We thank Erik Baade for pointing us to the work of writer Dale Lawrence, who has written so eloquently about Mug ‘N’ Bun, a 1960-vintage drive-in restaurant on the west side of Indianapolis near the Speedway. Dale’s story about the place, which appeared in the city magazine Nuvo proclaimed the root beer to be “legitimately creamy, yes, but also smoky, carrying hints of vanilla fudge and molasses, as rich and smooth as a dessert wine.” In other words, not like your average soda pop! It is glorious in a non-artisanal way: dark and full of character, served in thick frosty mugs and in sizes that include small, large, giant, quart, half-gallon, and gallon.
As for the other half of the equation — the bun — what goes in that can be a hamburger, a hot dog, or a tenderloin (grilled or breaded and deep fried). The tenderloin is a big one, if not the juiciest in town. Onion rings are something special: battered thick, crisp and sweet.
As for burgers, all sorts are available: singles, doubles and triples, the Mug N Bun special (with bacon and cheese), grilled burgers (the same hamburger, but served on toast rather than a bun), and the Super Burger, which is two patties, cheese and bacon, served triple-decker style: bun halves on top and bottom, slice of toast separating the two patties. They are not oozy gourmet hamburgers. They are drive-in exemplars – deliriously greasy, too thin to come in varying degrees of doneness. That’s why doubles and even triples make perfect sense.
There are no inside tables at Mug ‘N’ Bun. Dine either in your car or at an outdoor picnic table, (where heat lamps provide comfort in chilly weather). In the car, blink your lights for service and the food will be presented on trays to hang on the window. Each picnic table is outfitted with a buzzer next to the menu. When you’ve decided what you want, hit it and a car hop will appear at the table to take your order almost instantly. Our girl, Heather, came to the table and sat down alongside us to discuss the meal in as much detail as would a loquacious waiter in an overpriced gastropub.