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What is the "Slugburger" from Mississippi?

In northern Mississippi, the simple slugburger may be all filler, but it’s still killer.

Slugburger

It's some perfect algorithm of American travel that on the road between Elvis Presley's opulent Graceland home and his shotgun-shack birthplace in Tupelo, my brother and I discovered some of the tastiest burgers in the world. Where else would the King lead us? Through the woods and creeks of northeastern Mississippi, into small towns with their Civil War memorials and lean-spired churches, past gas stations that boast "We Make Our Own Pickles," we found ourselves in the homeland of what is perhaps the most modest of the foundational burgers: the slugburger. 

A slugburger is basically a burger wherein the meat is stretched out with filler – and I mean really stretched out, to where the sandwich makes no pretense whatsoever to being "all beef." In the rural South, particularly during the Depression era, the rationale for this stretching with soy or cracker meal (or whatever secret ingredient) is as easy to figure out as why your mom insisted upon Fruit Cereal O's instead of Froot Loops. The slugburger's gloriously unappetizing name comes from 1930s slang for a nickel, the long-time price for the delicacy. Like many recipes born of poverty, the taste stuck to the palate of the region, even when times got better.

At the White Trolley Cafe in Corinth, a cozy lunch counter on the edge of town, a slugburger today costs 95 cents, $1.20 with cheese. Everything in the Trolley seems like it's from another era, but the place is still bright, fast and friendly, with its flow of familiar workers dropping in for lunch. There's a wide battery of condiments (including sriracha) and plenty of counter grab 'ems to buy on the way out, like gum, moon pies and pecan pies. The staff is super friendly, and the slugburgers come out about as quickly as it takes to Instagram the old Coca-Cola menu board with the tag, "May Have Stepped into a Time Machine."

The fries and onion rings are crisp and light, and my slugburger, dressed with the standard onion, pickle and mustard, is different, for sure, but it is delicious – and I mean that. It's not an awful thing that you pretend to enjoy, like haggis on Robbie Burns Day. The pleasantness of the concoction is in its let's-get-married obviousness: hot burger, tangy condiment and spongy-sweet bun. The patty itself is deep-fried in a special pan, which crisps the edges for an almost falafel-like crunch at first bite, and then you fall into its fuller, earthier flavours, which are complemented by the creamy cheese (the de rigueur concession to contemporary burgerology). I did the one thing I always do when I believe I have tasted burger greatness: I ordered another one. My brother ordered another one too and, feeling the moment at this shrine to American ingenuity, I said, "You know, Mike, this is the best meal I ever had."

Slugburger

Things are just as simple-delicious at the crosstown Slugburger Cafe, the roadside trailer home of the burger that made Corinth famous. In not far-off New Albany, the slugburger is perhaps even more mythically old school and seductively austere at Latham's Hamburger Inn, tucked into the tiny Main Street promenade, the way a barbershop would be. The slugburger, we discovered, may be a revelation, but it is also the perfect lunch. And however Deep South it may sound, when you think about it, the slugburger is the ultimate harbinger of the veggie burger. Oh, that veggie burgers would always be served to you with the same dedication to quality and the same down-home smile.

Having had the best meal of our lives, we learned something more important. That is, if it has a layer of foie gras, a sprinkling of caviar, a slab of fatback, a rosemary reduction, a quail egg, arugula or aioli, it is not a burger. It may be delicious, but it is not a burger. A good burger always recalls the simplicity of its own construction, and the use of a high-end culinary product is a kind of cheating. Just as good meals are not skydiving expeditions (i.e. to say you did it), burgers are not remembered for their one of a kindness. All good burgers recollect the good burgers we've had and, more importantly, announce all the good burgers we're going to have.

The Mississippi Slugburger Trail
Latham's Hamburger Inn 106 West Main St., New Albany
Slugburger Cafe 3000 Old Hwy. 72, Corinth, 662-287-1311
White Trolley Cafe 1215 U.S. 72, Corinth, 662-287-4593

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Comments… or add another

Laura Gilham

Thursday, November 13th 2014 19:50
I prefer the slugburgrs at Bourrum's Drugstore (the oldest and still family owned drugstore in Mississippi) in downtown Corinth, right across from the Courthouse.

Esther Wheat

Friday, November 14th 2014 12:00
You may think you have had the best but you haven't unless you stop in Booneville and go to Week's Café!!!

Donald Wood

Saturday, November 15th 2014 05:42
No slug burger trail can be complete without Weeks Cafe in Booneville, MS. The Weeks family started slug burgers in Corinth, MS. The brother of the originator then opened the cafe in Booneville. It is operated today by his son, Willie, carrying on this great family tradition.

Daniel Sauer

Saturday, November 15th 2014 19:59
another good one to add to the trail list is Borrums Drug store across from the court house in Corinth.
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