This column offers a sampling of dining experiences in the area. It is not intended as a review of the restaurant other than to provide the reader with one diner's experience. It also appears in The Herald's Friday entertainment section, "Ticket."
Sometimes you just crave a good hamburger.
I was having one of those days, so I followed my sister's advice and headed to Sonny's Dutch Mill, the self-proclaimed "home of the best chili cheeseburger around."
Walking into the family-owned, Fort Mill restaurant, I found it decorated like a 1950s diner. We sat in red and white vinyl chairs and surveyed the Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Cash and Rat Pack posters lining the walls. There's also a giant mural by local artist Jerry McClure depicting classic cars at a drive-in movie, "The Ten Commandments." I've never had a burger with Moses.
Although the waitresses weren't wearing poodle skirts, and at one point I heard Madonna instead of Elvis on the radio, Sonny's Dutch Mill reminded me of the diner in "Grease" where the kids would hang out after school. I imagine that was the case 52 years ago, when the original Sonny's opened in Rock Hill.
According to Sonny's Web site, the restaurant started as "The Dutch Mill" back in the days of bobby socks and doo-wop. Originally a car hop restaurant in a windmill-shaped building beside a drive-in movie theater, it quickly earned a reputation for good times and great food.
There are seven types of burgers on the menu, ranging from a regular hamburger for $4.30 to Lu Lu's Rancho bacon cheeseburger for $5.50. Burgers are served with mustard, fresh-chopped onions and Sonny's homemade chili. Additional toppings are 50 cents each, except bacon, which is $1.
The sandwich selection includes pork barbecue made from Sonny's homemade secret recipe ($4.80), grilled chicken marinated in Italian dressing ($4.90), flounder with tartar sauce ($4.50) and Kick 'n Kati hot and spicy chicken ($4.75). You can also grab a hot dog, slaw dog, BLT, or ham and cheese sandwich for $2 to $4.50.
I ordered the cheeseburger plate ($6.95), which came with a chili burger, home fries, cole slaw and a soda. My friend ordered the same, but with crinkle-cut fries. Other sides include beer-battered onion rings, potato chips, slaw and cheesesticks.
I was apprehensive about chili on my burger -- I prefer chili dogs, not burgers. But I had to find out if Sonny's really is home to the best chili cheeseburger. It is. It's also home to the best fries I've ever had, and they pile so much on the plate, you'd be crazy not to go home stuffed.
By the time I was a third of the way through my fries, I figured my diet was shot for the day. So why not splurge? I ordered a brownie sundae ($4.50), and it was enough for two. Piled high on the homemade brownie was rich vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, drizzled chocolate and chopped nuts, with a cherry on top. It was like a piece of heaven.
I spent an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill that night, but boy was it worth it.
I now know the reason why Sonny's won a handful of The Herald readers' choice Buzzie awards for best burgers through the years. The friendly wait staff, juicy burgers, delightful desserts and family-friendly atmosphere is evidence that Sonny's has built a rich tradition of good times and great food.
SONNY'S DUTCH MILL
737 Stockbridge Drive, Fort Mill (there's also one at 550 Anderson Road, Rock Hill)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Phone: (803) 548-7100
Web site: sonnysdutchmill.com
Ambiance: Family-friendly diner known for its chili cheeseburgers