Every evening but Sunday, I would pull my lime green Plymouth into the empty parking space behind the radio booth at Doug Broom’s Drive in on Two Notch Road, unlock the door and turn on the studio equipment, lights and air conditioner. Before I had unpacked the records and commercial carts, Arthur, the store manager would notice my arrival and one of the car hops would be at the still open back door with one of Doug’s famous “Big Joy” hamburgers, a tall glass of Pepsi and a plate of hot French fries. Oh Boy, this is gonna be a rockin’ night.
I saw a discussion a couple of months ago about the name of Doug’s hamburgers; “Big Boy” vs “Big Joy” which was it. Well, the answer is both. Doug called it the “Big Boy” until 1966 when the first Shoney’s arrived in the city on Belt Line Boulevard and he was forced to change the name to “Big Joy” to avoid copyright infringement. I have to tell you that I still liked the “Big Joy” better. It was almost my favorite hamburger of all time.
Now, unless you lived in Jacksonville, Florida in the early to mid ‘60s, you would not have heard of my favorite; the Penny Burger! The Penny Burger shops were in several locations in Jacksonville, the closest to me where St. Johns Ave and Hershel Street combine to cross over the Big Fishwer Creek. It was so cool to park in their lot and munch down on three or four of these burgers while looking at the water in the creek flow down to the St. Johns River and listening to the Platters or Buddy Holly on the radio.
I know what you are thinking; three or four hamburgers! No, we didn’t have bottomless pits, these Penny Burgers were similar to today’s Krystal or White Castle burgers. They came with onions, mustard and a slice of pickle. They were to die for, and maybe we did. What made them so great was the hamburger juice that permeated two inch roll with that great beefy flavor. Penny Burger’s passed from my life when I moved to SC to attend college. On trips back to Jacksonville, I discovered that Krystal Burgers had supplanted Penny Burgers and that was pretty much OK with me. They satisfied my craving for small hamburgers.
Fast forward 25 years or so and Krystal finally spread into the Carolinas and there was one or two franchises in Columbia. They did not last long and now we are again barren of tiny hamburgers. Except now you can get a White Castle Burger in the frozen food section of most grocery stores. It’s just not the same. There is no section in the store where I can sit in my car and eat them while listening to an oldie or two.
Just across South Main Street, cattycorner to the Honeycomb Dorms at USC. There was a restaurant called “The Kollege Korner,” that served a mighty fine hamburger. It was full sized and came complete with all the fixin’s you wanted; mustard, grilled onion, lettuce and tomato. (You can’t forget the veggies!) A couple of times each week, I’d seek refuge from the cafeteria food and enjoy a burger and piping hot fries there.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Pimento Burger at the Dairy Bar a block from the State House on South Main Street. This beauty came with mustard, lettuce and tomato, onion and a big dollop of pimento cheese. When one of my buddies talked me into going up the street and trying one, I admit I was a bit skeptical. But, OMG it was delicious, even better with the Pimento French Fries on the plate next to it. This was a true guilty pleasure, a cardiac special that I can no longer indulge in more than once or twice a year when I split one with a friend or co-worker down at Rockaway’s where you can still get them.
I know I sound like a curmudgeon when I say that hamburgers don’t taste as good today as they did back then. But it’s true! I don’t know if it is a change in the way hamburger is produced or just that my taste buds have gotten older. I suspect that it is both! I’ll have a burger, fries and coke, please. Oh MY!