From Burgers To Wheatberries, Explore The Delicious Dishes At Hi-Pointe Drive-In
I can finally admit to a deep, dark secret: I almost always order a burger at Sugarfire Smoke House. I love barbecue, but that griddle-fried burger. Mmmm. Now, with the opening of the Hi-Pointe Drive-In, I can go back to barbecue with a clear conscience, because Sugarfire’s chef/owner Mike Johnson has brought his burgers to a new joint.
Judging by the crowds during the restaurant’s first week, I wasn’t the only one craving a burger during the chilly first week of January, when the Hi-Pointe Drive-In opened. Compared to the lines at Sugarfire, these weren’t all that outrageous—but the Olivette barbecue restaurant has much more space for waiting and more seating than the Hi-Pointe Drive-In, so it feels more frenetic.
The colorful, faux-industrial shipping container design outside is matched by exposed ductwork inside. Looking into the kitchen offers fascinating glimpses of supersized kitchen gear like the griddle and the cheese grater, but the conveyor toaster that does everything, right down to buttering the buns, is positively mesmerizing. Even the condiment holder—a shiny tool chest—adds to the hard-working vibe.
Despite being slammed with customers all day long, the staff worked tirelessly and professionally during our visit. It was clearly all hands on deck in support of chef Adam Pritchett (formerly of Sugarfire, so he truly does know the secret to those burgers).
Just for the record, when I say “burgers,” I am not referring to the veggie or turkey variations, though those are probably tasty, too. I’m talking about the beef. It’s a combination of brisket, chuck and rib meats that’s smashed onto the griddle for searing to just-past-medium done-ness. There are all the usual toppings, along with bacon or a fried egg, and you can upgrade cheeses for an extra 50 cents, to brie or Swiss or white Cheddar or even Provel.
The much-anticipated taco burger, created via a collaboration with Mission Taco Joint, looks ordinary on the outside but contains a mix of taco spices and finely ground Cool Ranch Doritos and Chili Cheese Fritos, topping off the Tex-Mex flavor. If there’s not quite enough Mission Taco Joint sauce to suit you, don’t grab the ketchup—go to the tool chest for a packet of salsa instead.
When I asked Johnson the secret to his barbecue success during an interview years ago, he said it was all about the meats. At Hi-Pointe Drive-In, he’s clearly maintaining the standard across the board to many more ingredients, from the bread Fazio’s customizes for him to small touches like the picture-perfect lettuce on the burgers.
Salads are served in large, clear-plastic containers that seem incongruous compared to the paper wrappers on the burgers. But it’s here that the menu starts to diverge from expected diner-style fare into something that sets the Hi-Pointe Drive-In apart. These are meal-sized salads with toppings like grilled salmon, dried cherries, wheatberries, quinoa, avocado and roasted corn, and dressings like lime or grilled orange vinaigrette.
The sandwiches represent a middle ground. For every Guac-Ness Monster filled with Funyuns-fried avocado, there’s a Hot Salami that uses genoa and soppressata from local artisan producer Salume Beddu. And for every meal made of bologna, mustard and a fried egg cradled between two grilled-cheese sandwiches, there’s a bahn mi with salmon, chile-mango aioli and pickled veggies.
The Belgian frites seemed like fairly standard fries to us—good, but not great. Other sides include a tangy mac and cheese with white cheddar, bags of Hi chips, and shaved, sautéed brussels sprouts with chunks of bacon that make a surprisingly good counterpart to the burgers.
This isn’t really a drinking establishment, but it does have a short list of beers, wines and boozy slushies to go along with the locally produced sodas, including Urban Chestnut Zwickel and 4 Hands Incarnation. The thick, rich shakes can be amped up with booze, too—or with sugar, in the case of the specialty shake from Strange Donuts (gooey butter cake was the featured flavor during opening week).
With this foray toward the central corridor, Johnson has another guaranteed hit restaurant on his hands. Although I’m there for the burgers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ultra-fresh and creative salads eventually tempt me away—but it will be our little secret if they do.
The Inside Dish:
Tips for a top-notch experience at Hi-Pointe Drive-In.
Top dish: The 100-percent Angus hamburger with cheese on a buttered and toasted potato bun.
Popular pour: The boozy milkshakes with a choice of vodka, whiskey or rum. The Dreamsicle-rum combo packs a sweet kick without overpowering.
Best place to perch: The first empty seat you spot. It’s usually not good form to camp out and wait for someone to leave, but people are more forgiving here—probably because they did the same thing.
Insider tip: To skip the lines entirely, call in your order and they will run it out to your car. But keep in mind that the parking lot fills just as quickly as the tables inside, so patience pays.
Where to go:
1033 McCausland Ave.
Hours: Daily 10am-10pm