A search for the best “Boomer Burger” in Etowah County

By Mike GoodsonBy Mike Goodson

During the past several weeks, we’ve taken a nostalgic journey to the more popular Etowah County movie palaces. While these venues were never looked at as the grand theaters like Birmingham’s Alabama Theatre or Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, they were all no doubt special to the Baby Boomers growing up in Etowah County.

We’ll continue our journey into the not-so-distant past to the places that were enjoyed by so many locals, places that have slowly faded into the history of our county and the recesses of our memories. This was a time when the hamburgers were a little greasier, the swimming pool’s water a little colder, and a guy could take his best girl out for just a few dollars. In short, this was the time of the Baby Boomers.

According to Wikipedia.com, a baby boomer is a person born during the  post-World War II baby boom between the years 1946 and 1964. This was the time when World War II had just ended, and hundreds of thousands of Americans were returning from war to a peacetime economy. Munitions plants were closed, Goodyear was back to making automobile tires and Detroit once again was building autos. Yes, happy days were here again, and young peoples thoughts turned to baseball and a simpler way of life. 

As we take this walk down memory lane, we may miss your favorite place or “hang out,” but there are just so many places in which we have the time and wherewithal to visit. Hopefully, some of these photos will jog your memory about some of the people and things that came through Etowah County. This week, we will look for the best hamburger to be found, long before the fast food restaurants came to town.

Long a local favorite, hamburgers date back to a time when they could be purchased for as little as five cents. That’s quite a difference to the burgers of today that cost several dollars at some eating establishments. 

When people think of the many great hamburgers that have been made and sold throughout Etowah County, no story could be complete without mentioning Runt’s Place on Broad Street in downtown Gadsden. This local landmark was owned and operated for many years by James H. Denson. A trip to downtown Gadsden was not complete without one of Runt’s famous cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke. The chiliburger was a cheeseburger covered with Runt’s homemade chili. These delicious burgers had to be eaten with a fork.

When customers entered Runt‘s, they usually were greeted with a friendly smile from a waitress, a glass of ice water and a menu. Usually Runt would call his customers by name since they were regulars. That was in the days before drive-thru windows. People could enter and seat themselves at any available table or booth and be waited on quickly and courteously. 

After finishing their meal, satisfied customers readily left a tip for their waitress by their plate. It was not unusual to see a silver dollar on the counter after the customer left. Runt’s was a downtown landmark for close to 45 years. Most people who remember this institution would today gladly walk down Broad Street on their hands and knees for one of Runt’s greasy hamburgers.

Another type of restaurant that made its debut during the post-war baby boom was the drive-in restaurant. These establishments offered the chance to grab a burger from the comfort of one’s own car. The locally-owned drive-ins were as unique as the individual owners. The hamburgers had a distinct flavor, and most of them were very affordable.

One of Gadsden’s most popular drive-ins of the 1960s and 1970s was the Pic-A-Burger Drive-in on North 12th Street. Located just across from the Agricola Shopping Center, the Pic-A-Burger was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. D.E. Locklear. This eatery was a popular hangout with teenagers during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Locklears’ drive-in was famous for its specialty, the Paul Bunyan Burger. This large burger came with a secret sauce that gave it a different flavor than most burgers sold in the Gadsden area. Accompanied by fries and topped with an onion ring, young and old alike enjoyed this great sandwich.

The Pic-A-Burger did not offer indoor dining. Carhops would wait on customers who remained in their cars.

The Biff-Burger drive-in was another popular hangout. It was located across 12th Street from the Pic-A-Burger. The Biff Burger and the Cheese Biff came in three sizes and featured a special tangy sauce that gave the burgers a distinctive taste. The Biff Burger was famous not only for its food but for its annual “Battle of the Bands,” which was co-sponsored by the restaurant and WGAD radio.

Next week, we’ll continue to hunt for Etowah County’s best hamburger as our walk with the Baby Boomers continues.

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