The Beacon is fast, loud, and big. The moment you enter and approach the serving line, you are virtually accosted by an order-taker who will demand, “CALL IT OUT!” (If you don’t arrive knowing what you want, sheaves of printed menus are available for study or as souvenirs near the door.) Say what you want to eat and say it quickly, or else you will be told to stand back and allow other, better-prepared customers to call it out. On a good weekend day, The Beacon will serve five thousand people.
Once you manage to convey your order, it is shouted back to the open kitchen and you will be told in no uncertain terms to “MOVE ON DOWN THE LINE!” Grab a tray and by the time you have moved twenty paces forward, there your order will be – miraculously, exactly as you ordered it, with or without extra barbecue sauce, double bacon on the burger. A bit farther down the line, you get your tea, lemonade, or milk shake and pay the cashier, then find a seat. Total time from entering to digging in – maybe two minutes.
The meal we like best is Chili Cheese A-Plenty, which is a chili cheeseburger on a bun buried on a plate underneath piles of sweet and oily onion rings and French fried potatoes. Second choice: Outside Pork A-Plenty, which is hacked-up shreds and chunks of hot, hickory-cooked pork on a bun with cool slaw, given the same delicious burial under o-rings and fries. The Beacon’s menu ranges from catfish (tail-on, bone-in) to banana-mayo sandwiches on white bread that Elvis might have loved; and nearly all the specialties are available as A-Plenty plates.
Malt A-Plenty, on the other hand, refers to a malted milk shake so thick that one literally can eat it with a fork. Good as the malt may be, however, it’s nuts to come to The Beacon and drink anything other than tea. Here is the definitive drive-in tea of the South – generously sweetened, laced with a touch of lemon, served over a pack of shaved ice that somehow is colder and more refreshing than ice anywhere else. No surprise: The Beacon sells more tea than any other single restaurant in the U.S.A.