Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chow Time: King Tut Drive-In

Living in Southern California, the veritable epicenter of car culture, one might suspect that drive-in restaurants are the de facto method of food service.  In facto, though the concept seems so simple, so charming, and so suited to California's climate, drive-ins are an extremely rare sight.  I don't know why I think drive-ins are so cool; going to a drive-in restaurant is really just a belabored, protracted drive-thru experience with none of the convenience of eating at a proper table and none of the cinematic atmosphere promised by American Graffiti.  Nevertheless, I am always searching for old drive-ins, hoping to capture the nostalgia of warm summer nights, roller skates, and good, old-fashioned junk food.

My overly-romantic notion of drive-ins is no doubt influenced by the opening scene in Moon Over Miami.  It's no wonder then that I'm always slightly deflated when the server at a real life drive-in isn't Betty Grable and she isn't singing the menu to me.  I guess it would be too much to ask that she be clad in 1940's western wear.  

"What Can I Do for You?" - Betty Grable & 
Carole Landis from Moon Over Miami

When my sister explained that there was an authentic drive-in restaurant very near her new home, I was equally excited and disappointed - excited because it sounded perfect, disappointed because in all of the research I had done in preparation for my trip to West Virginia I had seen absolutely no reference to King Tut Drive-In in Beckley, WV.

King Tut Drive-In is a fixture in Beckley.  In fact, it is well-known all over the state of West Virginia.
Their biggest claim to fame is the introduction of pizza to the state in 1957.
Although they will probably accommodate peculiar tastes, I believe that
 "Fried Chicken Livers" and "Pizzas" are two separate menu items.

The look of King Tut is rather, er,...strange.  Long, weathered pickets create a fence-like facade while blue steel beams support a carport structure with a corrugated roof.  It looked more like a tree house than a longstanding eatery.  Learning that it has been in operation for the last 70 years (under current ownership for nearly 60), I wondered if the rusticity of King Tut's current facade didn't hide some really outstanding Egyptian theming.

It definitely speaks more to "King Creole" than King Tut.

Fortunately, I was able to find an historic photo of King Tut (not sure when they ditched the "'s.")
Isn't it dreamy?  It is obviously the same structure but it has clearly undergone an extreme make-under.
Even in the early days, however, there was absolutely no trace of the Sphinx, the pyramids, or the desert sands. 

If King Tut Drive-In isn't known for its stunning curb appeal, it is known for its down-home food.  Hand-formed hamburger patties, real ice cream milkshakes, fresh homemade pies, and full dinners are among the most highly-favored menu items.

The King Tut burger with everything.
As I mentioned in a previous post, West Virginians like their food SWEET!
The delicious, homemade bun was bordering on dessert and the coleslaw
(a signature WV topping on burgers and dogs) seemed to be candy-coated.
I will say that the flavor profile was a surprise and surprisingly good once
my savory palate adjusted.  I won't even speak to the lemonade which
would rot your teeth with just one look.

Intrigued by the variety of side orders, we decided to order
the "Loaf of Homemade Bread" to take home for the week.

We were hoping it would be the best thing since un-sliced bread!

I heard it was pretty good....
I think my brother-in-law was able to eat it in two bites.

The only way to overcome the temptation of homemade
 pie is to learn that they are all sold out!

There is so much to like about King Tut but our best recommendation is to get there early.  Since everything is freshly made on site, there is a limited supply and popular items do sell out.  We went through a few rounds of ordering before settling on what they had in rich supply.   If there is another recommendation to be made, it is to NOT pull up wearing heavily kohl-rimmed eyes, presenting your Alexandria Library card; this ain't ancient Egypt!!!  And whatever you do, don't "ankh" your horn, the protocol at the drive-in is to flash your lights for service.

If you're in West Virginia, then get on over to King Tut Drive-In; it's food fit for a long as that pharaoh is not insulin dependent.

King Tut Drive-In
301 N Eisenhower Dr
Beckley, WV

*Closed every Wednesday*


Mr. Tiny


  1. That loaf of bread seriously cracked me up!!!!!!!!! :)

    Why did they drop the S at the end of Tut? It makes no sense!!!

    1. I almost died when I kept looking for the loaf of bread and came up with a rectangular dinner roll!!! Hahahahaha!!!!

  2. Teeny loaf of bread!!! I loved all the side item choices. What kinds of beans are "brown beans"? I'm strangely intrigued. I'm semi obsessed with drive in and walk up restaurants... But I mostly think its from that scene in "license to drive" where the two Corey's go to a really hopping one on their night out joyriding. My reference is not as classy as yours

    1. I bet brown beans are pintos. They serve them at almost every restaurant here in East Tennessee, I'd assume WV is no different! :)

    2. Have you ever seen "SHAG?" There is a scene where they're at a drive-in and people are hopping in and out of cars and dancing and eventually the carhop in roller skates gets in on the action...I don't think that was ever going to happen at King Tut. I think Dolly is right; although I didn't order the beans, I was told that they were a regional side dish.

  3. that a mini loaf of sweet sourdough??? If so, that's the most fantazamagistic thing EVER!
    Unfortunately, where I live the only true drive in we have is Sonic. There were two others that were super old and old school, The Big Top and Ham's. The Big Top Drive In changed to The Little Top Drive THRU when I was a kid. It's still open and has the same menu, but for some unknown reason took the sweet as hell giant spinning top off the top of the building a few years back. Ham's closed up shop several years ago too. I remember they had a giant neon country ham for their logo. I'd kill to have that thing hanging in my kitchen!
    And yes, everything is far too sweet in the south...and too salty. It's like we've bred out taste buds or something. And then everyone here wonders why we've got some of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the nation.

    1. When you said "Big Top Drive-In," I was thinking there was a circus theme. How awesome that at some point there was a giant spinning top!!! A giant neon ham would be an amazing addition to any kitchen...I need to look up a picture os that sign!!!

  4. There's a few seriously old school drive in's here in Podunk Oregon. I hope to take the old Fairlane to them as soon as I get her registration current. I'll send the pics to your Facebook, I think you'd like them.

    1. Yes, please share your photos (and photos of the car AT the drive-in, when you are able). I'm always keeping a list of places that I need to visit on future adventures!!!

  5. Undoubtedly the name 'cashes in" on the popularity of the exhibition of King Tut-ankh-amun and has nothing to do with it in actuality...I remember seeing that exhibition when it first came to my home town in central Canada in the early 60s (I was about 6 or 7).Anyway, the food sounded scrumptious, and that little loaf of bread is so CUTE. I think the food in hot climates is always 'extreme' in flavour (think India) because heat kills the appetite and so people tend to over\season and over-salt/sugar food to make it "interesting" . In India the food is heavily seasoned and the confections are so sweet they make your teeth revolve. Of course, in a hot climate one needs to replenish electrolytes, too, and "electrolye replacement drinks" are sweet drinks with SALT in them.

    1. I was feeling anything but electro-LIGHT after King Tut. I am not sure how good an idea it was to that HEAVY meal in the heat and humidity of West Virginia...but it was tasty!

  6. that teeny bread loaf is cracking me up! also your surprise at how sweet we like our drinks here in the south! sweet tea better be MOSTLY sugar or i'm sending it back! haha.

    1. Whenever I heard people say that something was "too sweet," I always thought that there was no such thing; sweet things are supposed to be sweet. Then I had West Virginia lemonade... I practically had to go visit the dentist that very day!!! Isn't that loaf a hoot? They should probably change it to read MINI loaf of homemade bread; it's basically a dinner roll!