Monday, March 30, 2009

Savory Slugburgers

By Taylor Wilson

OK, try to stay in the restaurant business and sell something called a slugburger.

Can you imagine a greater marketing challenge?

Me neither.

But stranger things have happened.

And it does so with regularity at a variety of burger joints in north Mississippi.
In fact, not only are slugburgers sold in high volume, but a festival with the same name has been held in the Corinth, Mississippi since 1988.

(For those wondering, yes, according to records there is a Slugburger Queen. Just think of the possibilities if you have that on your resume? Example? OK, former Lt. Governor of Mississippi, Amy Tuck, was once named Honorary Slugburger Queen.)

But back to a slugburger. What is it? Is it some sort of gastropod sandwich served on an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants? And if you salt your sandwich, does the “meat” sort of melt and get all gooey?

OK, now that I have grossed you out, let me mention that you CAN put salt on slugburgers with no problems and that the name has nothing to do with anything similar to a snail.

Actually, one story I was told is that the slug in slugburger came about because the sandwiches were once sold for a nickel. And in the old days a metal slug, or a counterfeit coin (maybe even a washer) was often used to fool vending machines. Likewise, nickels were sometimes referred to as slugs.

(On this line of thought, I guess slug coulda also been plug (not worth a plug nickel). If that were the case, perhaps the plugburger would sound a tad more appetizing…or maybe not? And obviously, the burgers ARE worth the money or else they would not have been around for so long.)

I got wind of these uniquely-named burgers from my friend Rita Hathcock whose husband Johnny is from the area.

She said stopping for a slugburger had been something of a family tradition of theirs for many years.

“People either like them or they don’t,” Rita told me, and admitted she did not partake when she and Johnny recently stopped in Corinth.

But she did take a few photos (thanks Rita!).

My buddy, Craig Robinson, a north Mississippi native, was not that impressed with slugburgers. “I think they just came about as a way to stretch the basics you have and make it a meal, such as adding the other ingredients with the burger. They still serve them in several places in north Mississippi.”

According to historians the Weeks family began making “Weeks Burgers” in 1917. The hamburgers were made with a mixture of beef and potato flour (used as an extender). Today soybean grits are the extender.

The slugburger moniker only came about through time with the nickel/slug apiece deal.

Today’s method of preparation calls for frying the patties in canola oil and topping them with mustard, pickles and onions — all served on a small bun.

The burgers cost closer to the $1 price range these days. And in some restaurants where they are sold, like the White Trolley in Corinth, customers are given the more traditional option of a “beef” burger, as well.

As for the Trolley name, well, the Weeks family once peddled patties out of moveable stands until the late 1940s, when an old trolley car was purchased and converted into a café. As time went on several other trolley cars were likewise converted.

Two places that sell these historical hamburgers with the unique name are the aforementioned White Trolley, 1215 Highway 72 East, Corinth, Miss. 38834 and Weeks’ Hamburgers, 100 Mill St., Boonville, Miss. 38829.

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