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Meet the interns: Chelsea Embree and Carl's Drive In

In Beacon Blog

12:28 am on Mon, 07.01.13

Most days, at most times, it’s impossible to walk into Carl’s Drive In.

This matchbox-size diner is on Manchester Road near Brentwood Boulevard, and approximately everyone packs in Tuesdays through Saturdays for lunch and dinner, filling both sides of the its bar seating and standing room, which is limited to begin with.

Chelsea Embree did not go into journalism because her mother said so. Instead, she wandered into a meeting for the student newspaper at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., as a creative writing major looking to start (and eventually expand) a portfolio. After writing for and editing the paper, Embree realized her career calling.

Though she does not spend much time in her native Clayton, a special thanks should go to all her English teachers at Clayton High School, as each encouraged her writing and critiqued it when it was really necessary.

Note: We asked each intern to write about something the Beacon had not covered.

But people choose this sardine-like experience for a reason. It is not because Carl’s is on the forefront of innovations in American diner food. In fact, it is because not much has changed, or needed to change, over the years—including the prices.

On Saturdays around 4 p.m., the diner isn’t nearly as busy as it usually is. This is the time and place I would spend a chunk of my weekends as a high school student in St. Louis. Once I could make the quick drive from The Studio, Inc., where I danced for most of my life, I would go to Carl’s and order a large IBC Root Beer from the barrel while I waited for my food.

But until last summer, I’d never eaten what they’re famous for. I had not even done a taste test in the name of my blog, in which I wrote about cheap things for young people to do (and eat) in St. Louis.

Until last summer, I had never had a hamburger.

This is only one of my many food quirks. I love to tell fellow St. Louisans that I’ve never had toasted ravioli or that I didn’t try Imo’s until I was 14 years old because I didn’t try pizza until I was 14 years old. They look at me like I’m an alien. At my small, liberal arts college, though, this is more a point of intrigue than a reason to never speak to me ever again. We still introduce ourselves on the first day of classes, and a favorite for my “fun fact about yourself” is that I hadn’t tried cheese by itself until my sophomore year — of college.

I remember my first burger, though, mostly because my mother documented the experience. It was a late night in June, and what I really wanted were French fries. But no one would get them for me unless I agreed to try a burger, and for the sake of this bargain, I did.

To my utmost surprise, I ended up getting the better end of this deal. I met my first burger in an atmosphere of cheese and bacon, and I loved it. Although the burger itself was not particularly memorable (no offense to Steak n’ Shake), it opened the gateway to more wonderful burger experiences that were sure to come.

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Of course, I had to go back to Carl’s as soon as I’d been enlightened. When I used to go there at the end of my long day of dance on Saturdays, the waitresses would recognize me and recite my order of a foot-long hot dog. They are amazing and delicious, indeed; but the talk about Carl’s burgers from everyone in Brentwood was too much to ignore.

And the price talked too loudly. For less than $6, I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with a large side of fries and a “small” IBC Root Beer. (May it be noted that a “small” at Carl’s is not small.) The only complaint I had was that I finished it too quickly. I could have had another double bacon cheeseburger. And another after that.

Any native will say that one of the best things about St. Louis is its food. But no native should rave about ravs until they have had this burger. And too many still have not. I may still have my food quirks — for example, I don’t put sauce on anything — but do anything to a burger from Carl’s Drive In, and even I will eat it.

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