Outside of the fully-automated restaurants found on public-domain clip-reels, the most daring innovation on the restaurant front was the mid-20th century idea of a meal served right to your car, pre-drive-thru. It was a great time to be a fan of portable hamburgers, French fries, and a shake, all for usually fifty cents or possibly less.
The drive-ins, as they were called, were a booming business, but now—outside of a Sonic or the occasional small town haunt—they've left a greasy corpse.
Fortunately, one of these small town drive-ins has stood the test of time – Shawnee’s Brown Derby Drive-In (1830 North Kickapoo).
Located between OBU and Shawnee High, all you need at the Brown Derby is a date to the sock hop, or in my case, a mannequin named Becky, to get an authentic drive-in experience. For my meal, I went with a time-warped classic – a burger, tots and a shake, all for about 10-bucks.
Normally, I would never begin a review by talking about a regular milkshake, but this one—the Brown Derby Shake ($3.65)—is far from regular and truly magnificent. Out of the three flavors available, I chose chocolate.
Whenever I order a cheap shake, I always prepare for a slight gummy aftertaste with a cleaning fluid chaser. Here at the Brown Derby, though, I took a step back and marveled at the blue-ribbon taste! The chocolate was absolutely lustful, and I wanted another one immediately, only held back by my pledge to moderation.
As my shake-mouth was wiped clean, I tried a bit of the famous Derby Tots ($2.74). Prepared with a seemingly large onion and the eponymous "Derby Sauce," this is a great way to enjoy the wily potato, with the sauce doing all of the work. I would suggest bottling that nectar for everyone, but until that ship comes in, these will do fine.
Finally, I got to the renowned Derby Burger ($3.65). I stopped and gave it a once over as more of that Derby Sauce bled to my arm.
As I chomped into the juicy flat-topped meat, a Hemi-fueled rush of letter-jacket-inspired memories from the 1950s that I never experienced raced through my mind. I saw myself cruising down Kickapoo Rd., about to swing into the Derby to see if Becky and Archie were ready to hit the strip, for a Friday night on the town. Is there anything that burger can’t do?
As I shoveled that last delicious bite in the mouth, I guess not.