Editor's note: A short time ago, Serious Eater Lemons contacted me about contributing some burger intel to A Hamburger Today/Serious Eats. "Sure thing!" I said. Here's the result. For more on St. Louis–area food, check out Lemons's blog: St. Louis Eats and Drinks. Enjoy! —Adam

The secret at Carl’s Drive Inn is speed. Owner Frank Cunetto knows his burgers are at their best fresh off the grill. These flat-grilled babies, available as singles, doubles or triples, arrive crisp around the edges and dressed to order. (Doubles offer the perfect ratio of meat to bun, I’d say.)

Cunetto is a stickler for how much fat and moisture is in his meat, and in the infrequent times he’s not manning the grill is happy to tell you why. He also makes his own root beer, which arrives, of course, in frosty mugs.

The menu offers curly dogs, chili dogs, fries and onion rings, and excellent shakes that are miles from those extruded from some humming machine.

The only tourists are nostalgic former St. Louisans on visits home. And that’s a good thing because Carl’s, named for a former owner, seats only 16 people. Three servers, or four at lunch time, insure speedy service with one of the best server-diner ratios in the city. "I could expand to the back," says Cunetto, "but I’d have to put in another grill or the quality would suffer. What’s the point? I’m doing okay."

Though Carl’s began as a high school hangout, it’s now multi-generational with particular fun coming from watching kids who’ve only known the McDonald’s school of burger in a discovery voyage to Real Food. The adults are usually playing hooky from actually being a grownup, escaping from offices and business calls to briefly become 15 again. Carl’s is open late enough for a pre-movie supper if you catch an early show, or might be good after shopping - and that way you can avoid the crowds. They close early to regroup for the next day’s hamburger festival.

Carl’s Drive Inn

Address: 9033 Manchester Road, Brentwood MO 63144 [map]
Phone: 314-961-9652
Notes: Cash only

About the author: Ann Lemons grew up a picky eater in small-town Missouri. She reformed once she realized that it interfered with her social life, and never looked back. She's written for local and national publications, does commentary on her local NPR station, and authored three books on St. Louis restaurants with her husband, Joe Pollack. Their blog is at stlouiseats.typepad.com.


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