Doughburgers, Dudie burgers, Slugburgers, Cereal Burgers.
Last summer I began my hamburger tour of my native North Mississippi, seeking out greasy goodness in the small, locally-owned hamburger shacks that proliferate in this area, but I should preface this by saying, I doubt my readers unfamiliar with Northeast Mississippi would want to make the same beef-inspired pilgrimage. Doughburgers, truth be told, are not much to write home about. They are tasty, sure, but they can’t compete with a great all-beef hamburger.
But the reason I write this piece, and the source of their interest for me, is that in doughburgers, here and nowhere else, is preserved a bit of our nation’s history. According to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Doughburgers originate in the Great Depression era, a time when it made good sense to stretch a pound of ground beef as far as it would go. An all-beef hamburger was a luxury. Thus, one term for the burgers, Slugburgers, refers to the price of the burger, a nickel, or a “slug”. (No slimy bugs are included in the recipe.)
Much like your mom’s meatloaf, the slugburger, doughburger, or cereal burger, (the appellation used depends on the locality in which the burgers are made) is a mixture of ground beef or pork, various cereals such as potato flour, soy flour, wheat flour, corn meal, sometimes egg as a binder, and various seasonings. They are then fried and served hot off the griddle on a bun with mustard, pickles, and onions. Tradionally, they are served sans cheese (though I tend to get cheese on them), probably due to the luxury status of dairy during the Depression. So if you ask for cheese, be prepared for a crooked glance or two.
In Corinth, Mississippi, they are called slugburgers, and each summer that town hosts the slugburger festival. The best examples of the slugburger in Corinth are found at Borroum’s Drug Store and White Trolley Café. Borroums is my favorite for both the burger and the atmosphere. The burgers are crispy and flavorful, but the best part of Borroum’s is the authentic soda fountain, something I had never before experienced. Here you can get your cherry Coke, vanilla Coke, Cherry phosphate, you name it. Best Coke I’d ever had, sweeter than the bottled stuff, if you can imagine that, and the chocolate malt was world class. Watching the soda jerks do their work was a huge part of the fun.
Facade of Borroum's in Downtown Corinth
Author enjoying a slugburger at Borroum's.
Soda Jerk at Borroum's, doesn't seem so happy about being photographed.
Vanilla Coke, Slugburger, and Fries. Great combination.
In Tupelo, they are usually called doughburgers, or sometimes Dudie burgers, named after the now defunct Dudies Diner, which was a converted trolley car that served the burgers in Tupelo for years, and which now is preserved at the Oren Dun Museum. My dad took me there once when I was a kid. To find a doughburger in Tupelo nowadays, I recommend hitting Johnny’s Drive-In. Tupelo’s oldest restaurant, no trip to Tupelo is complete without visiting Johnny's. There you can order from your car, or sit in the small dining room. Service is friendly and fast. Of all the doughburgers I sampled, Johnny’s was far-and-away the best. Not too greasy, and pressed flat. I asked the cook (I am remiss for not remembering his name) if there was a secret to the recipe, and he laughed and said “yeah, there’s a secret”, so I asked him what he could tell me about them, to which he offered: the grill was a big part of the Johnny burger taste. A griddle, after years of use, becomes seasoned, and imparts that flavor to every burger. He said that the only thing about the burgers at Johnny's that had changed in the last fifty years was the griddle, which has to be cleaned and sometimes replaced. Otherwise, a Johnny burger is a taste of Tupelo history.
The cook at Johnny's
Johnny burger and my girl
In New Albany, I tried burgers at Latham’s Hamburger Inn, a true hole in the wall that serves a very thick doughburger cooked in Richtex shortening. Maybe I caught them on a bad day, but the burger at Lathams was my least favorite of all. It was also the thickest. Charred black on the outside, a little goopy on the inside, I was not impressed, but I think it is worth the mention because the locals in New Albany swear by them, and far be it from me to begrudge the locals their local flavor.
My tour took me to Selmer and Adamsville in Tennessee. With the exception of Pat's Cafe, which called them slugburgers, most places refer to them as cereal burgers. The burgers served in Tennessee are far greasier than their Mississippi-made counterparts, and the day after I ate a few of them, well, let's just say I regretted it. Nevertheless, they come hot off the grill, and while I was eating them I enjoyed the experience.
From Pat's, I hit Brenda's Snack Shack, which was just down the street. Though the burgers from each are so similar so as to split hairs to tell the difference, I give the edge to Brenda's. It was a touch richer and more flavorful. My pictures of Brenda's didn't turn out that well, but this was the nice young lady who served me with a smile and was very curious about why I was interested in something as uninteresting as cereal burgers.
The last stop on my tour was Fat Cat's Cafe in Adamsville, Tennessee. The burger here was the thinnest I had, plenty greasy, and a touch too salty for my taste, but in terms of local color, Fat Cat's was outstanding. It beats McDonalds any day of the week.