By Robbie Perdue
In southeast North Carolina there is a small town named Whiteville. It came to national attention in the recent past when American Idol judges couldn’t understand the name of the hometown of a contestant. That’s fair, most of the people here pronounce it somewhere between “whatville” and “wyattville”.
Funny accents aside, the real magic of the town can be found at the corner of Madison and Commerce. In less than a block from that spot are five incredible burger restaurants, but burger joint or grill might be a better description.
I recently visited each and got the same order: cheeseburger, hotdog, fries, and a tea. Each was ordered “all the way” which in these parts means onions, chili, mustard, no slaw. Yes, places here do have slaw for what people associate with “Carolina style”, but around here slaw is optional.
Started by my great-grandmother’s brother, Kermit Ward, this grill has been a Whiteville institution for decades and is currently under I think the third iteration of ownership. There must be a reason for the longevity as they seem to keep winning best burger awards from the local paper. The place is very narrow with limited seating so expect to get your order to go. Best get here early, there will be a line down the sidewalk.
While the grill started out narrow like Ward’s, at some point they bought the place next door, knocked out a wall and expanded the seating options. I like eating here as I know the people and it’s nice being greeted by name. That’s the nice thing about small town restaurants. That, and the never ending supply of great sweet tea.
Jerry’s Sandwich Shop
Jerry recently retired and I’m sure he is giving the fish down in South Carolina a rough time. The new ownership kept the name and the same great food. I found myself sitting at the bar and enjoying a conversation about local baseball, a common Whiteville topic. I think the combination of red swivel stools and paper wrappers makes the food taste better somehow.
Ok, so Penn’s is a bit extra. They have actual menus while the other places have a plastic board on the wall with Coke or Pepsi boldly in the center. They have lunch specials, specialty coffee, and something called “salads”. This is the only place where I felt compelled to say “sweet” tea. But, they do have what we are after: burger, dog, fries, and tea. The cheeseburger was similar to the previous spots with all-the-way being onions, chili, mustard. Also, these fries had that little bit of peel on the ends if you’re into that. Penn’s also has a curb service option. I like it. You can go here when you’re with one of your “healthy” friends.
Our final spot is almost exclusively curb service. I think there’s maybe two stools or something inside, but who wants to get out of their truck? It’s probably hot out anyway. The girl walking my way to take my order looks like she’s hot and it’s December. Opening the styrofoam plate revealed a burger not with the staples (onions, chili,mustard) but instead with tomato, lettuce, and pickle. I think there was some mustard as well. The hot dog was standardly equipped, but the fries! The fries here are breaded because regular fries are just too low-carb. I would come here just for the fries. You know the fries are good when they have melted holes in the plate they came in.
I know what you’re probably saying “Wait, what about dessert?” Well, at that same corner of Madison and Commerce you will find Guiton’s Drug Store. They have one of those old time soda fountains and hand-dipped ice cream. So stop in and get a scoop (and maybe some Tums).
Is Whitevile, NC really Burgertown USA? Probably not, but it is for ME. That’s the great thing about Burgertown; It’s where YOUR favorite burgers are served.