I knew the place would look different, but what truly surprised me about Hall's Original Drive-In on Bluffton Road was the changes to the menu that matched its new digs in terms of impressiveness.
I was worried about the makeover, too. Though the historic eatery was outdated, it was the kind of outdated you almost wanted to preserve because it truly took you back in time.
Well, the stained glass is still there above the same rounded, window-lined front of the dining room, and the refurbished counter could just as well be from 1969 as 2019. It looks vintage but the pristine, shiny white tile behind it and the round lights above let you know it is new. Historic pieces on the walls add to the retro ambiance. I loved the copy of an early menu boasting features like a $2 Delmonico steak dinner and 30-cent shakes and malts.
The hand-dipped shakes and flavored sodas produced behind that counter area aren't 30 cents anymore, but they are a must-have to put you in the right nostalgic mood. Served with the stainless steel cup it was mixed in, my chocolate shake could not have been better.
It was the perfect match for my first appetizer.
The Tots Poutine at Hall's featured a large order of crispy potato cylinders with white country gravy and diced green onions on top. This version of the Canadian french fry staple did not appear to have the promised cheese curds at first, but then I realized those curds were battered and fried, and mixed in under the gravy with the tots.
It was a fun, yummy dish, but I kind of missed having the melted globs of cheese clinging to the potatoes even though those curds were nicely prepared.
The second starter was not at all drive-in material and I didn't have high hopes for it. But the Crispy Sprouts blew me away. These fried Brussels sprouts were better than ones I have had at way more upscale places.
The exterior of the orbs was super crispy while the inside was still tender and cooked through. They were perfectly dressed in a maple chili sauce that brought the heat and the sweet, and dotted with bacon bits to add a salty note.
The burger offerings were many at the Original Drive-In, but I couldn't help but say “I want you,” to the Uncle Sam – two quarter-pound patties smashed and seared with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and Sammy Sauce. It, too, was perfect with crisp edges on the patties, fresh toppings, oozing cheese and a heavy slathering sauce.
The steak and eggs from the breakfast menu and fish and chips from the blue-plate specials were decent choices but not as exciting as the appetizers and that burger. I was pleasantly surprised at the cocktail sauce with the shrimp, however, as it packed a horseradish punch and was far better than the normal from-the-bottle cocktail sauce most diners would use.
One of the most impressive parts of my meal inside the newly revamped Hall's was the service. My server was on top of everything and took extra steps such as dividing one milkshake into separate glasses for my dining companions so they didn't have to do that on their own.
Sadly, the same service did not follow me outside when I visited the drive-in part of the restaurant that was brought back May 18 as part of the revamp.
My server got to my vehicle right away before I even hit a call button, which was impressive. But she forgot her order pad, quickly got confused, stopped me so she could fetch it and then had me start over.
She also told me there were no flavored sodas, which was odd given there were flavored sodas when I dined inside. If it is something not offered on the abbreviated drive-in menu, that needs to be resolved because I could see myself stopping in to grab a sandwich on the go just because I could get a flavored soda.
My BLT was perfect, especially since I was encouraged and able to add avocado to it. Given Hall's reputation for solid breakfast fare, it was no surprise the bacon was perfectly crispy and plentiful. With a ripe tomato, fresh lettuce and avocado and nicely toasted white bread, I had no qualms.
That perfect bacon made the Cobb salad a good choice, but it was the nicely seasoned, freshly grilled chicken breast that truly made it a winner. It had a fresh mix of iceberg and romaine, just enough bleu cheese and a lot of chopped boiled egg spread throughout.
The breadstick that accompanied it was a boring throwaway and even though it had a nice surprise of sliced almonds not on the menu description, it still could have used croutons to add crunch.
Ask for an extra bun if you get the pork tenderloin because this monstrosity was big enough for good-sized sandwiches. It was crunchy, meaty and a good version of the Hoosier staple that I was not expecting to be so good.
One of the coolest parts of the drive-in dining experience were the retro red school trays the dishes were served on. If it is cool enough that you don't have to eat in your car with the AC on full blast, there are wooden picnic tables and a couple of nice stone-covered concrete patio tables you can dine from, too.
There was an unforgivable flaw at Hall's Original Drive-In. The frosty machine was down both times I visited and I'm still craving one.
If that wasn't enough to frost me, the poor drive-in server argued with me when I pointed out I was overcharged for french fries on my bill. I had ordered an extra serving, but my BLT, which was supposed to include fries, did not come with them. I alerted the server to this immediately, told her we had plenty of fries and did not need another order but wanted to make sure to remove them from the bill.
As I gave her my credit card and told her I was charged incorrectly, I assumed the extra order would be removed, but I was wrong. She returned with my receipt and had charged me the full amount, insisting the BLT did not include fries. She told me she asked her manager and was told it did not include fries, too, so she went ahead and rang it.
With no frosty and no patience left, I nicely asked her to walk over to the menu boards hanging against the building facing the drive-in's parking spots with me. Even after I pointed to the red words on the board under the “Sandwich Specialties” section where that BLT was found that stated “served with french fries or coleslaw,” she still insisted I was wrong.
Restaurant: Hall's Original Drive-In
Address: 1502 Bluffton Road
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Tots Poutine ($6.50), Brussels sprouts ($6), Uncle Sam burger ($6.50), steak and eggs ($9.75), tenderloin ($7.50), fish and shrimp ($10.99), cobb salad ($8.75), BLT ($4.25; 50 cents for avocado), shakes ($3.95)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Hall's Original Drive-In
Out of a possible five