YANKTON, S.D. — Every town should have a Willert's Tastee Treet.
Actually, let me amend that. Any town I'd want to live in should have something like Willert's Tastee Treet, a little hot dogs-and-shakes place that's been there about forever in my husband's hometown of Yankton, S.D.
As I ate my coney dog, chili dog, onion rings, shake at Tastee Treet the other night, I was thinking about the places in Utah that are its equivalent.
There's Burger Bar in Roy. Peach City up in Brigham. Woody's in Murray. Kirt's in North Ogden. I'm talking about places that have been around so long, they've become part of how a town defines itself. The kind of places you take for granted, like they'll always be there.
And they always will, as long as people keep coming out and supporting them. On the night our family visited Tastee Treet with my in-laws, several locals dropped in to the teensy dining space, as well as a couple who were just passing through town, saw the place and thought it looked interesting.
It does, at that, with an unassuming white-painted exterior, blue counter, half a dozen dusty-pink barstools, photos of past Tastee Treet workers and a linoleum floor that's seen a lot of feet pass over it.
There's some major air conditioning keeping the muggy night air at bay, indecipherable music playing somewhere and, from the back, the rich and slightly menacing sound of gallons of oil frying up classic American fast food.
There's a standing special at Tastee Treet: For five bucks — and they have to be bucks because they don't take checks or credit cards — diners can enjoy a "Tastee beef sandwich," fries and their choice of a malt, shake or float. The Tastee beef sandwich is otherwise known in these parts as a tavern, or a loose-meat sandwich, or even a "maid-rite," after a chain of restaurants that specializes in them.
In Utah, we call 'em sloppy joes, though this version comes sauced with little but its own juices and the sweetness of the onions with which the beef is cooked. That lets diners use ketchup, mustard or both to goop up their sandwiches. My father-in-law had the special and seemed to enjoy every bite.
Hot dogs, rather than burgers, are prominently featured on the Tastee Treet menu, though there's a column of sandwiches as well. My younger kids had hot dogs plain and topped with a nice spicy chili with plenty of beans, while my husband had a foot-long chili dog.
I had both a chili dog and a "coney," presented here as a simple, high-quality dog in a plump bun, covered with some of that Tastee beef and onions. Our oldest daughter had a signature Midwestern item, the pork sandwich: a pounded-thin pork cutlet, breaded and deep-fried, on a mayo-slathered bun. They're usually good, but this one was especially so.
Another often-seen Midwestern item on Tastee Treet's menu is their cheese balls, deep-fried nuggets of salty cheese that are a bit addictive. We passed around baskets of crinkle-cut fries and, best of all, fresh and wonderful batter-dipped onion rings, fried crispy brown, not too bready and sweet and tender inside.
Several of the kids had soft-serve ice cream, while the rest of us had shakes. Most places here in the Midwest assume that when you order a shake, you're looking to get something to drink. So the shakes are well-blended and finely textured, which takes nothing away from their deliciousness. If you're looking for something more firm in this part of the world, find a place that sells "concretes," like the Culver's that just opened up in Midvale.
My chocolate-banana shake was delicious, frothy and substantial, and probably the most filling part of a very filling meal. My mother-in-law, who had a float, said something that sort of summed up the whole experience: "Unlike some places where the root-beer float is mostly foam, this one is all root beer and ice cream."
No frills, all tastiness. Yes, ma'am.