Dairi-O provides nostalgia, a tasty burger

by Lindsay Craven

Dairi-O provides nostalgia, a tasty burger

The Dairi-O stands at the crossroads of Old Highway 52 and E. Dalton Road in King. It’s small and unassuming, flashing back to the days of curb-service diners before chains like Sonic. Even though the restaurant now has a bigger, prettier sister store in Stanleyville, the original still stands proud as the largest tourist attraction in King. Jeff Speaks, the restaurant’s owner for the past 16 years, tells me that Dairi-O has been around since 1947. He is the fourth owner over the past 62 years. Speaks’ father was the owner of the Char’s chain of restaurants in the past, and he always knew that he wanted to own his own restaurant one day. After he took over in the 1990s he made some changes to improve business, adding a walk-in ordering option, additional menu items. He made sure the store kept regular hours yearround. Past owners closed the restaurant during the winter months. Four years ago Speaks decided that Dairi-O needed to branch out, and he opened a store in Stanleyville, which is a much more updated version of the restaurant. Over the years Dairi-O’s hotdogs have been widely celebrate across the Triad.. This Saturday marks a slow day for the miniature burger stand. Ominous clouds have been hovering overhead most of the day scaring people away from the outdoor seating. The building is split between the walk-up grill and an indoor ice cream parlor and is connected by a picnic table pavilion to a shuttered building that was once a breakfast diner. It’s a great day to have a meal outside; the clouds and recent rainstorm have made it cooler than usual for an August day without making it muggy. My mom and I are out for a late afternoon lunch. Approaching the walk-up window for the grill, we are met by a young, blonde girl who quickly and politely takes our orders. I choose the cheeseburger combo with French fries and sweet tea while my mom goes with a regular hot dog combo. The options on the menu are pretty varied. Diners can choose between burgers, barbecue, fish, steak, chicken and standard sandwich concoctions like pimento cheese, chicken salad, ham and cheese and grilled cheese. The side order menu features an array of deep-fried goodness, with items like hush puppies, onion rings, deep-fried corn and choices of plain, cheese or chili cheese fries. Or, if you’re looking for a slightly healthier option you can get a bag of chips. A short wait and our food is brown-bagged and ready to go. Despite the threatening clouds we decide to take our chances in the pavilion area. Once unwrapped the combos are what you might expect: The burger is a little mashed but the fries are the real deal, not the shoe-string junk you get at places like McDonald’s. The burger reveals what sets it apart after one bite. The lettuce and tomato I requested are fresh and juicy. It seems as though the tomato could have been picked from a backyard garden right before it was sliced and placed on the burger. The lettuce, though shredded, is still flavorful and green. The French fries are crisp, golden and sprinkled with just enough Cajun seasoning to be tangy, but not spicy. The large bag they come in holds much more than a single serving, and they prove much too difficult to finish in this sitting.

My mom’s hot dog isundeniably messy, slathered in homemade chili and slaw. It isn’t prettybut she says that the appearance is definitely not representative ofthe taste. The restaurant sticks to the tradition of toasting itshotdog buns, a big plus with my mom. Speaks tells me that big plansawait the tiny little restaurant. He is planning a redesign that willbe significantly different from the little store that stands here now.The plan includes a 28-foot tall milkshake cup-shaped entrance, indoordining and a playground area, along with and outdoor picnic areas andwalkways. He plans to keep the old diner feel to the interior of therestaurant. He shows great enthusiasm for the future of his littleslice of King nostalgia. I must admit I have a bittersweetfeeling about the redesign. Being a native of the foothills area I havebeen frequenting this burger stop for years now, and it’s hard topicture it in any other format. After sitting and chatting,and of course indulging in some ice cream, we leave Dairi-O withpainfully full stomachs and a feeling of nostalgia. The little burgerjoint definitely provides an escape from the stresses of the days bytaking you back to a simpler time.

Dairi-O is located at 365 E. Dalton Road in King. Call 336.983.5560 for more information.

Dairi-O is located off of Old Highway 52 in King. The restaurant isa large tourist attraction for the area and they specialize in burgers,hotdogs and French fries. (photos by Lindsay Craven)