I’m not going to name any names, but when I made an announcement – someplace that I won’t identify – that I finally went back to a Jack’s, a guy who runs a blog that I enjoy reading very much just turned up his nose quite publicly at the notion. Never mind all the good and interesting restaurants that we enjoyed on our trip through Alabama and Mississippi that I described, the only thing worth a reply, and a nose-upturned one at that, was my visit to a Jack’s.
That’s okay. This is not very good food. It would appear that, after fifty years in business, Jack’s has quite successfully managed to make a perfect clone of Burger King, and nobody calls that good. But it’s very interesting food, to me. Jack’s is wrapped around my childhood in a way that I will never extricate. I find this chain absolutely enthralling, even though they have not done very much to earn it.
When you are a child, you have a very different perspective on space than as an adult. Throughout the 1970s, my parents would routinely take me to visit family in Fort Payne, Alabama. We’d go out there once every four or five weeks. The path would almost always wind through Cartersville, Rome and Coosa, but then often take one of several different directions, depending on whether Dad wanted to get there in a hurry, or if nostalgia for his own misspent youth would send us to Fort Payne via Boaz or some other small community. I swear one was called “Blood Bucket,” but I can’t find any evidence of it anymore.
Once we were in Fort Payne, we might use my Pappy’s house as a staging point for trips to visit any number of places in northeast Alabama. None of the towns that I see looking over Google Maps seem familiar, but we would often drive to old businesses and speak to old acquaintances. There was a Jack’s in every town. I’d know that red circle logo anywhere.
When you’re a child, of course, you can’t really work out that “this is a chain almost totally exclusive to north Alabama.” You just figure that there are Jack’s everywhere, and when you are at home, Mom and Dad just don’t drive down any roads that have them. I don’t even know how often we actually stopped to eat at one. Probably not often, as I had an Aunt Rosie who wouldn’t dream of allowing anybody to eat a fast food hamburger when she had forty pounds of fried chicken, turnip greens and potato salad to feed all of us. I just know that Jack’s is part of my seventies restaurant memory the same way that the Krystal Kritters and the initial use of that creepy Burger King and his R2D2-knockoff French fry robot are.
About a month before that last bolt clicked into place and we started up this blog to document our travels and the fun we have eating, I took a drive out to Carrollton after a short day at work to try a Jack’s for the first time in a really, really long time. The restaurant had come up in conversation a few days previously when I was visiting Dad and some other friend of his had stopped by. This friend had heard, erroneously, it turns out, that a Jack’s was coming up in Douglasville or someplace nearby. That got me curious, so I drove out there, and had a… decentish meal. I imagine that it’s probably about the same caliber as the better-known (and confusingly similarly-named) Jack in the Box or Whataburger, each of which I have damned with faint praise in this blog’s pages before.
On our way back from Mississippi, I made sure that we stopped again. Marie and I had noticed this location about a month previously, when we visited Tallapoosa to try the excellent barbecue and stew at The Turn Around. It is apparently one of only three Jack’s in Georgia. There is one in Corinth, MS and sixty-some odd in northern Alabama. Around Birmingham, there are some very neat interstate exits where the local chains Jack’s and Milo’s duel it out alongside their better-known national rivals like Burger King and Wendy’s.
Jack’s isn’t essential eating, of course, but it’s always interesting to me to visit a restaurant like this that I can’t get at home. Driving I-20 through Alabama takes you past about a dozen or more exits where travelers can sample one. I think it’s worth a visit once in a while.