I’ve been planning to blog about South African roadhouses — the equivalent of American fast-food drive-ins — since 2015, when I ate lunch at the Casbah Roadhouse in Brakpan during a Joburg Photowalkers outing.
I was enamoured with the Casbah’s striking neon sign and the mid-century vibe of the place. But I was there at high noon, when the sign was off and the light was flat. So I vowed to go back soon at golden hour, do a proper evening photoshoot, and start my roadhouse blog series then.
Alas, in my usual fashion, I talked and talked about this roadhouse blog series for years and kept procrastinating. Six years later (as in last week), when I was finally ready to start, I googled the Casbah in Brakpan and found it closed its doors in 2020 after 65 years in business. Sob.
(The Casbah has a few other locations still open. But I don’t know if any of them have a cool neon sign like the Brakpan restaurant had. I would appreciate any tips.)
Anyway, I’m still fascinated with South African roadhouses and I think now is the time to blog about them. While some of the most legendary examples — like the Casbah and the Doll’s House of Louis Botha, which I know I took pictures of but can’t currently find — have closed in recent years, many South African roadhouses are still alive and kicking. There’s even a new roadhouse chain, Kota Joe, which started in 2011 and seems to be doing extremely well.
Roadhouse dining is perfect for 2021: The food is cheap, and social distancing is easy because a server brings your order right to the car window. (Most roadhouses also have separate outdoor seating.)
So I’m not procrastinating any longer — my roadhouse series starts now. I’ve already missed January, but beginning in February I will feature at least one roadhouse per month until the end of the year.
Roadhouses of Gauteng: The Lollipop in Pretoria
Thorsten and I discovered the Lollipop Roadhouse by accident, while driving through Pretoria on our way home from visiting the Wonderboom. We were starving, and I had recently told Thorsten about my roadhouse obsession during our Dagwood lunch. (The Dagwood is a classic roadhouse menu staple.)
Thorsten suggested we try to find a Pretoria roadhouse. I opened Google Maps and there was the Lollipop.
I was delighted when we rounded the corner and found this perfectly quaint, roadhouse-y roadhouse, nestled behind a bank of Caltex petrol pumps. Adding the petrol station was a clever move by the Lollipop owners — I imagine it really helps keep the roadhouse afloat.
It was hot so we chose to get out of our car and sit at one of the outdoor tables along the side of the parking lot.
My friend Gail told me the Lollipop is owned by the same people who used to own the Doll’s House in Joburg. Those of you who once frequented the Doll’s House will see the resemblance.
Like every roadhouse I’ve been to, the Lollipop has a huge menu offering basically everything: English breakfasts, burgers, Dagwoods (of course), toasted sandwiches, chicken meals, pastas, pizzas, shawarmas, curries, ribs, milkshakes, beer. (We visited before the most recent alcohol ban.)
I decided to keep it simple and order a double bacon-avo burger. Thorsten chose the chicken schnitzel from the special Lollipop Sunday lunch section, served only on Sundays after 10:30 a.m.
Although I enjoyed my meal, the roadhouse experience is really not about the food. Every roadhouse meal I’ve eaten has tasted more or less the same. Going to a roadhouse is about the novelty and the nostalgia, combined with the simple joy of filling your stomach cheaply while looking at something more interesting than the inside of your own house. What more can one ask for in the South African summer of 2021?
I liked everything about our Lollipop roadhouse lunch, particularly the pleasant location of the tables under a stand of trees. My only complaint was the cleanliness of the bathroom, which was poor even by roadhouse/petrol station standards.
Seeking Roadhouse Recommendations
Do you have a favorite roadhouse in Gauteng? If so, please send your suggestions my way. I’m especially keen to visit roadhouses with fabulous neon signs or other interesting design features (R.I.P., Brakpan Casbah).
The Lollipop Roadhouse is at 1340 Stanza Bopape Street, Pretoria. There is a second Lollipop location at 86 Kwartel Road, Terenure, Kempton Park. Both restaurants are open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. during lockdown).