First Taste

First Taste: An Upscale Drive-In Arrives in Arcadia

First Taste: An Upscale Drive-In Arrives in Arcadia
David Hudnall

For several decades now, drive-thru eateries have been associated with heavily processed food that in the short term causes you to look like shit at the pool and in the long term kills you. There is no actual reason this has to be the case, though, and even prior to the pandemic, we were seeing global fast-food chains introduce healthier menu options, and startups like Gilbert's own Salad and Go find success serving meals that don't contain dangerous levels of cholesterol. 

This trend will likely continue, and probably even accelerate, in a post-COVID world in which many of us have gotten comfortable with curbside pickup. Fast-food and fast-casual restaurant owners also seem to be discovering that simply not having a dining room can improve the overall bottom line.

The folks behind the local restaurant group Jocque Concepts run three more or less traditional bars and restaurants in Scottsdale: Diego Pops, The Montauk, and The Hot Chick. But their latest venture, Eat Up Drive-In (4001 East Indian School Road, next door to The Porch), seems like an acknowledgment of where the American restaurant industry is heading. Which is to say: accomodating hungry people who are very busy, vaguely agoraphobic, and trying to avoid saying the word "double" when they order their food.

The goal of Eat Up, according to its promotional materials, is to "serve the community our favorite homestyle meals, cooked slow and served fast, so you can spend less time in the kitchen, and more time with the ones you love."

We stopped by on our way back from Costco.

Eat Up opened in May. Its hours are 4–9 p.m., though the plan is to open for lunch soon. The menu, which you can examine here, suggests aspirations somewhere between Shake Shack's socially acceptable fast food (and design) aesthetic and the "upscale comfort food" genre of restaurants that have proliferated in gentrifying urban neighborhoods over the last ten or so years. I basically like both of those things. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend much of what we ordered at Eat Up.

click to enlarge Braised BBQ short ribs with mac and cheese and broccoli. - DAVID HUDNALL
Braised BBQ short ribs with mac and cheese and broccoli.
David Hudnall

Absolutely do not get the braised BBQ short ribs, which I'm pretty sure were prepared with Manwich (talk about homestyle!). It was like eating a stringy sloppy joe without a bun. The sides — you get to choose two, which I do appreciate — weren't much better. The roasted broccoli was only very lightly roasted, just on one side, and we were unable to detect the advertised lemon butter vinaigrette. The mac and cheese had OK flavor but the sauce was watery, gathering in a pool at the bottom of the to-go container. An all-around bad order, $14.50 down the drain.

click to enlarge The Hot Chick sandwich. - DAVID HUDNALL
The Hot Chick sandwich.
David Hudnall

I was happier with the Hot Chick, a spicy chicken sandwich with house slaw and a brioche bun. I'd put it somewhere between a Wendy's Spicy Chicken and a Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich you'd find in the restaurant of a chef who has his own publicist. It was a bit dry but had a nice, even complex kick to it. Then again, at $12,50, it ought to. The sandwiches and wraps come with fries or a caesar salad. As someone who likes a battered fry, I can report that the fries are good.

click to enlarge The Market Salad - DAVID HUDNALL
The Market Salad
David Hudnall

We probably should have ordered the Arcadia salad. We were in Arcadia, after all. Instead, we got the Market salad ($8.50). The first ingredient listed was roasted cauliflower. The cauliflower was not roasted. It was raw and paper-thin, and there wasn't very much of it. The salad was mostly romaine, which was not even listed as an ingredient. The thinly sliced sweet peppers added little to this salad. Cheese might have helped, or maybe some seeds or nuts. Or roasted cauliflower. Don't get the Market salad.

A few words about the atmosphere and the experience. You can eat in at Eat Up, technically. There's a counter inside and a table or two. There is also a patio out front with four tables, in case you'd like to dine on wood-grilled citrus chicken in triple-digit heat with up-close views of the traffic on Indian School.

There are four curbside spots right outside the door as well as a drive-thru window. We ordered at the drive-thru, then drove up to the next window to pay, then waited 10 minutes, then somebody came out and asked us to pull up further and wait, which we did for another 10 minutes. It was about 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. I give Eat Up a pass on this. The entire experience was pretty substandard, but hiring is hard right now. I assume they're understaffed.

A few menu items caught my eye that I didn't order: the charred chili shrimp and maybe one of the six baked potatoes (perhaps the vegan chili). Maybe someday. Probably not anytime soon, though. 
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David Hudnall was the editor of Phoenix New Times from 2020 to 2021.
Contact: David Hudnall