Sometimes, you just want to escape with some great comfort food, such as an old-fashioned hamburger or meatloaf. With temperatures dipping in recent days, it’s given me an appetite for such fare. In Elizabethton, one of the places I go when I just want to de-stress and enjoy some traditional comfort food is the Sycamore Drive-In on South Sycamore Street.
The restaurant’s history dates back to 1951 when it opened as a Tastee-freez franchise. Current owner Gary Hicks said the restaurant operated for about a decade as a Tastee-freez before it was purchased by Maxine Matherly. She and her husband operated the restaurant for about 30 years.
Gary said the name Sycamore Drive-In is a relatively recent incarnation for the restaurant. The original drive-in structure is now enclosed within a small dining area. I want to emphasize the smallness of the indoor dining area. There’s a total of four tables with folding metal chairs, and a few extra chairs for those waiting for to-go orders. One of the tables can support a party of four. The three remaining tables are definitely two-seaters. The eatery does a brisk carryout business.
I usually make a habit of arriving a little early or waiting until the lunch rush has ebbed when I visit. I like to sit at one of the tables while enjoying my food and the nostalgic, small-town ambiance. While the decoration is relatively sparse in the small dining area, a few touches definitely add personality, such as a collection of vintage soda bottles prominently displayed behind the glass of the front counter.
I enjoyed a recent weekday lunch with a friend at Sycamore Drive-in. We placed our order at the cashier’s window. The menu board on display behind the counter features a wide variety of burgers, sandwiches, side items, salads and dinner platters. I like that the menu items are listed with prices that include tax, eliminating the need for any mental arithmetic.
The burgers deserve top billing on the menu, and Hicks even has his own top-secret recipe for his burgers, which are hand-patted every morning. In addition to the standard Hamburger and Cheeseburger — both single and double versions — the menu offers a Bacon Cheeseburger, Bacon Double Cheeseburger and even a Bologna Burger. Sandwiches listed include Grilled Cheese, Fish, Chicken, Egg, Ham and Cheese, Pork BBQ, Chicken Salad and Club. My favorite, which I have enjoyed on several occasions, is the Meatloaf Sandwich. The restaurant also offers an impressive Club Sandwich.
Other menu items that tempted me included the Deluxe Chef Salad, Chicken Tenders Platter and Hamburger Steak Platter. All the dinner platters are served with fries, salad and toast. In addition, the eatery offers Beans and Cornbread, which are also served with slaw and a side of chopped onions.
On my recent visit, I ordered the Bacon Double Cheeseburger, while my dining companion ordered the Chicken Sandwich.
In addition to Crinkle-cut French Fries and Onion Rings, other sides available to pair with a burger or sandwich include Tater Wedges, Fried Mushrooms and Mozzarella Sticks. I paired my burger with Onion Rings while my friend chose the fries.
My burger featured two juicy patties topped with bacon and cheese. I also included all the toppings — lettuce, tomato, onion and mayonnaise. As always, it was cooked perfectly. The bun held up well as I ate the burger, which is always a plus. I also enjoyed the ample serving of Onion Rings, which were fried to a crisp, golden brown.
My friend’s Chicken Sandwich featured a tender, well-seasoned, grilled chicken breast (a breaded, deep-fried version is also available) that was trimmed with chopped lettuce, tomato, onion and mayonnaise. The Crinkle-cut Fries were nicely crisp.
No visit to this nostalgic drive-in can be considered complete without ending with one of the sweet items on the menu. Desserts include ice cream cones, shakes, sundaes, banana splits and hot fudge cake.
Sycamore sells hand-dipped Mayfield Ice Cream, and milkshakes can be made from any of the available flavors or combinations of flavors. I decided to try a Cookies and Cream Shake while my friend chose the Hot Fudge Shake. The latter features vanilla ice cream blended with an ample amount of hot fudge for a decadent treat. I also liked my smooth and creamy Cookies and Cream Shake.
As I sat and enjoyed my lunch on this most recent visit, I saw that the restaurant also appeals across various demographics. Customers included parents with young children, older couples, students and working people grabbing a quick and tasty meal for their lunch break. Several people picked up carryout orders, but a few elected to have a seat at one of the other available tables.
The Sycamore Drive-In definitely serves up some solid, good-tasting meals. If you haven’t been, visit soon. If it’s been a while, why wait? If you go, let Gary and his staff know they come recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Sycamore Drive-In, 213 S. Sycamore St., Elizabethton. 547-0166. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. Closed Sunday. All menu items $6.95 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.