Burger joints of Central Washington: A classic road trip
It was early afternoon when we ordered the burger and staked out a table in the small picnic area overlooking Lake Chelan. Our attention, though, was...
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It was early afternoon when we ordered the burger and staked out a table in the small picnic area overlooking Lake Chelan. Our attention, though, was not on the scenic lake but on the never-ending parade of diners coming and going at the Lakeview Drive In, just as they have for the past 50 years.
The small wood-frame building, tucked between the City Marina and Campbell's Resort, is one of those hometown hangouts, the burger joints, which we boomers fondly recall as our weekend place to be and to be seen. Every town, it seemed, had at least one drive-in that teased our taste buds with a specialty sauce or seasoning on big, juicy, cooked-to-order burgers, with mounds of French fries and a thick milkshake chaser.
Those gastronomical recollections prompted a recent Central Washington road trip on a route from my husband's hometown, Chelan, to Yakima, where I grew up. We visited seven of those old favorites, each nearing or having passed the half-century mark, with generations of fans still seeking their favorite menu items.
The traits contributing to their longevity are remarkably similar: family ties to the area, a pride in their product and service, involvement in the community and support of local youths and their activities. Regulars are called by name and newcomers are quickly made to feel like regulars.
Here's a roundup of our road trip:
Minutes after we'd ordered, Debbie Mack's voice rang out over loudspeakers, "Order for Jackie," announcing that our fast-food feast (regular burger and fries for under $5) was ready. The Triple Mack cheeseburger ($4.75) and bucket of fries ($7.75) was tempting. Debbie and her husband, Mike, bought the Lakeview in 1984 from another longtime Chelan family. Six years ago, their son, Michael, took over the business, but all family members remain involved in it. Their specialty, Mack's Seasoning Salt, has grown so popular it is now sold in take-home bottles.
Thirty miles south, in the heart of Wenatchee's business district, Dusty's In-N-Out has been serving burgers since opening in 1949. Co-owned by Peter Kuske and Michael Noyd, it has inside seating for 72 people in a modern, made-to-look-like-the-'50s-style eatery.
Both owners have family ties to the Wenatchee Valley, with Kuske's going back to his grandparents' friendship with the drive-in's founders, Dusty and Bette Rhodes.
"We don't get caught up in competition, we provide quality at a reasonable price," Kuske said, adding that once a year they do a special promotion to thank the community for its support. The promotion links the burger price and anniversary date; 56 years of operation were celebrated with 56-cent burgers.
When we visited, customer Kami Hines of Mountain Home, Idaho, was introducing her 9-month-old, Austin, to the Dusty's menu. She first ate there at age 5 or 6, recalled her mother, Vicky Stevens, of Wenatchee.
"It is a place you return to, because it is the best hamburger in town ... and the fry goop," Hines explains. "Goop" is the name for Dusty's special sauce used both for dipping fries and slathered on burgers — an original recipe handed down over the years, much like their seasoning salt, which comes from the original recipe that Bette Rhodes gave Kuske's grandmother. Dusty Burgers, oozing with goop, can still be had for $2.59.
Eleven miles away in Aplets & Cotlets candy country, you can't miss Rusty's Drive In, just off Highway 2. Operating since 1953, the business has so prided itself on consistency that owners Suzi and Jeff Maughan haven't even changed the exterior paint color of the small wood-frame building in the 23 years they've owned it.
A favorite here is "the World Famous Rusty Burger," a mouth-stretching burger of four meat patties, four cheeses, sauce, lettuce, pickles, onion, bacon and tomato.
Wenatchee resident Ronetta Peterson has ties that go back 25 years when, as a new bride, she worked there.
"This was the place to work," she recalled. "It was the place everyone went. We saw the same people at the same time and they ordered the same food." She and her husband, Rick, return often because, she said, "Sometimes you just need a Rusty's fix."
Although it's no longer the menu slogan, King's Row Drive In is still "home of the garbage burger," topped with ham, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise. It was created by Selah Mayor Bob Jones, who owned the drive-in for 36 of its 49 years.
"I forgot the customer's name, but he worked in the oil fields of Kuwait and he came in and named off the ingredients he wanted in his burger," Jones recalled. "Others started asking for it and someone asked, 'What do you call it?' And I answered, 'How about a garbage burger?' "
The small dining area's CD-playing jukebox is ringed with more than three dozen framed photos of King's Row-sponsored athletic teams, some of which Jones coached as well. "Our teams had free pop and shakes if they won. One of my Grid kids is now on the City Council and another on the planning commission," he said.
Jones' longtime employee Sherry Dawson has changed little since buying the drive-in from her boss five years ago. "A lot of people come in that we may not know by name, but by what they eat, like the 'chicken-with-tartar-sauce guy,' " she said of the regulars.
There's no doubt when you see the red-and-white sign, shingles, picnic tables and floor tiles that you've arrived at the Pepp'rmint Stick Drive In, in Yakima's southern suburb. City Councilman Dave Butler, the drive-in's owner for the past decade, said it got its start in the late 1940s or early '50s. He attributes the sustained success to being a local place that cares about its customers.
The signature, Dave's Burger, is a thick, half-pound patty with all the trimmings, and like all their burgers, comes with the "special sauce that has been passed down through generations."
Employee Savannah Finn said it is the peppermint ice cream that brings people back. It was for me. The cone was exactly as remembered, with several mounds of the pink ice cream streaked with red and green peppermint candy ($2.15).
Only a couple of miles north on the same road, Miner's Drive In has been home to the Big Miner Burger, with its meat patty, thick sliced onion, tomato and lettuce, since Ed and Irene Miner opened their small wood-frame burger hut in 1948. Their son, Lee, his wife, Lois (who still live in the family home next door), and their adult kids, Gary and Reneé, continue the family's fast-food tradition. The drive-up windows were somewhat the same as we remembered, but the drive-in has morphed into a full-size restaurant seating 230 diners. Indoor restrooms with automatic-flush toilets have replaced those once housed in a converted shed beside the drive-in. Some of the original trees planted by Ed Miner still shade the picnic tables in its small park area, but once-adjacent fields have been replaced with a shopping mall.
Miner's continues to be a popular stop for school buses carrying young athletes to and from games. "The bus trade has been important," said Gary. "The athletes that have come through put us on the map by word-of-mouth. They grew up and they came back with families."
The Stop and Go Drive Inn in northwest Yakima is on Fruitvale Boulevard, once the main route to Naches and White Pass. The freeway has diverted the bulk of through-town traffic but not the loyal followers who make special trips to the modest wood-frame drive-in. Its most popular burger — the $4.85 Super Texas Cheeseburger, with its two quarter-pound patties, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, pickle, tomato and lettuce — is worth the trip.
Anthony Wade took over the drive-in last year, a decade after his parents bought the business that made its debut in the summer of 1948.
"People come in and tell us everything is the same as they remember it from back when they came years ago," he said. "We joke around with the customers and we know the regulars. We start cooking when we see their car pull in; we don't wait for them to order. We know what they want."
Jackie Smith is a freelance writer who now lives in Kirkland — "on the coast," as Yakima natives refer to anything west of Snoqualmie Pass.