It’s a piece of Mobile’s history. Colonel Dixie has a strong footing in our fair city as a landmark for hot dog enthusiasts. The dated building still plays host to those who search for long forgotten traditions, nostalgic tales from youth for the “back in my day” crowd, and the nouveaux society who would love to fit in with a scene that was largely before their time. Count me in as the latter.
I am approaching the 20 year mark as a Mobile resident, and I am ashamed to say I had never eaten at a Colonel Dixie. I understand its role was in the formative years of fast food in this town as a locally owned and operated chain that even gave Ronald McDonald a run for his money. Sadly we are down to only one Colonel Dixie, the last man standing in a half-century run, and it resides at Government Street and Pleasant Valley Road.
To better understand Colonel Dixie you must also understand the back story. It reads in the voice of Paul Winfield of the old “City Confidential” programs and begins something like, “Mobile, Alabama: a sweltering city by the bay where rich and poor find solace from the heat in a glass of sweet iced tea and a taste of a Colonel Dixie dog. But on that day in 1980 someone had a taste of a different nature – a taste … for murder.”
In the early ‘60s Colonel Dixie was established by Mobilian Richard Moore and partner Paul Leverett. Success was easy for the new fast food chain, and as Leverett climbed the rungs of society he eventually thought it easier to do without his better half. Leverett went to prison for hiring a hit man to murder his wife in 1980. He was fortunate enough to make it to Farquhar Cattle Ranch but another inmate shot and killed him after bludgeoning the warden with a shotgun.
So now that we have the history of Colonel Dixie we should be astounded that it survived such turmoil. Give credit where credit is due, if you come out of a situation like that and still make it in the restaurant business, then you must be doing something right. Rob and I decided that maybe it was time to see just what that “right” was.
We met one afternoon at the last remaining Colonel Dixie with hopes for a meal that would bring to mind a snapshot of our city’s history. The place is pretty clean, but it looks a little run down. I feel it is only fair that we sample a large cross section of the menu. However, it isn’t the kind of cuisine you’d take home and savor later. We had to sample and either eat it or throw it out.
Rob and I both were eying the chili cheeseburgers. They have versions with double meat, triple meat, gigantic and boastful, but I asked if they came in smaller versions. They do. It’s a good thing they were small. First, I had a lot of items to taste. Secondly, they were not very good. We had fairly low expectations, but were hoping to at least get something as good as carnival or state fair quality. I like a thin patty hamburger on a small bun but this one was lacking flavor and the bread was a bit stale. I’d say the burgers are a no-go.
I couldn’t help but notice the sign that read “Now serving fried chicken” on the door. I ordered a two-piece dark and it came with a choice of sides. In this case I chose red beans and rice. I chose poorly. The red beans were soupy and plain amounting to a can of beans poured over rice. The chicken was another story. The leg and thigh we received were plenty good. I would be happy to stop in and get some of the salty goodness found in low brow fried chicken. If there was a strong suit this was it.
French fries at Colonel Dixie are your run of the mill crinkle cut fries. Kind of a no harm, no foul approach to cooking potatoes. They aren’t going out on a limb with anything fancy, but nobody is going home complaining.
Finally, what we came here for was ours, all ours, the Colonel Dixie Dog. Behold the normal sized cylindrical sample of Americana complete with chili, sauerkraut, onions, and pickles. Yes, the chili-no-beans is a little watery as it was on the burgers, but I must admit I enjoyed the dog. It’s a decent version, if you are into that sort of thing. Is it historical? Life changing? No. But it is pretty good. I wouldn’t say it compares to Al’s Hot Dogs or Dew Drop Inn, but it’ll do in a pinch.
I think Colonel Dixie is at a bit of a crossroads. They could either continue limping on down the same path maybe selling a little chicken and a couple of hot dogs, or they could renovate an already crumbling facility and retrain their focus. I don’t think any amount of nostalgia will bring them back to an “A” game. I’d love to see them at least try a little harder. Mobile is not going to be known for West Indies Salad and Dixie Dogs.
2780 Government St.
Mobile, AL 36606