Sometimes, eating is more about the experience than the food.
I had just that experience on a recent trip to Galveston, Texas. Star Drug Store, who claims to be “The Oldest Drug Store in Texas” by default also claims the oldest soda fountain and lunch counter in Texas. I had to go experience it for myself.
Star Drug Store dates back to the 1880’s and the horseshoe shaped, tile soda fountain counter was added in 1917. While the claim to be the Oldest Drug Store in Texas may be a stretch considering it no longer functions as a pharmacy, the owners and operators since 2001, the Tilts family took five years to painstakingly restore the building and façade, severely damaged by a fire in 1998. Loft apartments now occupy the space upstairs where the pharmacist originally had beds for clients to rest in long enough to verify there was no allergic reaction to the medication dispensed. The historical neon Coca-Cola sign out front and the mural along the alleyway lack the fading and patina of natural aging but once you step inside, you step back in time.
Tables have been added to the main level to increase the dining capacity but the soda counter’s chrome and vinyl covered seats are the best place to get the experience. We pick out our stools and reach for the menu. We’ve chosen to come for lunch and look over the menu where you’ll find soups, salads, and the expected array of sandwiches hot & cold. I consider the Sandwich Sampler, a selection of Island Chicken Curry Salad, Tuna and Pimento Cheese on Croissant … really, pimento cheese! I didn’t even know they still made pimento cheese. Then the Kicked-Up Tuna caught my eye, served with a kick of horseradish and even available as a melt when grilled with Swiss Cheese. In the end, I went back to a personal favorite for me, the Patty Melt.
The Star version is a full ½ lb. Angus beef patty topped with your choice of Cheddar, Swiss or Blue Cheese on a Kaiser Roll with the fixin’s available. I now realize I wasn’t given a choice and mine came with Swiss on Texas Toast and a Ceasar Salad (Pasta, Dill Potato or Fruit Medley are the other side choices). The meal was good, not great, and I was really disappointed the Texas Toast was toasted and not grilled.
My husband, Terry, selected the BLT Club, a 3-slice double decker bacon, lettuce and tomato served on your choice of white or wheat – he chose wheat. The most accurate description is disappointing. The toast was dry and the three slices of bread overpowered the BLT and, as far as he could tell, the mayo was missing in action. Overall, pretty dry … the quality if the ingredients clearly overwhelmed by a poor balance of ingredients.
Beverages include Coca-Cola products (duh, what else with the big neon sign out front) that can be ordered with a shot of cherry or vanilla, iced or hot tea, chicory coffee and a selection of beer or wine. Personally, I think they miss the boat by not including old favorites like Orange Crush or Cream Soda.
But let’s be serious. Your visit to Star Drug Store is not really about lunch … it’s all about the soda fountain experience. We limited ours to a Chocolate Shake but the Banana Split, the Sundae and the full range of ‘Cow’ Floats (Brown Cow with Coke, Black Cow with Root beer or While Cow with Sprite) are all available. The ice cream is top notch. The shake was creamy smooth, perfectly sweet and topped with whipped cream. What makes it really special is the real glass serving glass!
The kitchen is open from 9AM – 3PM daily and for Sunday Brunch. Breakfast is available and they open for Brunch on Sunday. The Soda Fountain is open from 9AM – 4PM with 3-4PM designated as Sweet Treat Happy Hour.
The Star is definitely worth a stop when you visit Galveston. The ‘soda fountain’ experience was less authentic than I’d anticipated but the building restoration and interior décor work hard to take you back to a time you fondly remember (or maybe something you’ve only seen in the movies if you were born too late to experience a real soda fountain). Don’t try to critique – just go with the fantasy – and go for the Sweet Treats at the Soda Fountain. Saddle shoes and poodle skirts are not required … but they’d be perfect to complete your own step back in time.