This Saturday marked the first cold-weather day of the season here in Wilmington. It rained, and the temperature was chilly enough to warrant wearing a jacket. The weather proved to be the perfect backdrop for the errand Pascal and I had planned: buying Christmas presents for his family in France. If we don't get our presents shipped to France by the first week of November, we won't have time to send them at all; it's just too hectic once the selling season for holiday bon bons begins.
After a few hours of power shopping interspersed with mad dashes to and from the car in the rain, we were ready for a hot lunch. We decided to head over to Merritt's Burger House on Carolina Beach Road. Merritt's is an old drive-in establishment that's been around since before I can remember. As the name suggests, they sell burgers, but they also offer fried chicken, barbeque, seafood platters, and other Southern specialties. As soon as we drove into our parking space, our waitress came out to the car to take our order. From the car, we could see the cook, a lady with a gray-haired Aqua Net-lacquered bee hive, cat eye glasses, and an apron tied around her waist. We chatted with our friendly waitress and asked a few questions about the menu, which consists of different "Specials", painted on wood plaques and tacked up to the side of the drive-in. We were interested in the fried chicken platter, but our waitress forewarned us that it takes about thirty minutes to prepare since the chicken is fried fresh when ordered. We decided we were too hungry to wait that long and opted for the barbeque platter instead. The barbeque is also homemade, but since it's made in big batches, it would just need a little warming up. Sure enough, in less than five minutes, our waitress returned to hook our car hop tray onto our window. It was piled high with two plates of barbeque, hush puppies, French fries, coleslaw and bottled soft drinks. The price? $5.50 per person.
As we ate in the comfort of our cozy car, watching the rain pour down the windshield, Pascal marveled at the mysteries of our American culinary traditions. "What a crazy idea", he said, "a restaurant where people eat in their cars!" The words expressed a sense of obligatory French dismay, but his face (and the platter he licked clean) revealed his true delight.