By JAY REED
I don’t always go to Corinth, but when I do, I like to eat a slug-burger.
Does that sound a little bit too much like the Dos Equis man? My beard doesn’t quite hold up to his. At any rate, I stand by my statement. Of the rare visits I’ve made to that fair city in the last three years, two of them have netted what Wikipedia describes as a “southern delicacy found in Northeast Mississippi,” and I have lived to tell the tale.
Never had a slug-burger? Well, why not? There are no small, slimy creatures harmed in the making of these creations. The general agreement seems to be that the name was derived from the original cost of the burgers — a nickel, or a slug. As the story goes, early in the 20th century in an attempt to make the beef go farther, potato flakes and flour were added as extenders. Today, the meat mix (pork or beef) usually includes soy grits instead — don’t ask me what that is. Traditionally, the patties are deep-fried, served on a plain hamburger bun, and dressed with mustard and onions, sometimes a pickle. Want 100 percent beef or ketchup? You’d better say so.
The White Trolley Café is one of the most famous places in Corinth to get a slug-burger, and it was the site of my first. Unfortunately, that was about three years ago and so many things have crossed the old taste buds since then, the details are fuzzy. But I do remember enjoying it enough to seek out another on my most recent trip. This time I went to Borroum’s Drug Store on the square in Corinth, which is also the oldest continuously operated pharmacy in the state. I like to support my own kind.
Son was with me on this trip, along with a buddy of his and buddy’s parental units. I had a northeast Mississippi burger tour in mind for this day, and I like to have help when I’m going to eat lunch three or four times. Son ordered a beef burger and a purple cow (Nugrape over vanilla ice cream), I got the slug with a cherry cola made the old-fashioned way, and we swapped bites. The beef burger was tasty and obviously fresh, and the purple cow brought back memories of Granny’s house. The slug was hot and had a little bit of crunch to it — it wasn’t battered per se, but with the fillers, I guess you could say it almost has batter in it. However you define it, I was very impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I got a peanut butter and hot fudge milkshake to celebrate. If burgers aren’t your thing, I still suggest Borroum’s for the atmosphere. Buddy’s Maternal Parental Unit (MPU) got a scoop of house-made pimento cheese that was pretty good, too.
From Corinth it was over to Belmont for Burger Number Two at the Dixie Queen. My own MPU is from there, and often speaks longingly of the burgers. Unfortunately for me, I’ve had bad timing up till now — it has been a Belmont fixture for over fifty years, but these days is only open a few days a week. If you don’t catch them on one of those days, well, I guess you’re still hungry. I almost missed it this time, pulling into the parking lot about fifteen minutes before closing, but they were very gracious and grilled a burger for us. Son and I split this one (we were still a little full from Borroum’s), but even a half burger was worth the trip. For the sake of honest comparison we ordered essentially the same toppings (mustard, pickle and onion) and Son declared it the best so far.
We departed Belmont and stayed on Highway 25 so we could go through Amory and experience Bill’s Hamburgers. And it truly was an experience. There were a few little tables, but most of the seats were stools at the counter. We grabbed counter seats, then the cook quickly laid down squares of wax paper and asked what we’d like. I’d done a little studying, and knew we could get a burger “with” (the usual — say it with me now — mustard and onions) or “without.” We got one of each. According to the fellow doing the cooking (the current owner, I think), the grill in use now has been at it for 70 years. Sev-en-ty.
What does that mean besides quality workmanship? Flavor. The ball of ground beef is pressed and cooked on the grill, then the bun gets some grill time, too. When it hits the wax paper, the whole thing is shiny and flat. And delicious. Son declared it the best so far. Again. They also make a pretty mean chocolate chip cookie — ask them to warm it up for you. And share it to avoid instant diabetes.
That’s all we could manage in one day, but as I described our adventure to Choir Pal later that night, he told me about the dough-burgers from Johnnie’s Drive-In in Tupelo. (Think slug-burger, but with flour and water instead of soy). I discovered that my MPU was very familiar with Johnnie’s, having eaten there as a youngster. She still has the ladies’ room key from one of those early visits, which she recently confessed to the current owner. Since I could not make it to Tupelo this week, I asked her to bring me one from a shopping trip, which she very kindly did. I hated to miss the opportunity to go myself and sit in the booth where Elvis used to eat, but I’ll do that later. The dough-burger reminded me of the slug — they are cousins after all — but with a slightly more tender texture.
Still very tasty. Still mustard, onions and pickle. Still want another.
No opinion from Son — I ate this one all by myself.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .