As a teenager, Amber Beck worked at the Lion’s Den Drive-In in Clarendon, but she had no idea she would one day own the legendary restaurant. Today, she and Justin, her husband, continue the tradition of pleasing the palates of locals as well as a steady stream of out-of-towners at the 54-year-old institution.
Carolyn Vent, the previous, longtime owner of the classic dairy bar drive-in, reached out to the Becks, who had been involved in the food service industry for many years, to gauge their interest in assuming ownership. “She believed in us, and we are so thankful,” Amber said. The couple gladly reached an agreement with Vent in 2009. And the Lion’s Den’s customers have enjoyed the updated menu items and traditional favorites ever since.
Justin said, “We didn’t take away any of the classics that our customers have loved for decades, but we did add a few fresh items that are now also favorites.” For instance, the Becks added a hand-pattied hamburger, while keeping the pre-formed traditional patties loved by many.
“I love to watch children grow up eating here and then return to enjoy the Lion’s Den with their families,” said Amber, who the youthful customers call the Lion’s Den Lady. “We have many, many people that stop by from across the nation to sample the goodness that we serve and remember childhood memories.”
Along with a few other newer menu items like street tacos, homemade brownies and cookies and smoked pork barbeque, the Becks also added a covered outdoor dining area.
The fried cheese sticks at the Lion’s Den are fabulous, especially with the homemade marinara sauce for dipping. The marinara sauce is based on Amber’s Italian grandmother’s recipe that the couple spent two years perfecting. I also recommend the spicy fried mushrooms if you like a bit of heat in an appetizer. Ask for the homemade ranch dressing on the side. Oh, the homemade fried pork skins are addictive and sold by the bag. Unfortunately, my bag only lasted a day at my office, as my co-workers loved them.
The new kids on the Lion’s Den menu are the street tacos, which are offered with a variety of fillings. I loved every bite of the shrimp version. I could tell that Justin had mastered his sauces and developed the perfect spicy mix for the flour-tortilla-wrapped wonders.
Every American drive-in has chili dogs, and the Lion’s Den’s dogs — footlong and regular topped with delicious chili, cheese and crunchy house-made coleslaw — are classic.
If you are like me, you judge drive-ins on their hamburgers (in addition to the traditional milkshakes, sundaes and ice cream cones). I recommend the hand-pattied Homestyle Hamburger at the Lion’s Den with a choice of toppings. Mine had pepper jack cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise, tomatoes, onion and bacon, and was a definite “two-hander” of burger paradise. Small details like the butter-toasted bun show the dedication of the Lion’s Den staff, which includes Justin, Amber, Griffin Beck, Leary Beck, Molly Goss and Alanna Hamilton.
Justin takes great pride in his smoked pork barbeque. After sampling a chopped pork sandwich with his custom-made sauce, I can see why. The moist chunks of melt-in-your-mouth smoked yumminess are pure heaven.
If you are looking for dessert, plentiful options at the Lion’s Den include cookies, cakes and brownies.
I loved my turtle brownie, as well as the warm macadamia nut cookie.
Perhaps the best part of my visit was listening to parents and their children laugh and talk at the order window.
A steady crowd of all ages flowed up to the window and made the difficult decision of what to order. The good news is there isn’t a bad item on the menu at the Lion’s Den, and you can always visit again to try more offerings, just like I plan to do.
Dining recommendations? Contact Rob Roedel at firstname.lastname@example.org.