Sunday, July 24, 2011

Burger joint of the week: Salem Dairy Bar near Benton.

Nostalgia can be found readily at this whitewashed burger-and-ice-cream joint along Congo Road. Let's share a sundae at the Salem Dairy Bar.

When I was a little girl, I recall going out to get burgers was a big deal. My mom and I would head over to the north end of Geyer Springs and get burgers at Green’s Drive-In. I’d go up to the window while Mom sat in the car working on bills or reading through the day’s mail. I’d place our order and go back and sit in the car. When the burgers were ready one of the folks inside would roll back the window and holler for us to come pick up the order. I also adored Green’s dipped cones.

Dipped cones seem to be the only thing I couldn’t find on the menu at the Salem Dairy Bar the other day… but they did have the same sort of great smashed-on-the-griddle burgers served on big flat buns, and a lot of ice cream treats to boot.

Salem Dairy Bar’s been around for a couple generations, I believe. At least, that’s what my mind’s saying far in the background. It’s a dine-out affair; window service only with just a picnic table if you want to stay and dine. And when they’re open (every day except for Monday, it turns out) they’re always serving up something to someone… as evidenced by the half dozen vehicles waiting when I arrived for my visit.

The menus are all over the place — one over here that covers the different burgers; another that covers every conceivable intersection of nachos, hot dogs and cheese; one with kids meals and side items and another with dinner options. There are two boards on the right-hand corner with the ice cream specialties — cones and cups, shakes and malts, all the traditional flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, hot fudge, butterscotch, pineapple, banana and peanut butter), regular and large sundaes (whipped cream and nuts are $.25 extra). There’s a banana split for $4, and drinks come as they are or with a squirt of cherry or vanilla syrup for $.15 more. And there are floats, of course.

Ice cream was a temptation I couldn’t refuse, so I ordered up a Strawberry Sundae, regular size with whipped cream and nuts and twisted ice cream (vanilla and chocolate mixed). The $2.20 shake and the two 25 cent add-ons still only came to $2.70, a might shine better than most places I go these days. My jumbo cheeseburger was $3.95.

The burger came first — a wax paper wrapped smash with a toothpick holding it together. Everything about the burger was traditional — toasted seedless bun, American cheese gluing the patty to the top, mayo and pickle on the bottom with shredded iceberg lettuce and tomato. I’d asked for the onions to be held. Mayo is the default condiment, though you can request mustard or ketchup instead.

The patty was a perfect loose-packed smashburger, half a pound of good quality beef seasoned with salt and pepper and griddle grease, nicely crusted and thick. The jumbo is about half a pound of meat; the regular, I believe, is a quarter pound while the junior is a couple of ounces. You can even get double meat if you want, though the menu doesn’t say how much that costs. If’n you want a burger basket filled with tots or fries it’s $2.75 more; bacon is 70 cents and chili 60 cents.

Hadn’t shared that sundae with you, have I? I’d better. It’s a good one, old fashioned and served in a little cup with a little overflowing syrup challenging my ability to keep myself clean. The syrup was full of strawberry chunks. The vanilla and chocolate swirled ice cream was almost completely occluded by the syrup, squirts all around of whipped cream and a scattering of peanut bits. It about sent me into sugar overload, but oh what a way to go.

The Salem Dairy Bar is open every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sunday when it opens at noon and Monday when it isn’t open at all. The grill is done at 7:45, so don’t show up and expect a burger right at closing time. That’s asking a bit much. But you can still get a banana split at 7:55. You’ll find Salem Dairy Bar at 6406 Congo Road — a skip north of I-30. (501) 794-3929. Here's the Facebook page.

Salem Dairy Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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