Thursday, October 27, 2005

Spare me the drive-thru

My grandma and I have watched for the Jackson Citizen Patriot's Brad Flory, a local all-about-town columnist, to release his "Top Five" best hamburgers in town.

Finally, on Tuesday, he picked his favorites - based on taste, tradition, community history, etc.

Out of the five, Schlenker's Sandwich Shop was one of the best burger winners, and one of the few places in town I haven't been.

So we went last night.

And, I'm here to report, it is one of the best burgers in town.

My grandma had been going there since she was a kid - it's been open since 1927 in the same cram-packed location on Ganson St. - and she finally showed me what it was all about.

But what I noticed was the layout - a U-shaped counter, able to sit about 14 people at one time, and very, very cramped. Everyone's proximity to everyone else, however, was actually part of the place's charm.

For instance: most of the folks in there last night were about my grandma's age, 50-70. The old timers. And my grandma, the social butterfly she is, starting talking with everyone while they ate.

And it was awesome. They shared stories of all the burger joints that used to be in town, and how downtown used to be a happening place. The good old days? I was feeling them.

"Everyone is so isolated these days," my grandma said to me. "You can't get this kind of conversation in a drive-thru."

By god, she was right. I had so much fun listening and chatting with all the customers that the burger was an after-thought. Sure, the food was great (and cheap!), but the conversation and the atmosphere was what made Schlenker's so popular with Jacksonians.

This is one principal guiding my decision to never eat at a chain store when I'm out and traveling. Sure, McDonald's can be great if you're in rush. But when I'm traveling, I want the local flavor (literally), and that's why I'll only eat at locally-owned, non-chain restaurants and diners.

Not only is the food generally better, but you can learn something about the community you're in by pulling up a chair, sipping on your straw, and gabbing with your neighbor. There's not enough of that these days, as my grandma sees it, and it's a shame.

Everyone has their local hangout - the place they go where they know the food, know the servers, and know conversation and community are going to be as much a part of the menu as a sandwich and fries.

Here's to Schlenker's. And here's to the classic burger joint.

They're a dying breed.

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