The Lakeview has no view of beautiful Lake Winona nor of the Mississippi River, but it does have great burgers, friendly car hops and a devoted following in this city along the Great River Road.
Since 1938, people have been coming here for made-from-scratch root beer, the best selling Toddy Burger and the half pound Sugar Loaf Mountain Burger, named for a limestone bluff overlooking the city. From there, you can see Lake Winona and the Mississippi River.
The menu also includes something called Smiley Fries, which sounded like fun, so I ordered some with my cheeseburger. While they were tasty enough, I must admit, they kind of creeped me out jut a little. Who needs your deep-fried potatoes smiling back at you like a twisted clown from Stephen King’s “It.”
Flash Lights for Service
There’s no inside seating at The Lakeview. You just drive up, read the menu on the exterior wall and flash your car lights when you are ready for a car hop to take your order. Then I got to thinking – in 1938, not everyone owned a car, so what did they flash to get someone to come take their order?
This is a great place for the family, with picnic tables and a small playground for the kids. Every Wednesday night, the Lakeview hosts a special event, usually some sort of classic car show, but occasionally things like karaoke, pet nights and even a farm tractor night.
Not long ago, I watched the movie “The Founder” with Michael Keaton, which is the story of how Ray Kroc rather unscrupulously turned a charming little family-owned burger joint into the mega-chain that we know as McDonald’s today. As McDonald’s began sprouting up across the U.S., starting in the Midwest, mom-and-pop drive-ins all but disappeared.
There is a McDonald’s in Winona, but the Lakeview Drive Inn somehow survived the Golden Arches invasion. From what we witnessed, it does a great business and serves its community well, which is one of the reasons Winona is so adorable and worth a road trip to Minnesota.