|Nite Owl Drive In|
Although it’s not for true night owls, nor is it technically a drive-in, the Nite Owl Drive-In is still everything you’d expect a classic diner to be. Located at 830 E. Layton Ave., the Nite Owl is just a short shot from General Mitchell International Airport. Order from the exterior walk-up windows and chow down in your car, or snag a booth inside and travel back to a time when Frankie Avalon was selling out concerts and the Milwaukee Braves were a winning team.
There was a time when the Nite Owl was open until 2 a.m., and car hops in poodle skirts waited on you through your car window, but that’s long gone. Now it’s a place for nostalgia – preserving the family burger recipe, the classic ice cream sundae and the tradition of the great American diner.
The walls are littered with sports memorabilia, dated political ephemera and tin Coca-Cola signs in this 10-table restaurant. The black and white checkered floor, dark oak booths, kitschy stained-glass window panels and gingham curtains make you feel at home, while you can’t help but bob your head to the old rock ’n’ roll tunes. The menu is all-American, no-frills food. There’s no table service, and they only accept cash. There’s a “come back and pay when you are finished” policy, says the young waiter.
Family-owned and operated since 1948, the Nite Owl is famous for its Jumbo Burgers – a recipe the third-generation owner reveals has been perfected over the years. Everything is made to order, so I approached the counter and requested a cheeseburger with extra pickles ($3.85) and a creamy chocolate malt ($3.25) to wash it down. The thick, misshapen patty of lean ground beef was nestled between a perfectly buttered, toasted bun. It’s obvious that the burgers are made from scratch. Another can’t-miss item is the grilled cheese ($2.20). Buttery and gooey, it tastes like childhood.
The restaurant was jam-packed on a Friday afternoon, with the clientele representing all walks of life – young and old, blue and white collar. Another trio of uniformed workers tells me the Nite Owl is what they look forward to every Friday at lunch. Atop a glass case, I found a stack of Brewers yearbooks dated from 1984 to 1992 – jackpot! Talk about a trip down memory lane.
Other menu offerings are fish or chicken sandwiches, jumbo hot dogs, a turkey club and several variations of the Jumbo Burger, all under $7. Complement any of these with onion rings or fries, or ice cream galore for dessert. The 10 specialty sundaes range from $2.50 to $4.75, and include the Turtle Sundae, Banana Royal and the Dusty Road (dusted with malt powder).
Although it can be bit off the beaten path, the Nite Owl is well worth the trip. Just don’t expect to drive in for service or for it to be open to satisfy your late-night cravings, as the name implies.
The Nite Owl is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.