Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been eased in Texas and more and more people are getting vaccinated in Dallas-Fort Worth, it’s no wonder that everyone’s feeling a little stir-crazy right now. Spring has officially arrived, bringing warm days and renewed hope that all might one day be “normal” again.
And after more than 12 months of largely being stuck indoors, nothing sounds more compelling than a road trip. That’s especially true when that road trip results in a burger from the Dairy Palace, an east Texas burger stalwart that’s been slinging perfectly cooked patties in Canton, just 60 miles away from Dallas, since 1984.
Anyone who’s ever driven east down I-20 through East Texas will immediately recognize Dairy Palace’s iconic sign, which soars into the sky just off the highway. It’s a popular pit stop for interstate travelers and antique enthusiasts trekking to peruse the treasures that await at Canton’s legendary First Monday Trade Days, which first started in the 1850s and has since grown into what its operators boast is the largest open-air flea market in the world. As its name would indicate, the Trade Days are held across four days before the first Monday of the month, drawing thousands of visitors to Canton.
But there’s no need to wait for the next market: Dairy Palace is worth the hour’s drive on its own. Despite its classic appearance, there’s nothing basic about this roadside burger joint. Here, burger enthusiasts can expand their horizons via patties made with ostrich, bison, duck, wild boar, or venison. There is also, of course, a classic beef burger that’s griddled to a crispy char and served however you like it.
When it comes time to order, there’s no reason to be basic — the real gem at Dairy Palace is the bison burger. Lean and only the slightest bit gamey, bison makes for a quality burger protein. It’s less greasy than the typical beef patty, but still plenty juicy and flavorful, especially with a slice of cheese on top. And because it less fatty, it’s easy to also house an order of tater tots or freshly cut onion rings on the side without feeling queasy on the trip back.
Diners also want to save room for one of the restaurant’s iconic milkshakes or malts, made with Blue Bell ice cream or scoops from Plano’s own Henry’s Homemade. Tons of flavors, ranging from classic chocolate to candy-packed Dinosaur Egg are on offer. Not in the mood for ice cream? Don’t fret. There’s also a rotating cast of baked fruit pies and a couple of sorbet flavors, including tangy blood orange.
Anyone who’s made the drive to Canton’s Dairy Palace can tell you that it believes strongly in its motto — “quality first, speed second.” Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pull up and wait in a parking spot after placing an order in the drive-thru, where a menu suggests that that if you’re feeling confused or frustrated, you should look to Jesus Christ. (The religious theme that carries inside the restaurant with Bible verse-emblazoned fliers.) Each burger is cooked to order, from beef that’s ground at the restaurant, and this place is pretty much always full of hungry travelers. This isn’t a spot to enjoy when you’re in a hurry, but these burgers are absolutely worth the wait.
Spring is also a particularly good time to drive east, if only for the views. The state’s iconic wildflowers, bluebonnets, and castilleja and crimson clover, are blooming right now, blanketing entire fields with dots of color on the drive toward Canton. That massive freeze that lurched the entire state to a halt back in March was, improbably, a boon for the wildflowers, providing insulation and moisture for what is expected to be a blockbuster season.
After staring at the same spaces for so long, now’s the time to indulge all that pent-up wanderlust — safely. Hop in the car with your family or a vaccinated friend, stop and take some wildflower photos along the way, and finish the journey with a truly perfect burger. Afterwards, browse the wares at nearby boutiques in downtown Canton that are open year-round, selling everything from Fiesta dinnerware to outdoor plants to furniture.
As we wait for all of our friends and family to get vaccinated and navigate the world of safely interacting with other human beings again, jumping in the car for a trip through the drive-thru at Dairy Palace is a no-brainer. If only to help tide you over through these next couple of months, after which it will hopefully be safe enough for even longer road trips once again.