick’s” thing. This is a shame because, as much of a foodie as he is, this means he is at risk of becoming that most despised of all things: a food critic.
Just as movie critics often lose sight of what movies are for and about—i.e. entertainment—food critics often forget that eating isn’t about cuisine. Eating, arguably the most basic thing in our lives (that we discuss openly), is an experience.
Example: on a recent road trip I spent about 600 miles craving a corn dog. Driving through the high Sierras, through lost towns and backwater podunks, we stopped at several places, but no corn dog joy was found. Then, stopping for gas in northern Oregon, after I had given up all hope, we entered the mini-mart and I smelled that combination of corn and grease that spoke of times gone by. When the unlovely girl behind the counter told me that they just changed the grease yesterday, I ordered two. I sat in that drab mini-mart with its ear-splitting door chime, watched a parade of ugly, tattoed locals come in with a smile and leave with their cases of beer, ate two servings of tasteless tube meat covered in fried corn batter and slathered with mustard that was more vinegar than turmeric, and I was happy.
Dick’s Drive-In is similar. Dick’s is a place the locals know, love, and visit frequently. Just as when, ages ago, I used to take visiting friends and relatives to Starbucks because Seattle was the only place you could find one, now I take them to Dick’s.
Dick’s is not grand cuisine. The burgers will not make you type “OMG” as a caption to your Instagram photo. To be honest, you’ll find a better burger and better fries in many places. But what my dear friend over at Cheap Seat Eats is missing is what the rest of us know: Dick’s is an experience.
When you go to Dick’s, you take a step back in time. You stand in line outside a window (and in Seattle, this is definitely an experience for many). You look at the readerboard menu and goggle at the Henry Ford-esque menu (any flavor you want as long as it’s “beef”). You see the prices and you feel like you’re in an older time–a burger for a buck and a quarter? The “Deluxe” for $2.70? You state your order as you would get tickets at a cineplex, and a very, very young person zips around, gathering your desires; it’s all right there, but you know it’s fresh because the food is just flying out of there and all will need to be replenished in minutes. You get your grease-stained bag and go back to your car, and you want to eat it right there, no waiting, and often you do. And when you take that bite, sitting in your latest-model vehicle, swathed in the scent of grease and meat, you are transported, and now you are sitting on a bench seat with a massive steering wheel and Buddy Holly playing on the AM radio. The lettuce may be wilted, the fries may be soggy, the condiments may be a little on the sweet side, but that burger tastes just like that burger you had as a kid, back before the world went to hell, back before you had to worry about mortgages and college tuition, back when summer was a golden, shining thing waiting for you at the end of the school year. And you are happy.
When you leave Dick’s, if you’ve paid attention, that happy will last for a while.
Now that, my friends, is a burger.