"This is the family dynasty," says Paul Parker as he thinks about his family's business and why we came back to Paducah after nearly two decades in Lexington. "I came back to carry that forward." The dynasty he refers to is Parker's Drive-In, a Lone Oak mainstay and hamburger haven.
"This was one of the original Sonic Drive-ins," says Paul. "Then it was the Lone Oak Drive-In. My dad bought it when the opportunity came 34 years ago. The poles and metal awnings are original from the Sonic days. "When he took it over, he started from scratch, getting quality ingredients locally. Over the years, that has all remained the same. There is a consistency and quality here that we work hard to maintain."
The aura of the restaurant feels like it hasn't changed in 60 years either, even though it hasn't been around that long. The dining room was added a mere twenty years ago, and, due to a fire that completely destroyed the original building, the current dining area is only three and a half years old. Red and purple neon, a vintage jukebox, and a couple of old pinball machines harkens to decades past. An LCD television hangs unobtrusively on the wall, displaying the title and artist of the oldie currently streaming via the internet. Old meets new, yet it all seems to work. The theme doesn't feel forced as if often the case in many throwback diners. It is natural at Parker's.
What keeps people coming back isn't the theme, however, it's the food. "We do have a very extensive menu," adds Paul. "When we find things we like, we see if they fit well at Parker's. We'll even have things like meatloaf or smoked ribs from time to time. We've done fried bologna, reubens, oven roasted turkey with pepper jack cheese, and more. We make our own chicken salad and pimento cheese here in the store. If something really works and fits, we keep it."
While Paul likes to experiment and find new and exciting menu options, he readily admits their biggest seller is a burger. "We sell more bacon cheeseburgers than anything else. We use slab bacon, which is cut into about ten slices for a while pound. When we pile it on, there is just as much bacon as there is burger. Yeah, you're gonna know you're getting bacon on there."
Frankie, Parker's lunch grill cook agree. "That's about the most beautiful thing you'll ever see," he says as he shows off two of his double bacon cheeseburgers. Frankie, a retired firefighter, took the job nearly 15 years ago simply to stay busy. Over that decade and a half, he's transformed the job into that of a grill artist. "It doesn't get any better than that! I've cooked enough of those to know."