Ah, the classic American Drive-In. All of the nostalgia of the 1950s, with a menu that has no need for updates in the past half century. Dan’s Drive-In meets us halfway there, with a solid diner menu and plenty of classic car and rock and roll memorabilia, but without the traditional car-side drive-in service.
Dan’s Drive-In is located on an oddly isolated stretch of High Street on the South Side of Columbus, surrounded by auto part shops, rail yards, and other evidence of an industrial past. The expansive menu seems intended for this clientele, focusing equally on breakfast, burgers and greek fare. On my recent visit to Dan’s, I decided to stick to items that could be viewed as staples at any diner.
The Cup of Chili ($2.59) is a solid bowl of the ground beef variety, topped with cheese and diced white onions and served with crackers on the side. Dan’s chili was hearty and homemade, and the texture was evenly balanced between being chunky and still being somewhat soup-like. If you’re looking for a no-frills traditional bowl, you’ll find it here.
The Dandy Girl burger ($5.69 with a side) has a silly name, but is served fairly straight forward. Two third-pound patties stacked high with pickles, onion, american cheese and two strips of bacon. Strangely enough, the Dandy Boy is the same burger minus the bacon. Regardless, two-thirds of a pound of ground beef is enough to make both sexes blush. The burger was cooked medium well (they didn’t ask) and had a great flavor to it. The additional toppings were all standard issue condiments, so no real surprises there. The bacon was a nice addition, cooked half way between crispy and chewy.
The Meatloaf Dinner ($7.99 with a choice of 2 sides) was made just like your grandma makes it. Which is half good and half bad. Presentation wise, it’s not too pretty, but flavor-wise it held up alright. The meatloaf was of a traditional variety with no surprising flavors or complexity necessary, just shy of being bland. The mashed potatoes seemed like they had sat out too long or had been reheated, which left them pretty flat. My second side was the cole slaw (pictured below) which again, was pretty standard issue, just like everything else.
Additional sides sampled included an order of onion rings ($2.99 for a small basket) and applesauce ($1.69). The onion rings were thick and served scaldingly hot. They made for great dipping in Dan’s chili. The applesauce was served out of a jar, so nothing of real significance to report there. It was an extra side ordered to accompany the final dish tasted on this visit…
The Hot Dog Meal ($3.69) which is served with fries. Can’t go wrong with a hot dog at a diner, right? Well… maybe. The hot dog was grilled, which was a nice touch, but the flavor was definitely off. I’m not sure if it was an overly generic brand of hotdog being used, but it wasn’t your standard beef frank that was expected. Hot dogs are a hard thing to screw up, and Dan’s somehow managed to drop the ball here. The fries were standard issue, mimicking the theme of most everything else on the menu.
At the end of the day, a diner is a diner is a diner. Most customers will visit for familiar, comfortable meals served at affordable prices. Dan’s Drive-In makes itself unique through its Americana ambiance, and not through its food. This South Side staple borders on being a Columbus institution if only it were a little more well known, so it is worth your time to pay it a visit.
Dan’s Drive-In is located at 1881 South High Street, on the South Side of Columbus. Dan’s is open Monday through Saturday, 7am to 9pm and Sunday 7am to 3pm.