2000s Archive

Still Saucy After All These Years

Originally Published October 2008
These 11 joints were already on the map when Gourmet debuted in 1941—and they’re still worth a detour today.
hamburgers at The Cozy Inn

For more than a century, Dot’s, left, in Wilmington, Vermont, has been serving dishes like Berry Berry Pancakes. The Cozy Inn, right, of Salina, Kansas, opened in 1922. It’s still a paragon of burger purity, though the price has changed slightly since then: from a nickel to 79 cents.

In 1901, there were fewer than 7,000 cars on America’s roads. Just 40 years later, Duncan Hines’s guidebook Adventures in Good Eating was pinpointing hundreds of gems worthy of a detour. Here are 11 that were already on the map at the time of Gourmet’s inception in 1941. Some have been modernized, others hearken back to a nation of two-lanes, but all are still high on the short list of the country’s essential eating experiences.

If you haven’t spent time around Akron, you may never have heard of Barberton chicken, which was introduced at Belgrade Gardens (in the suburb of Barberton) in 1933. Made with family recipes brought from Serbia, the ritual banquet, which is centered around pieces of chicken fried in lard, includes a timbale of tart coleslaw and an alarmingly spicy tomato-rice hot sauce. The wickedly succulent bird, now served by a handful of restaurants in the area, has a red-gold crust that crunches into nothing but savor. It comes jointed the old-fashioned way (wings, drumettes, breasts, legs, thighs, and backs), which means there’s more delicious crust to chew and unexpected lodes of meat that are a pure pleasure to worry off the bone.

Opened in 1922, a year after White Castle debuted farther south in Wichita, The Cozy Inn, of Salina, Kansas, never became a national chain, but slider aficionados consider its itsy-bitsy burgers the ne plus ultra of the mini-burger world. This eat shack, with its six-stool counter, certainly captures the moral high ground in terms of burger purity by refusing even to offer cheese. You could get one without pickles, but that would be a mistake, since the dills actually outweigh the meat and contribute significantly to the Cozy Inn magic. Grilled onions are mandatory; their hash-house smell is as much a component of the little sandwiches as the meat itself. The slippery pucker of the pickles and the sweetness of the onions tease maximum flavor from the one-ounce patties, which originally sold for a nickel apiece. Today, they’re 79 cents, but nobody eats just one: The Cozy Inn offers a value meal of six hamburgers, a bag of potato chips, and a cold can of soda for $5.93.

The oldest restaurant in Mobile, Alabama, and one of several in the South that claim to have been the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s song “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” the pine-paneled Dew Drop Inn is where hot dogs were introduced to Mobile Bay, in 1924. They are bright red steamed franks of medium size, their presentation a work of art. They come topped with sauerkraut and a layer of beefy chili with spicy-sweet zest that elevates the simple dog into something habit-forming.

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