Posted On: 04/01/2017
“Good Lord,” I uttered with a mix of awe and apprehension, staring down at the mound of garlicky deli-sliced bologna and a fried egg stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwiches from the new Hi-Pointe Drive-In. Slicing this monstrosity on the diagonal proved helpful, but made the task of eating no less intimidating.
But what seemed ridiculously over-the-top and needlessly extravagant made perfect sense after the first two bites. Then, as if it short-circuited the hunger signal from my belly to my brain, I couldn’t stop, propelled to forge ahead by the primal urge to devour.
While not technically a drive-in (there’s no car service), Hi-Pointe is the latest outpost of restaurateur Mike Johnson and partners Charlie and Carolyn Downs’ fast-causal empire; the trio, along with David Molina, is also behind the six Sugarfire Smoke House locations and Sugarfire Pie in Olivette.
The modern, Lego-like building that incorporates brightly painted shipping containers rises out of the once-hallowed ground of Naugles and its successor, Del Taco. Approach from the south on McCausland Avenue, and the full force of the restaurant’s angular, sleek design and towering retro signage is even more striking.
With assembly-line logistics, Hi-Pointe Drive-In operates like Sugarfire sans the barbecue: You wait in line, grab a drink from the Excel-brand soda fountain or tub of iced domestic beers, order off the menu and proceed cafeteria-like to the cashier. Take a moment to watch orders being prepared behind glass like you’re at a fancy carwash. Then tell the cashier your order (hopefully you remembered it all), pay, find a seat and wait for the food to be delivered on a paper-lined plastic tray. It’s a template built for efficiency, but can cause problems if you aren’t paying attention – like at the register when you discover draft craft beer and little bottles of wine you didn’t notice way back in line when that cold can of suds you picked up seemed like the only option. Be sure to read all signs.
Of course, there must be burgers. Like Sugarfire, Hi-Pointe uses a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib from grass-fed, grain-finished Angus for just the right amount of fat, flavor and juiciness. The minimally seasoned quarter-pound burgers are smashed and griddled to acceptably charred edges. Build a decadent, towering mess of a burger with extra patties and other accessories if you want to. But sometimes an unpretentious cheeseburger with crisp lettuce, crunchy dill pickles, sliced red onion, fresh tomato and mustard on a garlic butter-kissed toasted Fazio’s potato bun is what you need.
Hi-Pointe’s taco burger struck a balance between the audacious and the simple: A single patty seasoned with taco spice and crushed Cool Ranch Doritos and Chili Cheese Fritos had a satisfying built-in crunch and was topped with creamy avocado ranch and a taco sauce from Mission Taco Joint. If I were into half-pound burgers, this is the one I’d splurge on with an extra patty. The veggie burger surprised me most. Most veggie burgers are notoriously bland, mushy and unable to attain much crispness, but this one, consisting of chopped green vegetables, quinoa, black lentils and other grains, held up beautifully. Even with the Swiss cheese I added, it felt like the healthiest item on the menu.
But back to that crazy sandwich. There are 10 such creations that, to paraphrase the menu, aren’t just bread and cheese anymore. “You could put chimichurri on anything and I’d eat it,” I overheard a diner say after biting into the hot roast beef sandwich. A good point, especially with creamy, funky Brie melting into the tender slices of meat sauced with the piquant South American marinade. The salmon banh mi sounded light and fresh – two pieces of griddled salmon with cilantro, arugula, crunchy chow mein noodles, pickled vegetables and a swipe of chile-mango mayo for some fruity heat – but was weighed down by too much bread and too little filling.
Frying thick slices of avocado with a breading of crushed Funyuns, as in the Guac-ness Monster, sounds as preposterous as piling bologna between grilled cheese sandwiches, and was just as delicious. If avocados are good fat, then more must be better, right? So why not dress the sandwich with guacamole and avocado ranch? Throw on some provolone, sprouts and tomato on a wheat hoagie roll and you’ve got a Midwest interpretation of the leaner classic California version. My only wish: Funyuns as a side option.
If you’re feeling heavy and bloated about now, take solace in four meal-sized salads, but don’t expect respite from the Brussels sprouts, which are roasted in bacon fat.
An order of Belgian frites (fancy fries) can easily feed two or three people, and at $2.50 per order, they’re a bargain. But true Belgian frites are double-fried and have a crispier outside and fluffier interior than these thick, hand-cut versions. A good milkshake, however, can do wonders to lull such criticism – especially if made with Ronnie’s Ice Cream and booze-spiked for $3. Daily specials are no less outrageous than everything else on the menu, like blending in gooey butter doughnuts from Strange Donuts.
Hi-Pointe’s twist on the drive-in can be as extravagant or as simple as you make it. Judging by the lines out the door, that makes Hi-Pointe Drive-In on point.
AT A GLANCE
1033 McCausland Ave., St. Louis, 314.349.2720, hipointedrivein.com
Don’t Miss Dishes
Taco Burger, Guac-Ness Monster
Simultaneously contemporary and retro, like The Jetsons
$5.50 to $9
Daily – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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