Anyone remember spring? Long revered as a snow-free season, many older Midwesterners recall “spring” as a time of year when trees sprouted “leaves” and people rolled down their car windows to admit air warmed by the “sun.” We’ll see. But should this blessed season ever arrive—and should you want to go out and see it for yourself—how about a drive-in restaurant? The drive-ins are open! Or, some of them are. Some are open, some open this weekend. By Tuesday we can say, “All the drive ins are open!” I know, because I’ve been going to them. Sometimes in a February blizzard that got lost and ended up in April, but whatevs, as the kids say. Whatevs, you soul crushing spring blizzards that will doubtless be reflected in a coming plunge in the census numbers. Whatevs. Because we have drive-ins! Try to hit them all between now and October, why don’t you? If this is going to be the shortest warm-season ever, make it jam-packed, and the best. Now, without further ado, my top-five.
Top Five Twin Cities Drive-In Restaurants
Dari-ette Open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m. A St. Paul institution, combining pure Midwestern joy (showing off your awesome car/having car envy) with St. Paul Italian heritage. I love that Italiano, a sausage patty sandwich on soft bread covered with red sauce and melted mozzarella. Get a side of spaghetti sauce for extra dipping. Yum. The fried chicken is worthy; the banana or coffee malts are some of the best in the state. Cute, good, historical—it’s the best we’ve got. Dari-ette Drive In, 1440 Minnehaha Ave. E., St. Paul, 651-776-3470
Gordy’s Hi Hat Open daily 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Most of the way to Duluth, so not a trivial drive, but I have to have Gordy’s Hi Hat in here, because they have some of the best burgers in the state. It also has some of the best onion rings, really good fish and chips—it’s a fantastic place. The burgers are so good because they’re never frozen: hand-pattied every day. Any chef can tell you what a difference never frozen meat makes, and Gordy’s is living proof. One of my absolute favorite spots in out-state Minnesota. Gordy's Hi Hat, 411 Sunnyside Dr., Cloquet, 218-879-6125, gordys-hihat.com
Wagner’s in Brooklyn Park Open Su-Th 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., F-Sa 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Scruffy like a pound puppy, but this last Wagner’s has really solidly good old-fashioned burgers, the kind with a decorous and well-flavored, well-griddled meat patty captured in a good, soft, fresh bun. (Remember when Wagner’s owned the Galaxy Drive In, and it was good? Those were the days.) Fried chicken so good it cracks the top 10 in the Twin Cities—though not the top five. I have to admit Wagner’s scruffiness and underdog status are part of its charm; it reminds me of Minnesota before stuff got fancy. Wagner’s Drive-In, 7000 Broadway Ave. W., Mpls., 763-533-8262
Drive In, Taylor’s Falls Open M-Th 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m., F-Su 11-8 p.m. Famous for its homemade root beer float, which has a beautiful spicy sarsaparilla perfume, Drive In is opening this weekend! I love the burgers too, dense and meaty, though I think the patty melt is even better. A kids’ favorite, because you can combine the trip with a round of mini-golf and a paddle boat tour of the St. Croix. (Paddle boat tours start May 4!) 572 Bench St., Taylors Falls, 651-465-7831, taylorsfalls.com
The Peppermint Twist Open Tu-Su 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Out on Highway 12, past Wayzata (stop at the new Sushi Fix on the way?) Delano’s classic The Peppermint Twist opens for the season on April 30, at 11 a.m. Do you need a peppermint shake? Or a strawberry shake? You do! You also need to know about Peppermint Twist if you have toddlers because the place has a home-spun, cute, little, on-premise park called Teddy Bear Park with climbing trains and cut-outs for sticking your face through and such. Photo-op! It’s also a must-know for dog lovers, because it’s on the way to Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, known for its five-plus miles of dog-friendly hiking trails, and nearly 30 acres of off-leash area. 115 Babcock Blvd. W., Delano, 763-972-2572, thepepperminttwist.com
Sound good? Then you’re going to love our upcoming June blow-out of an issue, where we’ve got the best hot-dogs in the city, the best art-shows, best car-shows, best roof-top bars—in short, the works. If you’re a subscriber, get ready to get your season started right. And if not, heck, you can stay inside—that’s what this spring has been training us for, right?