I enjoy a good hamburger. To be more specific, I enjoy a good hamburger steak with onion gravy. I told members of my team this during one of our in-house potlucks. They couldn’t relate. Some had never tried the dish, while others had never tried a good version. With that sad realization, I knew I had to redeem what was left of the legacy of hamburger steaks. Before heading into the kitchen, I hit the road with Staff Photographer Steve Klise to get some inspiration from Aunt B’s Soul Food in Tupelo, Mississippi. Keep reading to learn about the inspiration behind our Hamburger Steaks with Onion Gravy.
Where We Went
Tupelo has won the All-America City Award five times since 1949. This award, once called the “Nobel Prize for constructive citizenship,” is given to only 10 communities per year.
Hamburger Steaks with Onion GravyWe gave this comforting classic a needed reboot.
Just a short drive from Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, sits Aunt B’s Soul Food, a small brick building with a bright yellow awning and a rusted barbecue cooker out front. The service is cafeteria-style, and the menu changes daily.
But there’s more at play here than just good food. Tables compete for space with pairs of guitars and amplifiers, a set of conga drums, a keyboard, and more indicators of this town’s deep musical roots. Pictures and albums of famous blues and R & B singers cover the walls. Owner Thomas Woods tells me that on Sundays, customers often break into song during lunch. “Go to church, sing a hymn. Come here, sing a hymn. Sometimes they just come up and start singing.”
Woods was an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Southern Mississippi before he turned to food. “I learned [to cook] from watching my mama, beginning on a potbelly stove.” Relishing the memory for a moment, he adds, “The prettiest dang piece of cornbread I ever saw came off a potbelly stove.”
The restaurant serves mostly regulars, but tourists on the Elvis trail also stop in. “We have a lot of people who just want authentic Mississippi food.”
I ask why he named the restaurant for his aunt rather than his mother, Ollie Woods. “Because she was still alive,” he says. “There’s a thing about giving people their flowers while they’re living instead of when they’re gone. They can’t enjoy them when they’re gone.”
Woods, his brother, and his sister all surprised Aunt B, whose full name is Lula B. Harris, with the news of the restaurant together. “It was amazing to see an 80-plus-year-old black woman, with everything she’s been through here in Mississippi and Alabama, get a restaurant named after her.” After a few moments, Aunt B turned to Woods and said, “You better have it right if it’s gonna have my name on it.” He laughs out loud. “I said, ‘Yes, ma’am!’”
If You Go
Restaurant: Aunt B's Soul Food
Address: 2750 S. Green St., Tupelo, MS 38801
What we ate (and loved): Hamburger steaks, peach cobbler, banana pudding, cornbread, stewed cabbage, beans, and sweet potatoes in syrup.
Insider tip: There's live music on Friday nights, and sometimes during lunch on Sunday.