For a fleeting moment the thought crossed my mind, “This is where I’m gonna die.” I was fairly certain I was not about to actually die, but after the interesting experience in the hardware store with the man in the yellow Hawaiian print shirt I just wasn’t sure about anything. But ten minutes later I was sitting at a table in the corner of a small local eatery enjoying one of the best burgers I had ever eaten. Welcome to Tupelo, Mississippi.
Note: This is the third of a three-part series about my adventures in Tupelo, Mississippi. You can read A Tupelo Story, Part I and A Tupelo Story, Part II before continuing to the final part of the series.
It Began at the Tupelo Hardware Company
I was walking through downtown Tupelo along the wide and clean sidewalks when I came to the Tupelo Hardware Company. I knew this was a part of the history of Elvis so I decided to walk inside to take a peak around. The hardware store is still exactly that; I found bins filled with nails and screws, boxes of tools stacked on shelves, and catalogues for home improvement sitting on the counters.
A tour guide was explaining the history of the hardware company to a couple, pointing to a black and white picture on the wall showing the hardware store when Elvis was a teen. I didn’t want to intrude on the tour so I meandered through the rest of the store. It didn’t take long for a man wearing a yellow Hawaiian print shirt to approached me and ask, “Can I help you find anything?”
I didn’t want to admit I was just a tourist following in the footsteps of Elvis so I looked around quickly and pointed toward a collection of disc golf discs hanging on a wire metal rack. “Is this all the disc golf stuff you have?” I asked, hoping to start a conversation about something that at least interested me and had nothing to do with Elvis.
Almost immediately the man in the yellow Hawaiian print shirt launched into a lengthy diatribe about the pitfalls of playing disc golf and how “men lose their wives” because all they do is play disc golf all day. I was eager to change the subject so I picked up a disc, a short-range putter, and casually commented, “I used to play a lot. I remember it was all in the wrist.”
Again, the man in the yellow Hawaiian print shirt launched into a lengthy sololiquy, only this time about a different subject. “That’s exactly what I tell my karate students!” he excitedly exclaimed. For the next few minutes he detailed how he instructs his students about the power of the wrist, demonstrated how the most powerful punches actually come from the hips.
But then right in the middle of it all he stops silent and looks straight at me. “Have you ever seen the Two Inch Death Punch?” My face blank with a single raised eyebrow and shook my head. I watched as the man in the yellow Hawaiian print shirt walked over to a wooden beam, extended the middle knuckle of his middle finger two inches with the rest of his finger curved inward, and in a single fluid motion retracted his finger and punched the post. “I could stop a man’s heart with that punch.”
Immediately I looked at my barren wrist and noted, “Oh it’s uh time for me to get something to eat.” I slowly began to back away. The man’s face instantly lit up. “Do you like burgers? I know the perfect place. Follow me!”
The man hurried through the store, but instead of heading for the front door on Main Street where I would be surrounded by people in a very public place he took me out a side door and around the back of the building. He pointed off in the distance. “You see that trash dumpster?”
This is it, I thought to myself. They’ll find my body in that trash dumpster in a few days. But instead of a daring and completely unncessary daylight murder, the man continued, “Walk past it and you’ll see an alley. Literally. It’s only about twelve feet wide. Go down that alley and you’ll find The Stables. Best burger in town.”
I thanked the man and quickly strode off down the street toward the trash dumpster. I began laughing out loud to myself, which might have looked somewhat suspicious for the couple who passed me a moment later, but I didn’t care. Now I was hungry.
…and continued with a tip that led to an amazing burger.
It was indeed a twelve-foot wide alley. Tables filled the narrow space. I could tell I was in the right place from the groups of people sitting outside with delicious looking meals.
I walked through the heavy wooden door into a small hole-in-the-wall eatery. The exposed brick walls and rustic wooden floor accentuated the quaint feel. The woman behind the bar caught sight of me looking around and shouted, “Seat yourself anywhere and we’ll be right there!”
I chose the table in the corner because it was near a window and would make for some great light to shoot photos of the food. Almost immediately Taylor slid a menu onto my table and asked what I wanted to drink. Not two minutes later she came back with an ice cold sweet tea.
“So what can I get you to eat?” she asked.
“What do people like to get?”
“The Stable Burger,” she immediately replied.
“What’s on The Stable Burger?”
Taylor sucked in a deep breath. “Well it’s topped with five different kinds of cheese: Swiss, American, provolone, cheddar, and pepperjack.” I immediately held up my hand and started laughing.
“Holy wow that’s enough, that’s enough,” I replied. “Just give it to me.” I mean seriously five types of cheese on a single burger? You didn’t have to twist my arm. Taylor quickly jotted down the order but before she could leave I asked, “Just out of curiosity what else is on it?”
“Bacon, jalapenos, grilled bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions. Can I get you anything else?” By this point my voice had left me so I simply shook my head. I had never heard of such a burger and felt it just might make my Top 5 list.
While waiting for the burger to arrive I took stock of the small local eatery. It was a place for family; mothers and daughter, grandparents, young children, all sat at tables they had grouped together. The constant chatter of conversation wasn’t overwhelming and the classic 80’s rock music from the ceiling-hung speakers was just the right level to enjoy. I finally caught sight of the deer head mounted on the opposite wall with a short set of Christmas lights hanging from the antlers. Don’t know why it took me so long to see that.
The food arrived and sure enough it was smothered with hot, gooey cheese that threatened to completely shroud the meat from sight. But one might into the thick, juicy burger and I could tell it was indeed full of meat. By the third bite I took a moment to acknowledge this burger just made my Top 5 Burgers list, a list I still have not formalized.
About halfway through my meal an older lady approached my table. She had noticed me shooting photos of the restaurant and my food. “Are you a food critic?” she asked in a friendly tone.
“Just a travel writer and photographer.”
“Well in that case do you know the history of this building?” she asked. She motioned me to follow her. I was hesitant to leave that delicious burger behind but didn’t want to seem unfriendly. I followed her across the small restaurant to a wall of photos. She pointed at a series of discolored bricks. “That used to be the entrance into the stables. Did you know this used to be a horse stable?”
For the next five minutes she recounted the story of the building and eventual conversion into a local eatery, introduced me to Jackie, a retired NFL player from the Browns and Giants, and started to describe each of the photos hanging on the walls. “Barbara, let that man finish his food!” a woman pleasantly shouted. I smiled politely as Barbara bade me farewell.
I returned to my table to finish one of the best burgers I had ever eaten and thought about the Two Inch Death Punch and the man in the yellow Hawaiian print shirt that led me there. A few more locals introduced themselves and offered tips for things to see and do around town. I already felt like one of the locals.
Welcome to Tupelo.