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Cheap Eats: Hob Nob Drive In

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The Hob Nob Drive In / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The Hob Nob Drive In / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

"Hob Nob to close for renovations."

My heart sank when I read those words this summer.  "Hob Nob Restaurant to Get $500,000 Facelift." Even worse. A half-million-dollar makeover? I could deal with the legendary north Sarasota burger joint closing down for a little while, but no way could I deal with someone coming along and turning it into some sort of upscale yuppie hangout.

I knew what was going to happen next. The restaurant would announce a revamped menu, sprinkled with Asian influences. All its mayo would be replaced with aioli, its hamburger buns swapped out for herb-scented focaccia. Pomegranate would somehow be involved. Things would be drizzled. The taps of Bud would be banished forever, replaced by seasonal pumpkin tripels brewed by monks from the Kazakh Steppes.

I mean, I like fancy food, too. I enjoy arugula. But not at the Hob Nob, a bastion of unpretentious Sarasota that has been doing its thing for 56 years now, since before 301 was even paved. So before heading over there for the first time since it reopened, I steel myself. I will eat my lamb-and-jamón burger and like it.

The Hob Nob's cheeseburger / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The Hob Nob's cheeseburger / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Thank God I was wrong. It doesn't seem like a thing has changed since before the shutdown. Oh sure the restaurant's got a new roof, new tables, new seats, new awnings, but unless you're looking really closely, you'll never spot the difference. It's still an open-air joint, where the whoosh of traffic becomes part of the charm, and with our suddenly comfortable temperatures, it's right where you want to be. The place is jammed. Mostly older folks perch on the shiny red and metal stools and cluster around the lower picnic tables.

One thing I've always loved about the Hob Nob is the way it forces you to share table space with strangers. At many restaurants, you'd never think about settling down to eat next to someone you don't know (unless you're eating at the bar, I guess), but at the Nob it's de rigueur, a tiny moment of community in a place where that can be hard to find. I can easily imagine lifelong friendships formed over the bond of a patty melt.

The menu sure seems exactly the same — no emulsions in sight! Traditional breakfast items like French toast (cleverly marked with a French horn) and omelets bump up against lunch specialties like fried fish and shrimp baskets, and of course those famous burgers. That's what I'm having. As you may know by now, I'm a sucker for quick, fresh fast food hamburgers (see: the Shake Pit), and while Hob Nob's claim to having the best burger in Sarasota ain't exactly accurate, it's mighty tasty and well-sized. (Dear other restaurants: I don't need a half-pound of ground beef at lunchtime, thanks.)

My wife, Rachel, dares to order the patty melt and stuns me by announcing she enjoys it more than the burger. Whoa. I'll have a bite, please! It's for the article! For work, I promise! I'm not going to go as far as to agree with Rachel, but the patty melt's grilled onions give the package a nice touch of sweet, while the toasted bread carries a lot more substance and flavor than my glistening bun. What else? Well the fries are pretty standard, as is the coleslaw. The sweet tea is outstanding.

Sometimes the best feeling you can have walking away from a restaurant is relief, relief that a place you've liked for years is still the same as it always has been, and so it is today. But that doesn't mean I won't panic again 56 years from now, when the Hob Nob announces another round of renovations. Oh sure, by that time, we'll be bowing down before our new insect overlords, but human beings will always need a good, no-nonsense burger.

The Hob Nob's patty melt / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The Hob Nob's patty melt / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Hob Nob Drive In
1701 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota
955-5001 or hobnobdrivein.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: October 14, 2013
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