Thursday, August 30, 2012

Good Food A-Plenty at the Beacon Drive In

Beacon Drive In
255 John B. White Sr. Blvd.
Spartanburg, SC

There is nothing subtle about the Beacon Drive In.

That’s what’s made it one of America’s most famous restaurants.

This sprawling 66 year old drive-in smack in the heart of Spartanburg, South Carolina serves over a million hungry customers every year.

And I do mean HUNGRY.

You have to be. The menu is as sprawling as the dining rooms.

Red trays groaning under the weight of mountains of food fresh out of the fryer slide down the rail in a steady procession line from early in the morning to late into the evening. Seven days per week.

Like a well oiled machine. Literally.

They say the Beacon churns 26,000 pounds of onions through its burbling vats of grease into onion rings every month.

Over 16,000 gallons of sweet tea – and 3,000 pounds of sugar. That’s more sweet tea than any other restaurant in the United States of America!

And they have the sign to prove it.

I don’t doubt it for a minute.

This place has operated at peak capacity for nearly seven decades.

Most customers are greeted by J.C. Strobel, who shouts out in an obnoxiously loud voice “Let’s move on. Come on, come on, come on down the line!” Just like he’s been doing for fifty years.

Maybe J.C. retired. Or he had the day off. Because I didn’t see him today.

Then again, it might have been the weird hour I showed up – ten minutes past ten on a Wednesday morning.

Is that hour too early to gorge on a pile of beef, pork and fried carbs?

Of course not. Especially when you have to get up at 4am to catch an early morning flight to Spartanburg.

Even though I have to get up at that ungodly hour to catch oh-dark-hundred flights at least once or twice per week, I assure you, Suit757 is no morning person.

In fact, after being up and wearing a suit for six hours already, my internal biological clock was telling me it was the Suit757 equivalent of 4pm.

Time to eat!

The dilemma coming to the Beacon is always the same for me.

Burger or barbeque? They are both equally world famous.

The Beacon is the only restaurant I know in the nation that makes the list of best burger joints in America AND best barbeque joints in America.

As anyone who has dined here knows, the Beacon’s mammoth “A-Plenty” portions make the idea of getting both completely ludicrous.

Well, call me ludicrous.

“I’ll have the Outside Chopped Pork A-Plenty,” I declared to the counter lady.

She immediately called out some code language to the army of chefs behind the counter.

Wait. I’m not done.

Just as she turned to focus her attention on the next customer, I blurted out, “And a Chili Cheeseburger.”

She looked past me quizzically like she was searching for my non-existent dining companion.

Hey, don’t judge me. I’m hungry.

And a world famous restaurant reviewer. “I’m doing this to myself for the sake of my loyal readers,” I rationalized to myself.

Within 30 seconds, she plopped the burger on my tray. Ten seconds after that came a mountain of greasy glistening onion rings and French fries.

I had to dig down a few inches to find a fully loaded barbeque sandwich at the bottom of the pile.

It’s there at the bottom. I think.

I began shoveling onion rings and fries into my mouth two and three at a time, hoping to put enough of a dent into my mound of “A-Plenty” to get to my barbeque.

The fries reminded my why I don’t normally order fries with my meal.

Kinda boring. And a total waste of perfectly good stomach vacancy that could be better utilized for meat.

The onion rings on the other hand were top notch.

Lesser onion rings, like at Burger King, are nothing more than rings of fried dough with a barely discernable trace of shriveled dehydrated onion in there somewhere.

Not here at the Beacon.

These onion rings put the emphasis where it belongs – on the sweet Vidalia onions.

These rings are onions first – with just a bit of nice crispy breading delicately clinging along for the ride.

With a dash of salt, Beacon’s onion rings are addictive.

But no matter how many fries and rings I devoured, I still couldn’t seem to make any headway toward uncovering my barbeque sandwich buried somewhere underneath.

So I decided I better start with the Chili Cheeseburger.

Beacon’s chili is tasty but unlike the traditional tomatoey runny stuff you might expect.

This chili was more like seasoned, finely ground beef – reminiscent of the “loose meat” sandwiches you might find in the Midwest.

So what I really had here was ground beef on top of ground beef. Like a double cheeseburger.

Nothin’ wrong with that.

Loose ground beef on top of a ground beef patty – separated by a slice of melted cheese.

The result was bite after bite of ridiculously tender beefy, cheesy goodness.

By the time I consumed at least the top pound or so of fries and onion rings, I was able to lift my barbeque sandwich out of its tomb of grease.

I requested “outside” meat, which means the darker, more flavorful part of the pig, closer to the skin.

Topped with vinegary slaw and Beacon’s unique sweet BBQ sauce, this was porky heaven.

The sauce was more like a tomatoey relish – like a Southern chow-chow.

Different. But delicious.

The pork was soft, tender and dark. While the slaw and sauce added the tang and sweet kiss to every bite.

The Beacon will never eclipse the legendary barbeque shacks of the Carolinas in barbeque perfection, but there is a reason this place still manages to make all those top barbeque joint lists.

These folks here in the land of The Marshall Tucker Band know what they are doing.

How else do you attract crowds of 5,000 or more every single day for 66 years?

The answer: quantity AND quality.

It was only quarter to eleven by the time I waddled out to my rental car parked on the asphalt sea surrounding the Beacon. But I still left at least half a pound of French fries behind.

I was done. And tempted to curl on the bench seat of my Chevy Impala for a much needed digestion nap.

No chance of that, unfortunately. My day of meetings hadn’t even begun.

Oh well. That’s the life of Suit757.

But I looked on the bright side. At least I won’t have to worry that pesky eating thing again for at least a couple more days.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

Beacon Drive In on Urbanspoon

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