By: John Hardin

Earlier this year, upon learning that AL.Com had named Ed's to its list of Twelve Classic Alabama Burger Joints We Can't-Wait to Revisit, and to Southern Living's, The South's Most Beloved Hamburger Joints, I made the hour trip north to Jackson to have lunch there and to meet the current owners. 

Justin and Julia Brooks, go-getters in Jackson are the fifth owners in Ed's history.  I have been eating at Ed's for decades but with the recent news, another trip to get my umpteenth hamburger check-up seemed like one of the next retiree things I needed to do.

Ed's should be familiar to anyone who travels up Highway 43 to points north of Jackson like their hunting camps, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and beyond.  The Brookses also just announced that they bought the old Dairy Bar location in Grove Hill, that city's beloved little hamburger stand. The Dairy Bar's new name will be Ed's Dairy Bar and it will essentially be the Grove Hill branch of the Jackson mother drive-in. Outdoor old-timey counter stools, 1950's style, will be installed and a large concrete slab has been poured for patio dining.  

Ed's Drive-In is pushing 60 years old. The restaurant has been doing business in the classic-looking building since June 1964 when it was built by Troy Jones and called Troy's.  Troy's 20-year manager Ed Harris bought the place next, changed the name to his own, and ran it for 20 more years.  There were two other owners before Justin and Julia bought the business and the building in 2019.

Justin, who has a construction background, oversees the restaurant. Julia began her career as an RN and LPN for Blue Cross before starting her real estate agency in Jackson, Village Properties. She always had restaurant management in the back of her mind. 

The bite is on at Ed's; sales are up significantly due to some crafty Facebook marketing by Julia, an uptick in traffic on Highway 43, and a stalwart business model of making no changes to something that is far from broken. 

You might say Ed's is the same-old same-old with tweaks, such as offering a dusting of their home-mixed seasoning to the crinkle fries, and the addition of a breakfast shift highlighted by their version of breakfast 'gumbo,’ the bowl made popular by the Chevron station in Satsuma. 

The main thing is still the hamburger and no changes have been considered for their proprietary, secretive method of ginning out what can be as many as 200 made-to-order burgers per day.  I asked about how they do it and was given some intel, but I was politely denied other information. No hamburger meat is ever frozen. The burgers are hand rolled 30 at a time and then each goes to the patty press one ball at a time, yielding a hand-patted, patty press pressed, hamburger patty.

The mix of the meat is a secret. It goes through the skilled oversight of April Taylor, veteran kitchen manager, who sees that the meat is mixed, twisted, and rolled.  She 'twists' the meat.  I ask how one 'twist' meat?  "I don't know exactly how," Justin answers, "she just twists it. It helps the burger hold strong.” 

Then comes the patty press, which has been cured and in service for nobody knows exactly how many years. The inside of the press's top has an oiled leather swatch coating it to prevent sticking and to step up speed.  "New employees coming to work here can't just start on the patty press.  They need to be here a couple of months first to get a feel for it," Justin said.  

I have lived out my dining life under the adage "Onions make everything better except ice cream", so when I bit into my most recent hamburger at Ed's, I was delighted to crunch the usual thick arcs of fresh white onion slices.  The patty is almost a half-inch thick and is the same size as the bun.  I flat-out exalt the taste of a Coke poured over their flaked ice.  There are 30 items on Ed's menu with the country fried steak sandwich the second most popular, and Justin is proud it is still cooked to the original recipe of Troy Jones.

Ed's has stood the test of time and, 60 years in, has thrived on not changing a thing. Those were the initial thoughts of Justin and Julia starting with the name, particularly when their children are named Emma and Delta, which confirms the E and D for sure. The business has withstood the challenges of growth, ownership changes, economic volatility, plant closings, COVID-19, and competition.  

As solid as the building is, a tornado would not be a problem either. There are two pentagonal support structures made of 12" steel I-beams that rise from the ground through the roof of the dining canopy and up into the air as if they could suspend a highway river bridge.  A great 60's look that says, "This place is going to be here.”  It will always be the place in Jackson to talk about a 10-inning win, all A's, or your son's first deer, not to mention date night like it was for Justin and Julia. 

Now, on to embracing the next level of progress....getting bigger.  And keeping ambition in check with the business sense of the Brookses.  I joked that the next expansion is to where- the Atlanta Airport? Julia unsarcastically answered, "Really?" as if she was embracing such a vision but knew better right now.  The point is, when Ed's has two drive-ins running right, the Brookses could be scouting for a third. Look out Mobile, Ed's could be coming your way.

I am a loyal customer and lucky to drive up Highway 43 often. According to Justin, about half of Ed's customers are from Clarke County and half are out-of-towners. "We have people who regularly drive here to eat, like from Orange Beach or Andalusia, then they turn around and drive home.”  

Ed's Drive-In is open 7 seven days a week, beginning at 6:00 a.m. on weekdays, and 7:00 a.m. on weekends. Closing is 8 p.m. on Sunday and 9 p.m. on all other days. Pull in at 3018 College Ave. (Hwy 43) or call in your order to 251-246-3054, the oldest phone number in Jackson continually in service.

Jun 5, 2024
Epicurean Delights

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