Charlie’s Drive In: Hortonville, Wisconsin

Image(Her) We have driven past Charlie’s Drive In a few times and it always seemed to be at the wrong times seasonally speaking.  So when we heard we were going to be in Hortonville for a show we thought about them right away.  We decided to sit outside and got immediate service from the Charlie’s man himself-Carl Mann who also happens to be Charlie’s son.  Carl was outgoing and friendly and brought us some reading material and some menus so that we could really appreciate the place’s history ourselves. The menu really covers all the standard drive in fare that you’d expect so there was no disappointment there.  I was pleased to hear from Carl that their ground beef is ground locally, their buns come from Quaker Bakery in Appleton, and their hotdogs are from Cedar Creek Meats.  Since Cedar Creek Meats is our “local” butcher nearest to where we live,   I ordered a chili dog topped with Charlie’s homemade “chili” which turns out to be the secret family recipe Bar B Q* that they still proudly make themselves.

*For those of you from different parts of Wisconsin or the country for that matter, who are wondering what a Bar B Q is (like myself) see also: sloppy joe, hot tamale, loose meat, slushburger, wimpies, steamers, etc.  Argue about their proper name if you must;   it’s all just different terms for hamburger and seasoning.
Anyhoo, the chili dog was good, might have been better with a little hot sauce as I was expecting a little zing of chili, but when you’re eating out in the elements it’s really no time to be a prima donna.
I also ordered a side of cheese curds.  Really, you have to order them at any true Wisconsin establishment don’t you? Especially, at a drive in.

Here’s where things get tricky and in order to give you a truly honest rating, I have to give you some history.  I was raised in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  The memories I associate with drive in dining are just two places: The Penquin and Late’s.  As far as I’m concerned, Late’s invented the insanely thin butter laden burger on a homemade semmel.  They also happen to have THE best, breaded to order, made from actual and  perfectly salty cheese curds, in the world.  The closest I have gotten is at the state fair.  I don’t understand why anyone from Wisconsin would choose frozen “cheese curds” over making them the way Late’s does, but then again, I also don’t run a restaurant.  Don’t get me wrong, any cheese curd is great eating, but most cheese curds can be summed up with a short four word review:  “They are not Late’s”.  If you have been following our blog you’ll notice my husband does the same thing with pizza: “It’s not Tony & Maria’s”.  Sorry Charlie’s.

Now I’m not trying to disrespect Charlie at all, and I don’t want any of you to think that I’m so cheese curd spoiled as to let anything affect my experience.  Charlie’s has plenty to offer on their own merit and they served up the right amount of nostalgia and hospitality: they were crazy quick with our food order, they’ve got classic car nights on Tuesdays, they’ve got an Elvis impersonator that surfaces in August, and homemade root beer.  For those of you who remember old A&W’s and car hops who put trays on your window and wore change belts, you’ll love this place and should bring your families before places like this become extinct.  In fact, here’s my perfect family night:  eat supper at Charlie’s and then drive to Freedom for a drive in movie.  I’m thinking this might be my request for our next date night.  Charlie’s is a drive in definitely worth a little drivin’.

Okay, that last bit was probably a little cheesy but I was on a roll and I’m now fondly thinking of cheese curds, what do you expect? I guarantee you, the darling hubby’s will be less sentimental

Food….8.32….Value…..8.995 (keep your menu, it’s got great coupons on it)…..Ambiance/Nostalgia factor….9.324 (This could only have been a 10 if Fonzie himself took our order)…Service….9.675

Look, anyone can send out a car hop on roller skates, but Carl seemed very willing to go that extra mile for you to make your meal special and you could really see the pride he took in running his family business so he personally pushed the scores up for me.  Just so I’m not completely Polyanna about this one, I will say this one criticism:  Charlie’s, you need to update your facebook  and your web pages–they are not very hip or happening for the fans who want to connect with you and your website completely lacks the flare we know you have.

HIM……So we finally got to make the trek into the driveway and taste the cuisine. I have to admit I got a tad excited when I realized they served RC Cola because that is mad cool. Carl the owner, personally came out and welcomed us. We ordered and upon the aforementioned RC delivery, he gave us some history of the joint. It was previous A&W that became Charlies in 1982. They serve a lot of  traditional fare and I left very satisfied. I had a cheeseburger and fries that really hit the spot. I even snagged a few of the wife’s cheese curds. We dined with Chris the guy who has snatched and grabbed lunch from here on a couple of occasions as he works close by. Your dining options are your own vehicle or tables located under an awning. We chose the awning and ate in the elements. I really liked the food but what I really liked was the vibe. It’s pure nostalgia. You owe yourself a trip down memory lane while you’re in the neighborhood. Root Beer Elvis is known to make appearances and I think Carl may know something about Root Beer Elvis’s secret identity. I’m glad we finally got a chance to visit and eat vittles in the sprawling metropolis that is known as Hortonville. We’ll be sure to stop in again when we’re near by.
Food….. 7.01  The Orange Glow……. 8.79  Ownership ….too hip to be rated

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2 responses to “Charlie’s Drive In: Hortonville, Wisconsin

  1. I guess a real test would be anything on our menu but in hindsight I wish I would have steered you to the mushroom burger with fried o, Swiss and our horsey sauce. Mushrooms with that sauce are awesome too. The bacon cheeseburger with let tom and 1000 is da bomb too Anyway, the fonz did wait on you.

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