On the corner of 17th St. and Washington Blvd. sits a nondescript, open-air structure flanked by a glowing red neon sign. I’ve driven past it many times, wondering what on earth it was — its name, Hob Nob, didn’t seem to give much away, though I would always see cars pull in to the parking lot alongside the building no matter the time of day or night. Finally, I let my curiosity get the better of me and visited the establishment. It turned out to be Sarasota’s oldest drive-in restaurant, serving burgers, shakes and other typical fare you’d find at any classic American diner.
The atmosphere at Hob Nob is a bit of a strange juxtaposition: while the interior of the restaurant is evocative of days long past, with its long bar for ordering meals and its picnic table seating, its exposure to the outside allows diners to hear cars zoom past, blaring all sorts of Top 40 music in a discordant sort of way.
I guess it just adds to the charm.
I dined on the Hob Nob burger, which was a double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions, mustard and mayonnaise, and a handspun chocolate milkshake. If you’re not interested in a burger, though, the Hob Nob also has different types of hot dogs (both loaded and unloaded), subs, sandwiches and salads.
The Hob Nob burger was pretty good, though it wasn’t necessarily any different than one I could get at, say, Steak ‘n Shake. I will say, though, that the patties were thicker in comparison. My chocolate milkshake was absolutely delicious and more flavorful than most shakes you could find at other restaurants. It more or less tasted like I was eating ice cream straight out of a straw.
The Hob Nob burger, which cost $4.25, didn’t come with any sides — in fact, the entire menu is à la carte, much to my dismay. With the milkshake and tax included, my dinner bill neared $10; had I wanted a side of French fries, it would have been an extra $1.79. For a lot less money (especially with a coupon), I could have gone to Steak ‘n Shake and had a similar meal with two side dishes included.
But there’s something about eating at an authentically retro diner — the Hob Nob opened in 1957 — that cannot be replicated at the bigger, chain restaurants. The staff members were incredibly kind and easygoing, making the experience that much better. In short, if you’re willing to shell out an extra buck or two for the sake of ambience, do it. Just be warned that you might still be hungry once you come home.
Evaluation: Sat +