Big Spring Cafe, Huntsville AL

For our next stop in Huntsville, we drove with our friend Helen just a few miles down the road to check out the city’s oldest restaurant. While Big Spring Cafe has only (heh, only) been in its present location on Governors since 1970, the restaurant originally opened downtown in 1928. It is a much-loved old greasy spoon, and it serves a pretty darn good hamburger. It’s on at least its fourth owner, and I don’t believe that it’s ever stayed in the same family’s hands for more than a couple of decades, but considering the difficulty in keeping a restaurant open for even a few months, I believe that any restaurant with this kind of history, even one with as many asterisks as this one has, deserves a round of applause for making it for so long.

In some recent travels, I’ve been wondering aloud about the difference between hamburger toppings in older places like this. At Big Spring, the traditional burger comes with onions and mustard, or guests can have one “all the way” and instead have lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Maybe this is where the Burger King chain got that old slogan of theirs: “Have it your way.” Me, I kind of like having two different standard dressings like you find in older places like this, one way or the other way.

Incidentally, for more discussion on how older burger places will almost always offer onions and mustard, readers should check out the book Hamburger America by George Motz. He does Alabama the disservice of skipping it entirely, and Georgia doesn’t fare much better, but he hits up dozens of older restaurants for whom onions and mustard are the only way to go. It’s a fascinating read and will make you want to hit the road.

Of course, I love having a shaker of red pepper to go with my burger. You do not see this on countertops all that frequently, but this was the second time that we’d run into this today. Lots of Pepsi on this trip, too; I tend to say that you see Pepsi more frequently than Coke in Alabama and the Carolinas, but that trip that my daughter and I made into the Piedmont recently was a 7-2 win for the red team. The Huntsville area, on the other hand, went 5-1 for Pepsi. And, I learned later, this place also offers Double Cola. What a silly shame that our server did not mention that to me.

The Big Spring was incredibly busy, even after the lunch hour rush should have passed on, so I really couldn’t get any clean pictures of the counter or the building without cars in front. Helen, who’d never paid attention to this place before, was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of her burger, which is considerably better than you might expect from a simple diner setup like this. She said that she had no idea this place was so good and that she’d have to come back here sometime. Marie didn’t eat anything at this stop, as she was going to have supper at the next restaurant on our agenda.

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2 thoughts on “Big Spring Cafe, Huntsville AL

  1. One of the reasons that Pepsi is big in Huntsville is the Pepsi franchise here is SO MUCH BETTER than the Coke franchise. If your Coke fountain breaks down it’s tough luck to you for however long they care for it to be, while Pepsi will have someone right out to fix the fountain. It’s like Ruth Buzzy used to say about the phone company before they got broken up, ” We’re the phone company, we don’t care because we don’t have to “. This is Coke’s slogan in Huntsville and surrounding area. I hated dealing with Coke in our restaurant and my previous gigs and kicked them out in favor of Pepsi.

    1. It’s not just Huntsville, but all across the state. Even in the Alabama restaurants that, like Big Spring, have coolers and bottled drinks instead of fountains, it’s much more likely that they’ll serve Pepsi. I think those distributor ties go way, way back and that Pepsi/Buffalo Rock just employs a tremendously good team of people.

      Mind you, we’d rather have water or sweet tea than either brand…

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