Ah, the seventies. Times were simple. The boys of Indian Ridge played peacefully together, cable TV was a thing of the future, and most of our meals were eaten at home. Well…that may be what it seemed at first glance. In truth, there may have been an occasional dirt-clod war with the boys from adjoining neighborhoods, by mid-decade Space Giants and Braves baseball kept us glued to Mr. Turner’s new cable channel, and once I began to reminisce about the restaurants that existed in that yester-decade in Stark-Vegas I realized we ate out more than I thought.
This discourse requires a few disclaimers. My mother was (and still is) a great cook and we ate well – and we really did eat at home most of the time. Before I paused to ponder the subject, I attributed a majority of our dining-in decisions to the sheer lack of local restaurants to choose from back in that day. Now that I’ve thought through it a bit more, I realize that was not necessarily the case - which leads me to the second disclaimer. I have not combed any microfiche archives of restaurant advertising from that era for details and accurate timelines. I have pretty much depended on my memory. That’s not such a bad reference point for me, as food memories tend to be some of my strongest. But I may well have forgotten something, and if so – I want to hear about it. For those who lived in Starkville during the seventies, I hope this series will bring back some fun memories of meals shared in places that may no longer exist. For those who have become Starkvillians more recently, perhaps this will generate a greater appreciation for what has risen from the proverbial ashes of long-gone restaurants.
To cover the assortment of restaurant genres this discussion may take a few weeks. Call it a summer mini-series. Since nearly every restaurant around has some sort of burger option, the burger joints make a good starting point.
Regardless of one’s view of the golden-arched icon, McDonald’s is certainly a fast-food burger that is here to stay, and Starkville has had one for a long time. In those days we only had one location, and you couldn’t fill up with gasoline on the same trip – and no playground, at least in the beginning. Ironically, today it is the McNuggets and not the burgers that most often pull our family under the arches for the sake of my youngest. I told my daughter not long ago that there was once a time when McDonald’s didn’t even have chicken nuggets. She thought I was trying to pull one over on her…again. I got “the look.” (This happens a lot in my house.) But this time it was true. In my childhood, we just didn’t have that many options. In fact, my most vivid memory is of the basic burgers that you could buy for about 59 cents. I particularly remember those annoying little onions that sometimes they would leave off for you upon request – but usually not.
Perhaps it was those onions that prodded me to prefer Burger Chef, located on the edge of campus. When we lived in faculty housing, the Chef would have been the closest place for us to grab a bite. Starkville also boasted a Danvers, which was generally known for putting out a pretty good burger. And as I recall, they made a decent roast beef sandwich, too. Wendy’s came along later, and brought the novelty of the square burger patty and the Frosty.
Then there was Sonic Drive-in. In the seventies, our family ate there fairly often – the uniqueness of the drive-in factor made it fun, long before it became the favorite after-school and Friday night hangout place in my teenage years. My mother always got the Number 2 with no onions, though these days it may go by another name. My brother and I steered more towards the coneys, while my father braved the Frito-chili-pie from time to time. All of us loved the Pickle-O’s. I have become a big fan of fried dill pickles in recent years, but the Pickle-O remains the original fried pickle in my book.
The longer I worked on this piece, the more places I remembered, but here is where my memory fades. That’s not too surprising, given the vanishing and moving of so many of them. Of all these places, Sonic is the only one to stay in its original location, though it keeps branching farther and farther down Highway 12. McDonald’s moved down the street in both directions, and Bojangles stands where Ronald once held court. Danvers morphed into a hair salon, the Burger Chef building has been re-fitted into a half-dozen different restaurants (at least), and Wendy built herself a new place right next door. Our little town can now support multiple outlets of fast-food burger places, not to mention Christy’s (which came along in the 80’s) and MugShots. I reckon that’s what they call progress.
Let me know about your seventies memories (and what I have forgotten), and stay tuned for pizza pontification.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .