It was the end of the Birmingham trip, a Monday morning. We had overnighted in Tupelo after dining in Corinth, and our only set plan was to head back to Little Rock and pick Hunter up from school by the end of the day. Grav has spent a little time in Tupelo, and I had a tip from a year back on a great Italian joint to check out (more on that in a moment), so what was another hour, anyway? Plus, we wanted to scout the Elvis Presley birthplace, in case I decide to return for a story.
Except, on the way there, we'd seen a couple of restaurants that had piqued my interest. Might be because I've spent all this time recently working on my Classic Arkansas Eateries series... but when I notice a certain look to a restaurant's architecture, or notice a name, I mentally file it away for later. And within blocks, there were two such places. I figured once again, take a few photos, make a few notes, come back later.
Above that seat was a photograph of a young Elvis Presley.
Immediately, I connected the appearance of the young Elvis with that of the singer sitting with Jim Ed and Maxine Brown at the Trio Club. This was a photo that had to have pre-dated it. Yes, that was indeed the case.
All this was very well and interesting, but I wanted to know more about the restaurant itself. Turns out it was opened way back in 1945 by Johnnie Chism, who had just been discharged from the armed services. I understand he built it on the same block where his mom and dad had a grocery. It's not a big place by any means, but there is outdoor seating up front and of course you can eat in your car, as we discovered.
"All meat hamburger," our waitress asked, ready for our order. We ordered drinks and I asked for an egg sandwich. An egg sandwich sounded fantastic right then, and maybe it wouldn't mess up my appetite too much for the next restaurant.
Grav asked about the difference in burgers, and we were regaled with the story of how back when the restaurant was opened, rationing was still in effect. Beef was one of the items purchased with a combination of money and ration coupons, and to make it stretch further, it was often mixed with flour before cooking. This intrigued us to no end. I've been a lot of places, but I had yet to encounter in my adult life a place that still sells burgers this way (I actually remember eating burgers like this a few times as a child). Yeah, we had to try that.
It occurred to me, moments after ordering those sandwiches along with a pound of barbecue for Grav to take home and share with Hunter, that we were in yet another cash-only restaurant. This particular trip had been hard on our cash, and we pulled out our wallets and my change purse and counted out what we thought was going to be our bill, a bit nervous, since we were very concerned about having enough for a tip. I mentioned there was still change in my car door we could fetch.
We ogled the whole place a little while we were waiting, but also looked at our phones and calculated the time. A typical restaurant visit takes about an hour and we had drive time and traffic to worry over.
Okay, I mean, it was exactly what I wanted but there's not much you can say about it.
The burger, though... okay, if you haven't had a burger this way ever, it's very simple -- you take flour and mix it in with the beef when you're patting it out, and you
Our waitress came out with Grav's barbecue in a bag, and we set out, briefly stopping to photograph the Dairy Kream before crossing town. Imagine our disappointment to find nothing left of Vanelli's, the restaurant we had expected to try. Turns out Vanelli's had been wiped from the face of the Earth by a tornado less than a year before our visit. From what's available on the website, Vanelli's will be coming back this year, and we'll have to visit Tupelo again. Next time, maybe it'll feel right to go visit the place where Elvis grew up. We still found a story.
Johnnie's Bar-B-Q Drive In
908 East Main Street
Tupelo, MS 38804(662) 842-6748