In the world of restaurants, there is something special about the original location of unique eating establishments.
There is a picture on my office wall of Krystal No. 1 in a downtown Chattanooga storefront. I ate there once and don’t know if it is still there. The picture draws me back to memories when Krystals were served in a little plastic basket by ladies in white uniforms. The counters were made of stainless steel and the floors had black and white tile. Stools were mounted at counters facing the grill and looking out of the front windows.
I have dined several times at the place where Chick-fil-A was created. The original Dwarf House is on Central Avenue in Hapeville. While it has been remodeled several times, I have a mental image of a younger Truett Cathy serving up hot food for workers at the Ford plant that used to be across the street.
There is no place like the original Varsity on North Avenue in Atlanta. I went there recently with my dear friends, Jimmy and Quay Allen. We could have gone somewhere fancy, but there is something about this venerable old institution that is wonderful. I am old enough to remember seeing the late founder Frank Gordy walking through his famous drive-in. I can still hear the voice of the late Irby Walker who could say “Whadda ya’ have” like no one else.
In Macon, one of those food institutions is Fincher’s Barbecue. The original location on Houston Avenue in Macon still has covered awnings where carhops once took drive-in orders.
When I decide to have lunch with old Macon friends such as Steve, Joe or Ed, I always suggest we eat at the original Fincher’s. It is not fancy. The booths are well-worn and the menu is on a Coca-Cola menu board that has been there for years. The featured attraction is the pig, a small barbecue (need I say pork) sandwich for $2.28. While I shouldn’t, I usually eat two.
My friends all have deep roots in Macon and immediately are recognized whenever we visit Fincher’s. I doubt they know my name, but the Finchers remember I’m from Gainesville.
They are nice enough to pack two pounds of their famous ’cue on ice for me to take home. It used to be one pound, but I usually bring a second pound for my father-in-law. I’m a good son-in-law.
Just a few days ago, Steve and I were eating at Fincher’s when “Big Doug” Fincher came over for a chat. He has been running the place since 1968 when his daddy, “Dude” Fincher turned over the reins. The family business was started by his granddaddy more than 75 years ago.
Just a few days later, “Big Doug” died in his sleep.
Besides being the undisputed barbecue king of Macon, “Big Doug” had another distinction; his barbecue was served in outer space. A classmate of his, Sonny Carter, was a NASA astronaut and arranged for a quantity of Fincher’s ’cue to go on the Space Shuttle with him.
Sadly, Sonny Carter was killed in a plane crash near Brunswick in 1991. Another quantity of Fincher’s went on a later shuttle flight in Carter’s honor. Carter, incidentally, is buried in Gainesville’s Alta Vista Cemetery.
If Heaven is anything like we think, I hope “Big Doug” and Sonny shared a laugh this week about sending pigs in space. I also hope they serve it there, too.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.