You could call it a throwback or a maybe even a classic, but you would just be putting a shine on it.
Don Hall’s Hollywood Drive-In at Lima Road and Coliseum Boulevard will remind you of – or was – one of those places your parents or grandparents took you to when you were young, but any sentimental feelings it creates will likely fade away quickly.
The Hall’s chain has its share of modern successes – see the new Gas House or the spiffy Tavern at Coventry – but the Drive-In isn’t one of them.
It still has curb service, but that is used more for takeout and it is really more of a sit-down restaurant. It has a horseshoe-shaped counter seating area that is still kind of cool, but the rest of the décor is just boring and a little dated.
The menu is where the real issues began as it was stocked with relics: things like hamburger steak, Cobb salad and ham steak. And the only old-school treat that really got me excited was a failure.
When I saw pineapple upside-down cake on the daily specials board, the feelings of nostalgia hit and I had to have a piece. But when I asked for it, my server said it wasn’t in yet. The restaurant wasn’t out of it, it hadn’t yet arrived from the bakery yet, I was told. So why was it on the board? She didn’t have an answer.
During a breakfast visit, the same nostalgic feelings hit when I ordered the Fort Wayne diner staple garbage plate. And, again, I was disappointed.
Garbage is usually a mix of eggs, potatoes, sausage and/or bacon and/or ham, onions, sometimes green peppers and/or tomatoes, sausage gravy and cheese. The Drive-In menu said the garbage plate consisted of three scrambled eggs with a little bit of everything good and toast.
Apparently meat is not good because my garbage had none of it.
It had the rest of the ingredients, although not near enough potatoes, and also had mushrooms but the only meat was a few tiny bits in the gravy. I was also disappointed with the pale, spongy biscuits I asked for instead of toast foolishly thinking they would be better.
I asked my server why there was no meat. She told me they stopped putting meat in it a while ago and added that she even thought it was an odd move.
There were some enjoyable throwbacks, however:
The Cobb salad had a generous amount of warm chicken breast pieces, crumbled bacon and strong bleu cheese, and was flanked by a nicely toasted breadstick.
The chili was meaty with just the right touch of heat from chili powder. It was a much better choice than the clam chowder, which had little clam and was gritty, and blew away the bad dinner salad.
The fried chicken dinner was a fine choice with each juicy piece coated in a crunchy, somewhat flaky breading. The mashed potatoes, however, were bad – appeared to be a mix of real and instant – and came with commercial brown gravy instead of white.
The pan-fried North Atlantic cod had no flaws. It was a big fillet that was flaky, moist and lightly topped with crisp, crumbly breading bits. In spite of being pan-fried, it seemed light, especially with a little squeeze of lemon to brighten it.
There were service issues that did not help my Hollywood Drive-In experience. It took way too long for a server to arrive at our table on one busy night, and drink refills were next to impossible to obtain. My coffee cup went dry twice during my breakfast visit and stayed dry even after I asked my passing-by server for more as she took food to a nearby table.
Also, the noise level was unbearable on the busy night, which made the atmosphere even worse.
The highlight of my visits to this dated eatery was the dessert I settled for when the pineapple upside-down cake was MIA – an old-fashioned frosty malt. A drive-in staple back when drive-ins were staples, it was rich and creamy with just the right hint of unmistakable malt flavor.
The frosty was worth going back for, but I would probably utilize that curb service and get one to go because Hall’s Hollywood Drive-In wasn’t oozing with nostalgia like I had hoped; it was dripping with mediocrity.
Restaurant: Don Hall’s Hollywood Drive-In
Address: 4416 Lima Road
Hours: 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Soup ($2.10 cup; $2.50 bowl), garbage plate ($6.99), fried chicken ($7.99), cod ($7.99), Cobb salad ($6.50), frosty malt ($1.50 small; $2.50 large)
Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).