In May, we all set off on a four-day trip to Memphis, where Marie’s sister was graduating from college. I’d been planning and charting and getting ideas together for weeks, and decided that we’d take a slight detour by going north across Alabama instead of fighting the rush hour traffic into and around Atlanta to use the interstates. That route, through Birmingham and Tupelo, is the most direct, but taking GA-140 to Huntsville and using US-72 ALT took us back to the Shoals, which is probably my favorite region of Alabama.
Going this way allowed us to revisit the beautiful city of Florence, which I love, and stop by Staggs, an old, former grocery store that now sells breakfast and burgers. I wish I had paid attention and visited this great little place the last time we were here!
The drive to Florence takes about four hours from Marietta, and the single bite of cheeseburger that I sampled persuaded me that this was worth the trip. I had another place to eat, as you’ll see in a moment. Everything that I’d read about Staggs persuaded me that this was a place that I simply wanted to see in person, and the burgers that Marie and the children enjoyed were icing on the cake. Staggs survived the decline of the textile mills of this community and the influx of supermarkets by evolving into a greasy spoon. They are best known for their biscuits and chocolate gravy, but they only offer this tantalizing treat on Friday mornings. We’ll have to time it right and enjoy the chocolate gravy next time.
The burgers, made to order from fresh ground beef, are completely delicious and really juicy. Marie said that hers was very good, and my daughter raved that this was the best burger that she’d enjoyed in ages. Marie was also very taken by a little lacework that is framed behind the counter. Pat Staggs and her husband Lynn, whose grandfather opened the store, retired just a few months ago, passing ownership to longtime employee Donna Hill. They have a terrific crew at work here, welcoming everybody from tourists to students to people who’ve lived here for decades and meet just about every morning for coffee and biscuits. It’s just a super place.
As old as it is, however, Staggs is not the oldest business in town. That honor belongs to Trowbridge’s, which we visited two years ago and which is celebrating its 98th birthday this year. I had not originally planned to take the time to stop here, but coming this close and not stopping for some orange-pineapple is just wrong. I had mine in a milkshake, and poured most of it in a cup to go.
And coming right to the UNA campus and not walking to the habitat to visit their lions is equally wrong. Our son did not remember our previous visit (he was three), but he absolutely loved saying hello to Leo and Una this time.
These detours complete, we drove across the fantastic O’Neil Bridge to Muscle Shoals for my own lunch. This was my third visit to Brooks Barbeque, which is one of my ten favorite barbecue places. Two days after this visit, this list would be revised, but Brooks is in no danger. This is terrific, tasty, smoky pork and the mustard slaw is fabulous. For just $7.98, it’s a steal.
This time, I finally sampled their slaw on a hot dog. When I was first here, I figured that this would be amazing, and it is. The hot dogs are usually, bizarrely, served with mustard slaw and ketchup, which strikes me as really unnecessary. After more than fifty years, they obviously know what works, but I passed on the ketchup. Our son really enjoyed his dog as well. Brooks is a tiny place, but a terrific place. Travelers may end up eating in their car, but travelers should definitely visit.
After a couple of hours, it was time to move on from Florence and the Shoals, and we motored west on 72 for our next destination.
Other blog posts about Staggs Grocery:
Greasy Spoon Burger Joints in Bama (Feb. 28 2014)
Alabama Chanin Journal (Feb. 2015)
Before You Leave the Shoals (Mar. 25 2016)
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