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Eating in the car: Testing dip clips, French fry holders and more

After many sessions of eating in his car

After many sessions of eating in his car during the pandemic, food critic Scott Vogel takes a look at contraptions designed to make dining in the car easier. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

The next time someone tells you that humans were never meant to eat in the car, remind them that humans were never meant to live under house arrest for months on end in the company of family members with whom you initially cherished spending extra quality time. If this doesn’t all end soon, there will be nothing to cherish, only nonstop friction, fights over parenting strategies for kids no one is teaching to read, talks on the future of this marriage, and a well-founded fear that everyone is getting vaccinated before you — unless you escape to the relative serenity of your car. Amid these lovely hysterias, a well-timed vehicle meal can be a blessing indeed, at least if conducted properly, and by properly I do not mean digging in the bag for something that feels like a French fry while navigating the impossibly short runway that is a Southern State Parkway entrance ramp. No, what’s needed is a whole new way of thinking about the roadside repast — as more than the expedient choice, more than a convenient way to keep your alarming obsession with 7-Eleven apple fritters a secret. In short, it’s time that you took eating in the car seriously.

Luckily, there are plenty of entrepreneurs, e-tailers and people going on "Shark Tank" who have devoted brainpower to just this issue, inventing contraptions that promise to bring sanity, if not elegance, to any feed-and-ride. We took a few of them out for a test drive. While parked, that is.

True Line Portable Steering Wheel Table

While not cheap, this on-the-go tray attaches easily yet securely to many steering wheels (check sizing, though), quickly providing a sturdy foundation for multiple courses, burritos of up to two pounds, racks of ribs and most other unstable foods from the periodic table. At first glance just another laptop tray for remotely catching up on emails, it quickly flips over so you can get down to real business — inhaling a stack of wings. Note especially the dedicated cup space, a thoughtful addition, as dedicated car consumption may mean repurposing your vehicle’s actual cupholders. Price: $34.99. Where to get it: truelineautomotive.com

iSaddle French fry Holder

One-handed steering while fumbling for fries is part of our national heritage, unofficial version, but this popular side is both the most and least car-friendly food. On the one hand immensely grabable, they have an odd propensity for falling into crevasses deeper than the three-second rule allows. You yourself may be unwittingly toting fries that are older than the car whose seats they are under, which while impossible, gives you a sense of the magnitude of the problem. What does buying this cupholder-ready caddy say about your relationship with and affection for fried potatoes? It’s better that you not know. Price: $9.99 Where to get it: amazon.com

Saucemoto Dip Clip

This game attempt at meeting our culture-wide demand for condiment shelving is almost certainly the most ingenious attachment for air vent blades since ever. According to a "Shark Tank" fan site, which is where news of this unlikely, borderline superfluous hack first came to my attention, these saucy little pieces of plastic can be configured in either portrait or landscape mode, thereby ensuring that your Arby’s horsey sauce will at last receive the presentation it deserves — as long as no one turns on the AC. Price: $10.90 for two. Where to get it: saucemoto.com

Shorewood Medical Adult Bib

Tired of befouling your best sweatpants? Don this protective poncho when using the above tray, and you’ll be spill-safe in the best possible sense. Could the combination bring a highchair vibe to the proceedings? It could. But at least you’ll have a handy crumb catcher for those Cheerios this time around. Maroon is the standard shade, however feel free to opt for black, plaid, or blue floral if you’d prefer something that doesn’t scream I'm wearing a bib, and instead screams I'm wearing a blue floral bib. Price: $12.99. Where to get it: shorewoodmedical.com

Zone Tech Car Swivel Tray

Like me, you may find yourself initially impressed by this tray’s nonskid surface and rimmed, round playing area, a perfect cup holder designed to fit snugly into, well, your car’s cup holder. As such, the company appears to have created an issue in order to solve one, but that’s not the biggest problem. Avoiding collapse depends entirely on your cup holder maintaining a tight grip on the tray’s base. They say it does, many online reviewers say it doesn’t. I am throwing my support behind the latter contingent, although an adapter might be easily fashioned out of an old 7-Eleven Big Gulp, which let’s face it is probably already in your car somewhere anyway. Price: $16.49 (7-Eleven cup sold separately). Where to get it: zonetechauto.com

Aotto Personal Portable Oven

Want to keep your food warm while transporting it home or searching for a scenic place to park? Two words: electric lunchbox. Be forewarned, though. As Carol from customer service kindly informed me via email, this is a slow-warming oven. Budget 30 to 40 minutes of heating time if you want to ensure your treasure stays hot, or 2-plus hours if you’re planning on doing any actual cooking. For most of us, a car’s own seat warmer will do the trick, Still, if you typically drive 30 or 40 miles for takeout, this may be just the thing. Price: $32.99. Where to get it: amazon.com

EPAuto Waterproof Car Trash Can

Tired of being tortured by trash on floorboards and unsightly side pockets, with their constant reminders of poor meal choices past? Remove garbage from your line of sight with this attractive all-weather receptacle consisting of a main compartment ringed by pockets for napkins and other sanitation aids, and a strap allowing the can to be affixed to seats or other passengers. Compact yet sturdy, this attractive bin will comfortably hold detritus from a fast food meal for four, or a gluttonous shame-based binge for one. Your call. Price: $15.87. Where to get it: amazon.com

WHERE TO GO

Eating in the car doesn’t necessarily mean fast food, and it needn’t mean chain restaurants either. Here are just a few locally owned food and drink spots that are redefining the drive-thru lane.

Drifters Kitchen & Bar: You’ll have to place your order online or by phone at this upscale burgers-and-more establishment, but it used to be a McD’s and — lucky for you — they kept the drive-thru window for pickup. (1600 Middle Country Rd., Ridge; 631-775-8888, drifterskitchenandbar.com)

Farm Stores: Okay, it's a chain, but still. Move over, Dairy Barn. There’s a new rural themed drive-thru on the Island, and this one is more than a convenience store. Two locations are already open and there are plans for several more this year. (4451 Austin Blvd., Island Park, 516-636-5510; 150 E. Main St., Smithtown, 631-406-6713, farmstores.com)

Hot Chicken Mama: You’ll have to actually leave your vehicle and walk inside to order from this uber-popular new joint specializing in Nashville hot-chicken sandwiches. But when the food’s ready, they’ll text you for pickup through a drive-thru window. (168 Montauk Hwy., Blue Point; 631-621-8200, hotchickenmama.com)

Coach Meeting House: After opening last year, this roadside cocktail bar quickly established itself as the go-to drive-thru for frozen concoction aficionados all over the Island. Just hold off drinking till you reach your destination. (160 Mill River Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-588-9288, coachgrillandtavernoysterbay.com)

WHAT (NOT) TO EAT IN THE CAR

Almost any foodstuff can wreak havoc if one makes the ill-advised decision to eat while driving, but some things aren’t safe even after the vehicle has come to a complete and safe stop. Below are a few tasty things I myself have recently tried, all of them great to eat everywhere but the car. Your spillage may vary, but trust me, you don’t want to see what this stuff can do to a car’s interior.

Loaded Mex-Potato at Tommy Taco, Huntington

Four-piece box at Buttermilk’s Chicken, East Islip

Blueberry hand pie at Kerber’s Farm, Huntington

Bingo Wings at Peri-Peri Guys, Hicksville

Pineapple upside-down shuga pie at Shuga Pie Shop, Babylon

Cheese Tteokbokki at SpoonSticks, Massapequa

Parihuela at Los Andes, Deer Park and Patchogue

Red curry with chicken at Theo Thai Bistro, Bethpage

Chicken and beef bento box at Japan Express, Plainview

Brisket at Laura’s BBQ, Glen Cove

Absolutely everything on the menu at Dirty Taco & Tequila

Cinnamon bread at the Milleridge Inn, Jericho

Chori burger at I Am Nacho Mama, Hicksville

Grandma pizza at Leone, East Norwich

Rolled ice cream at Sweet Charlie’s, New Hyde Park

Biscuit sampler with honey butter at Main Road Biscuit Co., Jamesport

Fried raspberry croissant at Beach Bakery & Grand Cafe, Westhampton

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