Country Cafes: Bryces offer more than typical drive-in fare
By Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Date Modified: 06/18/2012 2:23 PM
623 W Rock St.
Summer hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.
School year hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.
Favorites: Chicken bacon wrap, $5.95 (wraps made fresh.) Sunny burger, $4.55. Fry sauce (created by Steve Bryce); 1919 Draft root beer; and ice cream treats.
A vibrant, cheery atmosphere and good food have guests leaving with a smile from the Solar Drive-In in Springfield. The drive-in at the crossroads of U.S. 14 and County Road 4 has been around for 50 years. Before that, it was a root beer stand. Steve and Deanne Bryce and their son Luke purchased the Rock Street Drive-In in 2008.
"It had been a dream of Steve's idea to open a restaurant," said Deanne Bryce, who admits she wasn't too enthusiastic about the idea. She had good reason to be hesitant. Steve hadn't cooked for a large crowd until the day they opened. He was a cattle buyer.
"We painted and fixed up the drive-in," said Deanne Bryce. "Then opened in May 2008 as it always has. A seasonal restaurant, our first months went well, so we extensively remodeled in 2009, adding on to include indoor seating.''
The dining area has a dividing wall that portions off a cozy little room. Affectionately referred to as the coffee house, it has a fireplace and couch.
Changing from a seasonal drive-in to a year-round eatery was just the beginning of improvements. The menu was expanded to include new items that allude to the Bryces' years of living in Philadelphia.
"We wanted to duplicate the experience of eating a traditional Philly on an Italian roll," said Deanne. "But we couldn't find an roll that would hold up when we took a bite of it. So Steve got busy and developed his own recipe. He did the same with the wrap that is used on other sandwiches."
He also bakes the hamburger buns, simply because they taste better.
Steve, who grew up in Idaho, had eaten fry sauce at a drive-in there and liked it. When he couldn't find a satisfactory sauce, he created one. The fry sauce is a customer favorite.
Solar Drive-In participates in a nationwide program that promotes healthful eating for children. It's called "Kids LiveWell."
"We had observed parents looking for ways to provide healthy options when selecting items from their menu,'' Deanne said. "Since we are a small, independent company, we felt we could be part of something larger that helps parents who travel with children."
Steve and Deanne work not only with Luke and daughter Francine but also with Steve's parents, Ed and Mary Jane Bryce, who moved to Springfield just to be a part of the Solar Drive-In experience. The staff includes a pie baker.
"During the fall, spring and winter, our restaurant is not as busy," said Deanne. "With a cooking renaissance going on, we wanted to offer something to our rural customers. Luke is the main instructor who also has an online cooking show for twenty-something working professionals on his You Tube channel."
A garden grows outside the building.
The Bryces develop recipes to share with customers who use fresh produce. On Saturday mornings, beginning at 8 a.m., they host a farmers market in their parking lot. Honey, sourdough bread and other baked items from Solar Drive-In are available, in addition to local produce.
Oh yes, the name Solar? The Bryces are interested in renewable energy and use solar panels for heating water and supplemental building heat in winter.