I get to visit some pretty remote locales on my ESPNU college basketball itinerary, and so it was that I found myself approximately 45 miles outside of Nashville, in the relative seclusion of Clarksville, Tennessee, home of the Austin Peay Governors. As is usually the case in and around a collegiate university, there can be some pretty stellar, if not unassuming, places to eat, especially if you want experience the local flavor.
So it was with that context that I found myself directly across College Street from APSU, at Johnny's Big Burgers. Some local spots... you just know. Johnny's is just that kinda spot.
Counter seating? Check. Menu board posted on the back wall? Check. Well-seasoned griddle, next to an even more well-worn fryolator? Check and check...
I was compelled to order along party lines: double cheeseburger, fries, vanilla milk shake. The shake was a bit of a misnomer, as there was no straw necessary (matter of fact, none was even offered or provided!) Ultra-thick, and with that state fair/soft serve flavor. Just right.
This is another of the places providing convincing evidence to yours truly that the best way to prepare a burger is to griddle it. The bun got a subtle yet healthy brush of melted butter before joining it's compatriot on the sizzling hot surface. The fries took their peanut oil bath and arrived piping hot next to the burger, all golden brown in their crinkle-cut glory.
This plate did not disappoint in the least. It looked classic. It felt like a classic. It tasted like a classic, in every way. Juicy, meaty, satisfying. A bit messy, just the way it should be. After devouring every bite with aplomb, it's safe to say this was a burger I'd put up against any I've had. Ever. Clarksville might be a mid-major town, but Johnny's can compete with the best of 'em...
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
After satisfying my own cravings, I returned shortly thereafter with my TV partner, so enamored was I with Johnny's. My intention (really!) was to keep AB company while he got his taste of burger nirvana. Only problem: there were whispers from the locals about a must-have dessert... the vaunted Toasted Honey Bun with Vanilla Ice Cream. Now, I am intimately familiar with this treat, having enjoyed many a THB at the Syracuse haunt, Cosmo's. Clarksville denizens refer to theirs as an "HB with Cream." Mmmmmmmm... right off the griddle (no thank you, microwave), icing all gooey, topped with vanilla ice cream. The warm and cold combo is always a winner. This one was a throwback for me, and oh so good. Sweet, creamy, with that ever-so- slightly crispy and caramelized shell (thank you, griddle).
At check out (cash only!), pictures of Muhammad Ali and Elvis share space on the wall, two Southern icons, much like the feeling I got from this place.
Johnny's is a snapshot of simple, tasty times. The classics always endure...