The good people of Laurel have been flocking to Phillips Drive-In for generations. It opened in 1948 as a Dairy Queen, but the Phillips family left the franchise in the 1960s, and eventually partnered with the Beard family. Their relationship still exists today.
This drive-in is so popular that the owners hold an annual reunion. Last year more than 1,200 people attended, visiting from as far away as Alaska. There is a car show, music, and more cheeseburgers than you’d think possible.
PDI, as the locals affectionately call Phillips, is an old-time drive-in, and there’s nothing fancy about it. They do not serve haute cuisine, and there’s nothing remotely Pacific Rim-fusion on the menu. However, if you are looking for a good cheeseburger, then PDI is the right place for you.
The menu really is all about burgers, but they do offer a few sandwiches, hot dogs, and a handful of good sides. The basic burger (a grilled beef patty adorned with mustard, ketchup, onions, and pickle) will set you back the grand sum of $2.15. If you make it a jumbo burger, the price skyrockets to $3.25. The most expensive burger on the menu, the Hellfighter, consists of a burger with mayo, onion, lettuce, tomato, pickle, cheese, and jalapeño peppers. The Hellfighter, even when ordered as a jumbo including fries, costs $5.65.
Barry Beard is the second generation of his family to co-own PDI. He is a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi and spent some time as a journalist before the family business called. Now he spends most days working the lunch crowd. Barry admits that the cheeseburger is the best seller, but he also says there are other items that sell almost as well. The chili dog is a crowd favorite, and the milkshakes are legendary. A large chocolate shake will cost you $3.10. The steak and the Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are popular, but the side everyone mentions is the fried okra.
While waiting for my chili burger and fries, Mrs. Fredna Craven drove up. A lifelong resident of Laurel and a huge fan of PDI, she told me, “I have to have my PDI malt; it’s the best in town.” Other people waiting for lunch agreed, and, judging by the number of people waiting in line, PDI surely is one of Laurel’s most popular places.
The old-time drive-ins are mostly gone now, but Phillips is going strong. It is good to see a bit of Americana still around in the friendly people gathering at a local restaurant just as their parents did before them. What could be more American than a cheeseburger and fries or fried okra? Oh, and by the way, the grilled cheese sandwich, another food star of Southern fame, still costs only $1.50 at PDI!
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
330 S. Magnolia St., Laurel
Open: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.