When you step into the offbeat Super Freeze Drive In, you'll be transported back to a more innocent time, before anyone knew the word "cholesterol."
Many of the classic menu offerings are fried, with some exceptions (see the California veggie burger, $3.69). But nevermind that. Given the 1950s atmosphere and the deft preparation, Super Freeze is a fun place with some delicious food at very reasonable prices.
Don't let the name Super Freeze put you off as the weather begins to cool; this is far more than a standard ice cream stand. The fun starts with the first sight of an enormous figure of a man standing next to the building. He probably once held a muffler, but now he offers a burger in one hand and a twist ice cream cone in the other.
The awning-topped patio contains rainbow-colored picnic tables and some vintage kiddie rides. A reproduction gas station sits across the parking lot, with two gleaming classic cars visible through the glass and a convertible parked outside. This building features a fire hydrant, a fire alarm call box and a phone booth with a large Betty Boop figure inside.
Inside, we met our friends George and Bonnie, who are fans of the Super Freeze fish fry. In the first room, there is seating at a few small ice-cream-fountain tables and a classic counter with short, spinning stools. A diorama of early rock 'n' roll stars – Buddy Holly and Little Richard among them – takes up a wall between the soda dispenser and the condiments bar.
The dining room's knotty-pine paneling forms a backdrop for plenty of interesting vintage pieces. A sticker on a soda machine offers an assurance from 1970 that the soda contains no cyclamates. The wall behind an old-fashioned TV set is decorated by a couple of classic TV trays, while a working TV shows "Three Stooges" episodes. We worked our way down a long line of 1950s-era celebrity photos, many autographed.
The menu is filled with cartoon and cultural references. There's a one-third-pound Fonzie burger ($3.69), a plainer Opie burger ($2.69), a Big Bopper Italian sausage sandwich ($3.95), a Betty Boop Beef on Weck ($5.75), and Potsie pizza logs ($4.79 for four). There's also an unabashed "Midway favorites" section of the menu, where you can get a corn dog ($1.99), fried dough with cinnamon and powdered sugar ($2.99), popcorn ($1.50) and a Slush Puppie ($1.79 or $1.99). Of course, they also serve ice cream, frozen custard and all kinds of sundaes.
At the counter, we stood next to a giant model of a happy hot dog and placed our orders.
The food came out quickly, on plastic cafeteria trays. First up was the hearty and thick chicken gumbo soup ($2.35), served blazing hot, with a nice kick of spice. Before that was gone, the rest of the very hot food began arriving.
The jumbo fantail shrimp dinner ($10.95) was large, with seven good-sized battered fried shrimp arranged on the plate with sizzling steak fries and a scoop each of cold pasta salad and crisp coleslaw. The homemade pasta salad was particularly good, made with small shell pasta, vegetables and a bit of mayo. The shrimp's breading was light, crunchy and enjoyable.
The fish fry ($9.95) came with the same sides as the shrimp, along with a puffy white roll. The large, glossy plank of beer-battered haddock was exceptional, fresh-tasting and perfectly textured, not mushy.
The hot roast beef sandwich ($6.99) was a thing of classic beauty, with a generous serving of beef gravy covering the top slice of the sandwich's fresh white bread. The pile of thin-sliced beef was nicely flavored and tender. This, too, was served with a large portion of steak fries.
In the Big Bopper Italian sausage sandwich ($3.95), a delicious sausage was let down by its accompaniments. The green peppers and onions should have been fried together long enough to soften and for their juices to combine, rather than arriving brightly colored and just barely cooked. The roll, which was soft and fresh, was far too big for the sizable sausage link, but once some of it was removed, balance was restored. The sausage itself, made with finely ground meat, had a slight spicy heat and lovely herb flavoring.
Two extra sides – Ollie onion rings ($2.85) and Rockin' waffle fries ($2.39) – were perfectly fried. The onion rings had a thin batter coating; the waffle fries puffed a bit during cooking to a delicious crispness.
Super Freeze Drive-In Restaurant
Where: 6865 Erie Road, Derby, 947-5557
Hours: Super Freeze is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week, closed Sundays.
Wheelchair-accessible: yes.3 pennies (out of 4)