Monday, December 30, 2019

Tiny Narratives '19

Throughout the year, I travel far and wide in search of places I can write about that fit the Broken Chains theme. Occasionally, however, I have experiences that don't quite warrant an entire blog post, so at the end of the year, I stick them together to create a single Katamari-like post about these minor experiences. It's an idea I lifted directly from the podcast, 99% Invisible, whose contributors put out an annual Mini Stories episode in late December every year. Just as Rax calls their Arby's-inspired curly fries twisty fries, I call my 99% Invisible-inspired mini stories post Tiny Narratives.

Trivial Journey: Cinnamon's

When coming up with topics to write about here, a well I return to frequently is chain restaurants of my youth that I haven't seen operating anywhere in a long time. More often than not, at least one location is operating somewhere. I pulled the name T.J. Cinnamons out of the recesses of my memory during a brainstorming session one day. The Cinnabon-like chain founded in 1985, the same year as Cinnabon, operated primarily out of shopping mall food court slots. Following a buyout by Arby's in 1996, T.J. Cinnamon's items began showing up on Arby's menus, and the mall-based locations began to disappear. Arby's bounced around to different parent companies during the past decade, and T.J. Cinnamon's got lost in the shuffle. The Wendy's Company owns the T.J. Cinnamon's brand now, but Arby's is owned by Roark Capital Group, who also owns Cinnabon. Wendy's seems to be doing nothing with the brand, and Cinnabon menu items haven't made it into Arby's yet. Meanwhile, T.J. Cinnamon's seems to be all but a dead brand. It has no website or social media pages, and a list of locations is nowhere to be found online.

Still, I suspected there was at least one Arby's still selling T.J. Cinnamons cinnamon rolls, and I was determined to find it. Some Googling revealed that a few Arby's locations in the Morgantown, West Virginia area were still listed as T.J. Cinnamon's locations, and while in the area, I stopped by one of them to investigate.

A '90s built Arby's, with a complete lack of T.J. Cinnamons signage. 

Upon arrival, in Morgantown, I found a fairly standard Arby's with no T.J. Cinnamons signage, and no cinnamon rolls on the menu. I ordered a chocolate shake in defeat, but not before noticing photos by the counter of kids' baseball teams that the local Arby's franchisee had sponsored. Some photos listed Arby's as a sponsor, while others listed T.J. Cinnamon's. Based on these photos, this Arby's had been selling T.J. Cinnamons items at least as recently as 2008, and perhaps later.

 What's more American than baseball, roast beef sandwiches, and cinnamon rolls?
I can't help but think that T.J. Cinnamons is extinct however. I doubt any Arby's franchisee is able to procure whatever proprietary prefab dough product the T.J. Cinnamons brand used, nor is any Arby's franchisee willing to have their employees make a facsimile of a T.J. Cinnamon's cinnamon roll from scratch. Still, there's an Arby's in Albuquerque that's listed as still being a T.J. Cinnamons location. My Broken Chains-related travel hasn't taken me west of Tornado Alley yet, but if I do ever find myself exploring the broken chains of the Land of Enchantment, I'll plan a stop at that Albuquerque Arby's on the off chance it's also the world's last T.J. Cinnamon's.


While we're on the subject of Arby's, let's talk about this one in Corbin, Kentucky. You may recall that I encountered it last year on the way home from the very first Raxgiving at the Harlan, Kentucky Rax. I mentioned in that post that this Arby's is a former Rax. That turned out to be incorrect. The Raxgiving event I put together this year caught the attention of the owner of the Harlan Rax, who kindly informed me that this Arby's had always been an Arby's, and he knew that to be the case, as his original Rax franchise agreement included exclusive rights to operate in Corbin. No one else could open a Rax there, and neither did he. He did mention, however, that Rax architecture may have influenced the design of this particular Arby's location. Sadly, this Arby's has since been closed, and I believe demolished following the construction of a new Arby's just up the road. 

I'd Rather Sonic, Wouldn't You? 

Admittedly, this year's Tiny Narratives is Arby's/Rax-heavy. I swear I didn't plan it that way. At one point during the year, I had plans to write a post documenting former Rax buildings I had encountered. That post didn't come to fruition for a variety of reasons, but in researching it, I did encounter a fast food architectural oddity too weird to not mention.

Athens, Ohio is home to a bizarre carhop-less Sonic location that's housed in a former Rax building. Furthermore, it's a relatively uncommon variation on the Rax design that features a solarium on one side of the dining room rather than protruding out the front. In Sonic guise, the old Rax originally featured phones at each table from which customers could place orders, but during my visit over the summer, the phones had been removed, forcing patrons to awkwardly order from a tiny menu board next to a similarly diminutive order counter. 

Weirdest. Sonic. Ever. 

And an unusual Rax design to boot. 

That's the menu board on the right under the Sonic To Go signage. The order counter is on the left. 

There's not much more to say about Rax-Sonic other than, "Weird, right?" so this oddball Sonic ended up in the Tiny Narratives file.

There Once Was a Mascot From Nantucket...

If you're reading this blog, you're probably more familiar with legacy fast food mascots than the average person. You're also likely to recognize Speedee, the original McDonald's mascot who predates Ronald by a solid 15 years. Following my post commenting on the similarities between the Ritzee Hamburgs and G.D. Ritzy's mascots, Sef "Burger Beast" Gonzalez reached out to me regarding a near forgotten mascot that appears to have inspired Speedee. 

Meet Downyflake Dan, mascot for Downyflake Donuts, who according to Sef's research appeared in newspapers as early as 1947 while Richard and Maurice McDonald didn't begin using Speedee as the mascot for their revamped burger stand using the Speedee System until 1948. As you can see, the only significant difference between Downyflake Dan and Speedee is that their large round craniums are made of a donut and a hamburger, respectively. Is this a case of plagiarism, or both companies using an ad agency with a lazy art director? The answer to that question seems to be lost to history.

There's still a Downyflake in operation in (on?) Nantucket, Massachusetts, but they haven't returned my emails regarding their mascot. Maybe they don't know anything about it. My Broken Chains travels haven't taken me too far up the east coast, but if I'm ever in Nantucket, I'll stop in at the Downyflake and ask about Dan.  

Blue Lights Fade Ever Dimmer

Go toward the light, Kmart!

To my complete surprise, Kmart still exists. Sure, after the latest round of store closures set to wrap up in February, there will only be 59 US locations left, scattered haphazardly across multiple non-contiguous American states and territories. And sure, those locations are by and large as dated and dilapidated as the stores that have closed before them. And sure, Kmarts corporate sibling Sears isn't fairing much better, and will soon be down to 111 total US locations according to the handy map of surviving locations put together by Dead and Dying Retail, but any other retailer in Sears/Kmart's position would have called it quits years ago.

According to at least one commentator, there's no real business case for keeping Sears and Kmart in business, and the only reason they still exist is to nurse the bruised ego of their one-time CEO and current majority shareholder Eddie Lampert, whose pattern of mismanagement and apparent strategy of slowly stripping both brands for parts has forced both Sears and Kmart into a hyperbolic function of constantly approaching, but never reaching the point of complete liquidation. I can't help but suspect I'll be writing about some smaller, yet still extant remnant of the Kmart chain next year as well as Sears and Kmart continue to shamble irrelevantly through the increasingly bleak brick and mortar landscape.

As with last year's Tiny Narratives post, I'll wrap this post up with pictures of Kmart locations I've visited this year. Unless otherwise noted, all locations shown have closed or are in the process of closing.
Somerset, Kentucky
This was the last surviving Kmart that I remember visiting as a child. It was one of only two still open in Kentucky when I came back as a childish adult this past spring.

The other of the final two Kentucky Kmarts was in Erlanger, just south of Cincinatti. There are now no Sears or Kmart stores left in Kentucky. 
The other surviving Cincinnati-area Kmart was in Harrison, Ohio, housed in a former Rink's discount store. 
It was on a trip to the Grove City, Ohio Kmart that I discovered the Rally's across the street that used to be a Ritzy's. Ohio will soon have no Kmart locations left, and only a single Sears.

In North Dakota, the Fargo Kmart has met its demise like so many characters in the film and TV show of the same

Its counterpart in Bismarck, North Dakota will soon do the same, leaving the Minot location as the last Kmart between Minneapolis and Western Montana.

The Warsaw Kmart was among the last in Indiana.
As was the Valparaiso Kmart. Indiana now has no surviving Sears or Kmart locations.

And yet, the Marshall, Michigan Kmart remains open with no immediate plans to close. It will soon be the last Kmart in Michigan, the state where the Kmart Corporation was once based. It's a little rough around the edges, but not in bad shape for a Kmart. It even has an operating Little Caesar's inside it.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

So Long, Evil Sam

There's an adage that says you should never meet your heroes. Maybe its existence is for fear that those who seem heroic in the abstract are evil in person. That hasn't been the case in my experience. My hero called himself evil, but I'm glad to have met him. 

Astute Broken Chains readers may notice that this is my hundredth blog post. The most astute among them, however, will note that it’s technically my hundred and first, including the post I uploaded during my summer 2019 hiatus and took down when normal posts resumed. (That would technically make last week’s rhyming post about former G.D. Ritzy’s buildings my hundredth, and I’m mostly fine with that.) In either case, a hundred or more blog posts feels like a big deal in a society built around a base 10 system. To mark the arbitrarily significant occasion, I had planned on detailing some of the earliest broken chain adventures I had shortly before I started blogging. 

Social media posts that I made about those early excursions would lead to my friend Cosmo Roadpacer suggesting that I start a blog about my travels to oddball chain restaurants. Yep, writing about the trip I took after Christmas 2017 to the Huntington, West Virginia G.D. Ritzy’s, the nearby Ironton, Ohio Rax, and the Pomeroy, Ohio McDonald’s, six months late to get an elusive McPizza was the plan for my centenary post, until I got some sad news.

When Cosmo suggested early in 2018 that I start a blog centered around chain restaurants, my chief argument against it was that it had already been done. For well over a decade, I had been an avid consumer of the impressively comprehensive fast food restaurant reviews and regular blog posts made by The Evil Sam Graham. In fact, it was late in 2017 when I was inspired to start visiting the endangered chain restaurants near me after rereading all of Sam’s blog posts dating all the way back to 2005. It's therefore safe to say that without the inspiration provided by The Evil Sam Graham, there would be no Broken Chains. I’m sad to report that we now live in a world without The Evil Sam Graham in it. I’ve learned that he died earlier this month. This post is as much my way of coping with the loss as it is my tribute to him, as Sam’s online presence has been a part of my life for the past 15 years.

I discovered his old site when I was a teenager, searching for information on some regional chain restaurant or another that I was curious about. I found his page of reviews of nearly every fast food chain I had ever heard of and several I never had. Not long after that, he began blogging, detailing his day to day life and the adventures on the road he’d have in his spare time. He posted regularly, and I read everything he wrote voraciously. In a time when social media was in its infancy, it was a boon to my angsty teenage psyche to find someone living in the world who was the same kind of weird as me. I wrote him an email after I visited the last operating Druther’s restaurant in 2006, and was ecstatic to find that he had written me back.

I’d continue to read Sam’s blog regularly over the next decade as I went through college and established myself in a stable career. I’d have little adventures to interesting and/or historic chain restaurants once or twice a year during that time, but a lack of time and/or money prevented me from doing so regularly. That all changed late in 2017 when I found myself with a stable 9-5 job for the first time in my life. Simultaneously, I was in a new relationship with my beloved Esmeralda Fitzmonster, whose work schedule did not line up with mine. Our coupling left me with approximately half my weekends free. It was then that I decided to use my newfound abundance of free time and resources to have some Evil Sam Graham-style fun, which led to regular broken chain adventures, and eventually my earliest blog posts.

When setting up my blog, I shamelessly used the layout of Sam’s as my template. To this day, the basic layout of my header, footer, and blog archive are essentially identical to his. My earliest posts are poor imitations of his writing style, and like Cleo McDowell hoping that the lack of sesame seeds on the bun of his Big Mick was enough to keep the McLawyers at bay, I hoped that my focus on the surviving locations of defunct chains was enough to keep The Evil Sam Graham from seeing my work as a cheap imitation of his.

Over the next few months, I felt myself becoming increasingly obsessed with the diminished restaurant and retail brands that I had dubbed broken chains. I found myself joining restaurant and retail-themed Facebook groups full of hundreds of people who were the same kind of weird as me, and I was pleased to find Evil Sam himself among them. I was overjoyed when he told me that he loved my blog, and I was excited to tell him that his work was the chief inspiration for my own. He accepted my friend request, and we’d chat every now and then. Usually I’d seek his wise counsel regarding things like the history of the Hardee’s roast beef sandwich or which of the two Taco Ticos in Iowa was the best to visit if I only had time to visit one.

In fact, I routed my pre-Christmas road trip through Iowa last year because I knew Sam lived near Des Moines, and I wanted to have an excuse to meet him in person. I shared my entire itinerary with him and told him I’d love to meet up with him somewhere along the way if he had the time and desire. It made my entire year when he said he’d meet me at my favorite G.D. Ritzy’s, the University Drive location in Evansville, Indiana.

True to his word, Evil Sam himself showed up at the agreed-upon time, a few days before Christmas 2018. He said that he’d had business not too far away and had always wanted to try Ritzy’s, and I was awestruck to have the privilege to play the role of guide as my favorite blogger experienced my favorite restaurant for the first time. As we made small talk in the order line, I was excited when he asked me what the default burger toppings were and I was able to tell him that every sandwich was topped to order and there were no default toppings. When we received our orders and sat down together at a faux marble topped table in the center of the elevated dining room, I took great pleasure in showing him the bottle of magic sauce on the table that when sprinkled on G.D. Ritzy’s conventional chili, would give it the cinnamony zing of Cincinnati chili. It felt great to see the look of amazement on the face of Sam Graham, the fast food connoisseur, when he took a freshly-sauced second bite of his chili dog to be greeted by the signature flavor of The Queen City. As the meal progressed, we discussed the history of G.D. Ritzy’s, our mutual love of Taco Tico, and I hung on his every word like the fanboy I was as he told me stories of failed Des Moines area restaurants I had only previously read about in his blog. Having the source of the writing that inspired my own writing hobby munching shoestring fries across the table from me was a wonderful kind of surreal.

I probably embarrassed him a little when I told him what a big fan of his writing I was and how long I’d been reading his stuff. Whenever a new Evil Sam blog post would appear, it would make my whole week, from his very first post detailing his visit to the grand opening of a Chick-fil-A in October 2005 to his last, about trying the much-hyped Popeye’s chicken sandwich just a couple of weeks before his death. Every post in the 14 years between those breaded and deep fried chicken bookends not only influenced me as a writer, and gave me the most rewarding hobby of my life, but also showed me it was okay to have unusual and specific interests.

The Evil Sam Graham gave me the confidence to be a weirdo, and in my life that’s been the key to my happiness. I’m proud to call Sam Graham my hero and my friend. I’m going to miss his blog posts, his tweets, his cleverly captioned photos posted in our mutual Facebook groups, but I think most of all, I’m going to miss the knowledge that Sam is out there on the road somewhere, driving too many hours and too many miles in search of a fleeting experience at an endangered or regional restaurant chain to which the average person wouldn't give a second thought. I am grateful to have had the experience of meeting him at one of my favorite places on the planet. I owe him so much more than a tip on how to sauce a chili dog. Without his influence, there wouldn’t be a single Broken Chains post, let alone 100, or 101, but who’s counting?

In memory of Sam Graham 1966-2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

Gyros and Heroes

A break in format is due. I hope you think it no crime, 
That I’ve written a blog post completely in rhyme. 
I hope no estate sues me or tells me to back off, 
Because I've blatantly ripped off the late, great David Rackoff.

You may think it obsessive or slightly pathetic, 
My passion for fast food with Art Deco aesthetic. 
G.D. Ritzy’s, the chain whose demise sparked curiosity, 
And caused me to travel and write with extreme furiosity. 

I dined at all that were left of the six-score strong chain, 
Half a dozen of them were all that remained. 
I had an awkward encounter with Graydon D. Webb,
The man who founded the chain, a local celeb. 

Later on, I had lunch at Webb’s brand new Ritzy’s, 
It was perfectly fine, but felt vaguely chintzy. 
It lacked the magic of its cousins in Southwest Indiana, 
That are ‘80s originals and sell ice cream with banana. 

But Ritzy’s was born in Central Ohio, 
In a town named for a man with a troubling bio. 
Columbus, explorer, who committed atrocities, 
Has a town and a day named for him, paradoxically. 

Columbus, the town, is the place with the most, 
Converted Ritzy’s buildings, old stucco ghosts. 
I took a trip there to visit these modern-day ruins, 
In the town of Blue Jackets, not Red Wings nor Bruins. 

I went to four old Ritzy’s that didn’t fool anybody, 
Origins clear, as conversions were shoddy. 
I’ll post pictures here now, if you'll scroll down below, 
Each comes with two couplets so I don’t interrupt flow. 

First some photos for reference from the Hoosier State,
In Evansville town, where G.D. Ritzy's does great.
Note the curved fin up front and diminutive foyer,
On a building so small, you'll think of Verne Troyer. 

Inside you'll note mirrors on the back wall's curved bevel,
And find dining tables on a whole other level.
I fear I'd be guilty of a personal failing,
If I didn't point out the aluminum railings. 
These are the traits that I looked for, and found,
All over Columbus where old Ritzy's abound.
Now that you're familiar with the corporate architecture,
I can get on with my dumb little lecture.

Gyro Express was the first stop of the tour,
The building, a Ritzy's, that's to be sure.
With a fresh coat of paint like the Greek flag, white and blue,
From the exterior, it looked nearly new. 
Once in the door, I found an updated interior,
But the convex corner had its original mirri-ors.
Though the tiles and railings had all been replaced,
The dining room was still an elevated space. 
The next spot I went on this silly excursion,
Was a Mr. Hero, whose sign provided diversion.
A rare surviving G.D. Ritzy's sign post,
Had been converted by the restaurant's new host. 
The building, as well, was a sight to behold,
With original lighting on gooseneck-type poles.
The stripe on the left, too, was a Ritzy's hallmark.
Retail architecture like this far exceeds Walmart's. 
The inside was updated, but like at Gyro Express,
The mirrors remained, and I must confess,
That I sat and I thought as I caught myself staring.
Could these mirrors persist because they're load-bearing? 
Gyro City Grill was my next port of call,
And I'm ashamed to admit I took no inside pictures at all.
But the outside, of course, looked as Ritzy as ever.
And like Mr. Hero, its lights were not severed. 
Just outside of Columbus is the town of Grove City,
Where you'll find the fourth and final old Ritzy's.
These days the building serves as a Rally's
It looks good for its age, just like Sally O'Malley. 
Once you're inside, though, the decor is sparse.
I guess the decorator couldn't be arsed.
But at long last, I had found my white whale!
The Grove City Rally's had an original rail. 
With my journey concluding and my energy fading,
I ate at the new one, at which I've thrown too much shading.
I hope my long poem gave you a laugh or a grin.
All that's left to say is...

Monday, December 9, 2019

Cochon du Détroit

Rest in peace, Dearborn Heights Ponderosa 

My local Ponderosa
, the last Ponderosa in Metro Detroit, quietly closed for good a few weeks ago. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. Over the past year or so, meal prices had crept up while the generally poor quality of the food remained the same. The building that was at least 40 years old and was originally a Bonanza Steakhouse continued to slowly deteriorate. I imagine the owners couldn’t justify the cost of rehabbing the aging structure that housed a business with a razor thin profit margin, and closed, just like every other Ponderosa and Bonanza location within a 100 mile radius. Just as with the abrupt closure and eventual demolition of the nearby Dearborn Sign of the Beefcarver last year, the loss of my local Ponderosa served as a reminder that I should visit the local broken chains while I still can.

In 1948, before decades of economic turmoil, crime, and urban decay gave the city of Detroit and surrounding communities the negative connotations they have today, it was a pretty nice place to live. Thanks to years of government contracts during World War Two, the Detroit-area based Big Three automakers, and a handful of smaller independent manufacturers were flush with cash and churning out new vehicles for a car-hungry and equally cash-rich American public who hadn’t been able to buy new vehicles during the war. The people of Metro Detroit were gainfully employed by the booming automotive industry, and drive-in restaurants were the latest craze, perhaps thanks in part to so many Americans acquiring their long-awaited new vehicles after riding out a depression and a world war. One of the many new drive ins to open in this era was Bill’s Drive-In, on what was at the time called Jim Daly road in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

"Je suis Napoléon! Grogne grogne!"

The proprietor, Bill Ihlenfeldt, quickly changed the name to the Daly Drive-In, taking the name from the street where his business was located, and a few members of his extended family soon opened Daly Drive-Ins of their own in nearby communities, adopting the slogan, “Get the Daly habit.” The newly minted chain also picked up an odd mascot, a cartoon pig dressed as Napoleon. A total of 17 Daly Drive ins opened in Metro Detroit between 1948 and 1974, but just as Napoleon found himself late in life, stripped of his empire, and exiled to Elba, the Daly Drive-In chain slowly shed locations as the local economy declined and drive-ins fell out of favor. Since 2003, Daly Restaurants has operated a just a single location on Plymouth Road in Livonia, Michigan. I stopped in for lunch over the weekend to visit Pig-Napoleon in exile and see what kind of experience I could have at the last Daly Drive-In. 

Business in the front...

...Googie in the back.

I’ve probably driven past the Livonia Daly Drive-In 50 times without noticing it. It’s housed in a nondescript brick building marked with a subdued sign. It was only after pulling into the parking lot that I noticed the vintage wavy sheetmetal of the drive-in canopy extending from the back of the building. No one seemed to be ordering from their cars on the gray early December day of my visit, so I headed inside to the dining room where I was greeted by dim lighting, red checkered Formica tabletops, and carpet with a pattern that reminded me of Space Invaders for the Atari 2600. Were it not for the large salad bar in the center of the dining room, the space could pass for the basement bar and rumpus room of any number of Metro Detroit homes built before 1980. I selected a booth near the back and studied the extensive laminated menu. 

Drop down, increase speed, and reverse direction!

All hail Livonia, the town I didn't make up!
Nicely printed menu. 
The definitive offerings seemed to be centered around “Daly Made Chili” and the Daily Burger, a hamburger dressed in a proprietary sauce, and I mean a hamburger. No cheeseburgers are offered on the menu, at least not on the Daily Drive-In's website. When my server showed up, I ordered a Daly Burger, a chili-covered Junior Dog, (the Junior Dog is a standard size-hot dog. The larger Daly Dog is a footlong.) a chocolate malt and access to the salad bar in an effort to sample a cross section of the menu. 

Any lettuce you want, so long as it's iceberg

After ordering, I went to assemble my salad, and found a salad bar that made me wonder why they had bothered. While I live a good retro salad bar like the ones at Rax and York Steak House, the one at the Daly Drive-In was a bit of a letdown. Only iceberg lettuce was available with just a handful of other fresh vegetables. The remainder of the salad bar’s chilled slots were occupied by potato and pasta salads and other various analogs that I didn’t bother sampling. 

I should go back sometime and eat several bowls of chili. 

I worked my way to the end of the bar where a cauldron of Daly Made Chili and the soup of the day simmered. I opted for chili after noting the soup du jour was cream of something I couldn’t immediately identify. I returned to my table with a meager salad and bowl brimming with chili in hand, and was greeted by the malt I had ordered, which I was pleased to find was perfectly blended with an ideal balance of chocolate and malt flavors. I picked at my salad of iceberg lettuce, tomato chunks, and red onions covered in Italian dressing while waiting for my chili to cool. 

The view from my table, dark wood and checkered Formica as far as the eye can see

As far as cities on the periphery of the Midwest go, most tend to think of Cincinnati of having the richest chili tradition, with its thin, savory chili used as a sauce to top spaghetti and hot dogs under mounds of shredded cheddar, but just like Cincinnati, Detroit has a also style of chili all it’s own that is distinctive from its more pervasive Tex-Mex cousin. Like the chili of The Queen City, Motor City chili is heavily influenced by Greek immigrants who served it in their restaurants, giving it a decidedly Mediterranean flavor profile in the process. Detroit chili is thicker and milder than its Cincinnati counterpart, but its flavor is no less complex. It’s more often than not eaten on hot dogs, at “Coney Island” diners often operated by the descendants of the Greek immigrants who conceived Detroit chili in the first place, but no one will look at you funny if you order a bowl of the stuff either. My bowl of Daly Made chili had the flavor and texture of the definitive Detroit-style chili, with the welcome addition of beans, making it alone well worth the price of the otherwise lackluster salad bar. 

My burger and coney dog arrived just as I was finishing my chili and losing what little interest I had in my salad. I examined the burger first, noting its quarter pound patty on a steamed sesame seed bun. It was topped only with the Daly Drive-In’s proprietary sauce which resembled salsa. My first bite yielded a flavor that was decidedly un-salsa like. It reminded me of pickle relish in texture, but with more than a hint of horseradish than pickles. I could immediately tell why there was nothing else on the burger. This was all the topping it needed. It was immensely flavorful and distinctive, unlike anything else I’ve encountered at any burger joint, including Miner-Dunn, who top their higher quality burgers with a lower quality relish. I even caught myself wishing that the Daly-Drive in sauce was what topped the West Coast style Big Boy instead of the glorified ketchup they call red relish. 

No sauce is more special than this. 

I moved onto the coney dog and found it topped with more Daly Made chili, this time without beans, and the yellow mustard and minced onions that are standard equipment on all coney dogs rolling off the assembly line in the Motor City. Predictably, it tasted like a Detroit style coney dog, but an especially well-executed one, with great blend of classically bold flavors and distinctive textures, all on a bun that didn’t fall apart as I ate it. I honestly don’t remember the last time I’d had a Detroit dog that good. 

The Daily Drive-In is my new favorite spot for Detroit style coney dogs. 

As I was settling my bill and walking back out to my car, it occurred to me that what made the Daly Drive-In good in December of 2019 were likely the same things that made the first one a hit in the summer of ‘48, the special sauce sauce, the chili, and the shakes. The salad bar wasn’t good because it didn’t have to be. It’s the classic drive-in food that gets people in the Daly habit and has for the past six decades, as drive-ins have become increasingly irrelevant and fortunes changed for the people of Metro Detroit. The salad bar was surely added in the '70s or '80s when salad bars were fashionable, and today only serves as a reminder of that time, when the poverty, crime, and blight that became closely associated with the city as the booming postwar economy faded, breaking Metro Detroit’s native drive-in chain in the process. 

Like all the places I visit, the Daly Drive-In has stood the test of time and survived against all odds. Today it serves as a window to a different time to weirdos like me who appreciate such things and as a fun place to grab a decent burger and a shake for regular unpretentious people who don't feel the need to write flowery prose about outdated burger joints or memorialize recently departed steakhouses. 

Use the code OLIVE15 at checkout for 15% your entire order for the rest of 2019!