Memories From The Past
Downtown Kingsport use to abound with lunch counters. These were the fast food dispensers of their time. Every drug store had a lunch counter and each lunch counter had their own faithful customers; Kingsport Drugs, Clinchfield Drugs, Coles Drug Store, Earls Drug Store, Holston Drug Store, Freels Drug Store. There were the small café lunch counters such as Handys, on Main Street and Cherokee Street in Five Points.
Walking into a lunch counter was always an aromatic treat. Every one had a special scent of warm oil from the grill. These grills were flat grills, scraped to clean and drained to a grease trap. No open-grid gas grills with their ethyl mercaptan odor to ruin to atmosphere. The grill operators were a special treat to watch in action. The larger the crown and the more orders placed only seemed to cause them to operate more efficiently; cracking eggs with one hand and either frying or scrambling to order, flipping strips of bacon and sausage patties, browning slices of ham.
Want a stack of pancakes. No problem. Each one poured from a pitcher of batter onto the grill; magically coming out the same size and perfectly browned.
Typical breakfast at any of the lunch counters were 2 eggs w/toast - 40˘, sausage w/2eggs & toast - 55˘, bacon w/2 eggs & toast - 55˘, Ham w/2 eggs & toast - 65˘. Jelly with the toast was apple, grape or strawberry. Lunch counter toast could not be duplicated at home, but biscuits and gravy was not usually offered; this was a home made treat.
Lunch, supper and any time of the day various sandwiches could be had. B-L-T, always a favorite cost around 45˘. A ham & egg sandwich was 45˘. A sausage & egg sandwich was 40˘. The bread was always buttered and grilled unless requested plain. You could have any type of bread as long as it was white; no rye, whole wheat or sourdough. Every one offered hot dogs. A hot dog was understood to include mustard, chili and onions. If you wanted it different, you better let the cook know. Everyone charged 15˘ except Cole Drugs lunch counter, where it was 9˘ and included cole slaw. All lunch counters served hamburgers, 25˘. These hamburgers were flat grilled and came on a standard hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato and a big slice of onion; mayonnaise and mustard as desired.
Some lunch counters served a special sandwich that only they served but all lunch counters offered the magical grilled cheese sandwich that could not be duplicated at home. The bread was brushed with melted butter, placed on the grill and a slice of American cheese placed on the bread and topped with another slice of buttered bread. When the bottom slice was well toasted, the sandwich was flipped over and toasted. The resulting sandwich had just the right amount of buttery feel to be licked from the fingers and the cheese inside was always melted to the perfect texture.
The waitresses seemed to be there when you needed them and always with a smile. Keeping your water glass filled. This water glass usually appeared before you with a napkin and silverware almost as soon as you sat down. Keeping your 5˘ cup of coffee filled and refilled. Everyone had either Coke or Pepsi. Some had additional flavors but no diet or caffeine free.
All the lunch counters offered milk shakes, 25˘, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. Basic flavors, but all favorites, made with Pet, Foremost or Southern Maid ice cream and milk.
Now I’m hungry. Let’s go find a lunch counter.
Photo courtesy of City of Kingsport Archives.
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