“Great burgers,” photographer Brian Peterson replied when I asked if he’d eaten at JJ’s Tasty Drive In, a classic of the genre in Luverne, Minn. The family-owned restaurant commands attention with diamond-shaped vintage signs advertising hot dogs and cones, and cheerful white and red stripes topping the building. Picnic tables under an awning look like an open invitation (1-507-283-8317).
Of course my colleague ate there. Anyone with a journalist’s sense of discovery or an empty belly would — especially in summer, when the act of eating soft serve seems like a God-given right.
I pulled up at 10:50 one morning.
“Give us five minutes and the ice cream will be ready,” a friendly woman told me, pausing in her flurry of pouring and stirring before the official 11 a.m. opening.
I wanted the marshmallow malt. Badly. But it was too early for lunch, so I left without ordering. I knew from my travels through Minnesota’s southwest that among the hidden gems — the bison, the reminders of pioneer life, the Indian petroglyphs — another good drive-in awaited, somewhere.
An hour later I was at the Shady Drive Inn in tiny Storden, Minn., where a thick chocolate malt went remarkably well with a ground beef taco salad (1-507-445-3414).
From there, I wove my way home on back roads. That’s when I saw the Country Drive In in Winthrop, a 50-year-old institution that specializes in Lemon Freezes, a combination of frozen lemonade and ice cream.
Turn your car southwestward and you’re bound to find surprises, culinary or otherwise.
Reach travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@star tribune.com; follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.