When my wife and I first visited Memphis nearly 15 years ago, we found a burger joint in downtown Memphis by the name of Huey's that had a pretty good burger. Over the years, I learned more about Huey's and found that a lot of people in Memphis felt they had a pretty good burger, as well, winning "Best of Memphis" awards for a number of years. We pulled into Memphis around 1:30 in the afternoon and immediately went to the downtown location of Huey's.
The Memphis music scene was in its prime in the early to mid 60's when a young drummer by the name of Tom Boggs was playing with various groups around the area. He met a young kid by the name of Alex Chilton - then in his mid-teens - who had a soulful voice that sounded like he was in his mid-30's. Chilton's band - The Box Tops - needed a manager and Tom Boggs said that he'd help out. In 1967, their first song "The Letter" became an international hit. When the original drummer for The Box Tops went off to college to escape the draft in 1968, Boggs slid into his chair and played with The Box Tops through the next two years where they recorded a couple more Top 10 singles. In February of 1970, the band split up with each going in different directions.
Now known as Thomas Boggs, he ended up in Memphis to work at a new singles bar called T.G.I. Friday's, the first franchised location of a Friday's. Boggs' work ethic was immediately noticed by franchise owner Daniel Scoggin. After a couple years on the job in Memphis, Scoggin asked Boggs to move to Dallas to help open the T.G.I. Friday's there. As Scoggin opened more T.G.I. Friday's locations, Boggs was the point man when opening the new restaurants.
Pictured right - Thomas Boggs (Picture courtesy the Memphis Flyer.)
Not many people who worked with Boggs at T.G.I. Friday's knew that he was a former musician with a handful of Top Ten hits with The Box Tops. Unassuming, but outgoing and proficient at his work, Boggs kept his rock star past on the down low preferring to gain the respect of his co-workers with his hard work.
In 1970, a small burger joint by the name of Huey's opened near where the Memphis T.G.I. Friday's was located. Alan Gary had opened the place hoping it to be a fun bar with a unique atmosphere. Thomas Boggs eventually left T.G.I. Friday's and came back to Memphis to manage and tend bar at Huey's. Two years later, Boggs and Jay Sheffield bought Huey's.
At the time, in order to have a liquor license in Memphis restaurants had to serve food. But food wasn't a big thing to a lot of these places who were more known as night time hangouts for 20 and 30-somethings and usually didn't open until 5 p.m. Boggs decided that Huey's should showcase their burgers for the lunch crowd and they began to open at 11 a.m.
Details were a big thing to Thomas Boggs. He wanted to have the best burger for Huey's and he worked closely with a local meat purveyor to come up with the right mix of lean ground beef versus fat to get the signature Huey's flavor. The restaurant still uses that same mix today.
Boggs eventually opened a total of 8 Huey's locations and was a partner in a number of other Memphis eating establishments. He was also a noted philanthropist with a passion for the Memphis Zoo (which we visited during our recent visit - it's a very nice zoo), as well as working with a number of other civic organizations.
Sadly, Thomas Boggs passed away in his sleep in 2008 at the age of 63. His three daughters and two sons all began to work in their father's restaurants at an early age. Today, four of the five Boggs children are involved with Huey's with the oldest, Lauren, serving as president and the second oldest, Ashley, as the company's vice-president.
The downtown location of Huey's is at the corner of 2nd and Union. (see map) We found parking just down the way on 2nd and went into the restaurant. It was past the noon time rush so it was no wait to get into the place.
I didn't remember much about Huey's from the first visit a number of years ago, but my memory was jogged when we came up to the hostess stand. Checkered table cloths, beer signs and articles about Huey's hung on the graffiti'ed walls, and hundreds of tooth picks dangled from the ceiling. A long time tradition - one that Thomas Boggs didn't like at first - is to take the toothpicks out of the burgers and launch them toward upward, sticking them into the drop-down ceiling tile. Today, Huey's has a contest that allows a customer to guess how many toothpicks there are in the ceiling with a $1 contribution that goes toward the Memphis Zoo. Over the years, over $30,000 has been raised by patrons guessing how many toothpicks are stuck in the ceiling at Huey's.
We were taken to a booth along the wall and a couple menus were dropped off for us. While we were going to get burgers, there's a lot of other things on the menu at Huey's if you're not in a mood for one. In addition to the normal appetizers, soups and salads, they had a grilled tuna steak sandwich, a po' boy sandwich with breaded shrimp, a Philly cheesesteak or Philly grilled chicken sandwich, and a turkey supreme sandwich among the many sandwiches on the menu. They also have a gluten free part of the menu, as well as a pretty extensive kid's menu, as well.
For burgers, they have a plethora of signature burgers to choose from. The Bluez 57 burger consisted of a 1/3 pound patty topped with blue cheese crumbles, Heinz 57 sauce, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion straws on a sesame seed bun. The Old Tyme A1 burger featured a 1/3 pound burger topped with cheddar, Swiss, and jack cheeses, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, onion straws with A1 steak sauce on a sourdough bun. The Texas Toast burger was a 1/3 pound burger with pepper jack cheese, grilled onions and jalapenos on Texas toast.
I ended up getting the Madison Avenue burger - a 1/3 pound patty topped with Swiss cheese, grilled mushrooms, mayo, lettuce, tomato and bacon on a sourdough bun. I also got a bottle of the Yazoo Gerst Amber Ale from the Yazoo Brewing Company out of Nashville. Cindy went pretty simple - she got the "World Famous" Huey Burger with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles with a side of fries. She ended up ordering a Sierra Nevada pale ale that they had on tap.
Our burgers came out to us about 15 minutes or so after we ordered. My burger came with a pickle spear and a couple slices of bacon cris-crossed on top of the burger patty that had a generous amount of Swiss cheese hiding a good amount of sauteed mushrooms.
My burger was thick and juicy and the sourdough bun gave the burger an overall great flavor. It was definitely a multi-napkin burger. The combination of the juicy burger, bacon, mushrooms and the forward tasting Swiss cheese made it a very good burger.
Cindy's burger came with a sesame seed bun and was as equally as thick as mine. She said it was very good, as well, but had trouble finishing all of it. (A large breakfast may have had something to do with that.) And the fries she got were the thick-cut steak fries that I have suddenly fallen in love with since my trip to the U.K. earlier this year. Although they weren't as good as the "chips" that I got in the U.K., they were still pretty good.
Our server tried to entice us into getting one of Huey's desserts. I will say that the lemon ice box pie sounded pretty good, but we passed on it. However, later that evening we had finished dinner and decided that we wanted something a little extra. I wondered if we were close to a Huey's location and it turned out that we were less than a mile from the original location on Madison Ave. in Memphis' Overton Square area. (see map) We went in and told the waiter that we were there for just a slice of the lemon ice box pie. He said, "Oh, boy. You came to the right place. I love the lemon ice box pie!"
And we did, too. It came with a light fluffy meringue on the top and the tangy lemon middle was a great refreshing taste. It had a graham cracker crust and was just an excellent end to the evening. I'm a sucker for anything lemon or lime in a pie and the lemon ice box pie at Huey's didn't disappoint.
It was great to reconnect with Huey's after all these years. The burgers were just as good as I remember from our previous visit, the atmosphere was fun and laid back, and they had a pretty good beer list. Huey's is a staple on the Memphis burger scene and while we didn't try to find any other burger place while we were in Memphis, I'm guessing it would be pretty tough to find one that is finer.