Some towns are known for a signature dish. Corinth, Mississippi is known for the slug burger. It was called the slug burger because it consisted mostly of meat substitutes that during the depression could bring the price down to a nickel (or a “slug” as it sometimes called). Auburn is renowned for lemonade from Toomer’s Corner. Nashville features hot chicken. Louisville, KY popularized the hot brown sandwich. Chattanooga has the Moon Pie. Decatur, courtesy of Bob Gibson, is known for its unfairly maligned white barbecue sauce.
And Scottsboro? By popular agreement, we have two offerings closely associated with the town: the Frito pie and the red slaw dog.
The Red Slaw Dog
This investigation of our two local specialties began with a small group of people who recalled red slaw dogs in the 1950s and who still enjoy the delicacy at Payne’s Soda Fountain today. Our 60 and 70 year-olds became interested in re-engineering a reason facsimile of the dish they remembered being served at three local sources: Reid’s Sundries (220 S Broad Street, two doors down from the Ritz Theater) where the local version of the delicacy probably originated, Lay’s 5&10 (on the square on East Laurel Street), and at Payne’s Drug Store (on the corner of Laurel and Broad for well over 100 years) where the red slaw dog has been a staple for decades.
There is general agreement that the first red slaw dog was served at Reid’s Sundries, where the owner’s wife, Elizabeth, was the keeper of the recipe. Reid’s Sundries had first been located in the Proctor Building at 205A Market Street, home to Pine Brothers Coffee today, and was originally owned and operated by Jim Holland. Jim Holland sold the business, then called Drug Sundries, to Scottsboro native and long-term mayor John T. Reid just before WWII.
Shortly after buying the business, Reid placed a sign on the front door reading “Gone to Hitler’s Funeral” and shuttered the business until his return from the service when he moved to Broad Street. It’s not known whether the red slaw dog was on the menu of Holland’s business at the time of the transfer.
From its believed origin at Reid’s Sundries, the red slaw dog spread to Lay’s and to Payne’s, although no one is certain which of those two businesses was the second to adopt the dish after Reid’s.
There’s also no general agreement as to how closely the three recipes resembled one another in taste or how the flavor might have changed over the years. Some respondents say that Paynes’ red slaw dogs taste exactly as they did in the 1950’s. Others claim there are differences.
Stanley Woodall, whose father was the pharmacist at Payne’s for years and who was in the store throughout his childhood, says that the recipe has definitely evolved. The version he remembers was thicker and more mustardy. Current management at Payne’s concedes that the recipe was once lost in a transition of ownership, but the recipe used today was quickly and accurately recreated by employees in the panic that followed.
An online appeal yielded four recipes, at least one of which was used to make the slaw in bulk at Lay’s (and calling for 10 heads of cabbage as the base) and one from Reid’s. Each of the four recipes specified exactly the same four base ingredients; however, only the one from Lay’s mentions the measure of each of the ingredients. One recipe directed that the ingredients should be added until “the color is right.” One submitter swore us to secrecy.
At least one contributor specified that the brand of ketchup was critical, saying that Heinz ketchup was the preferred base. As we attempted to recreate the original, we tried both Heinz and Hunt’s, and Heinz was the clear winner. We thought that Hunt’s had a slight smokiness that detracted from the desired tanginess and vinegary taste of the final product.
We tested our slaw on lightly toasted buns with Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs. Here’s our best recreation:
1/4 head of cabbage (about 8 oz by weight), chopped fine
7 tablespoons Heinz ketchup (or more to taste and color)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
4 “glubs” Tabasco sauce
We found that when our slaw was first mixed, it was too crunchy and tasted too strongly of cabbage. It takes an overnight rest to make the texture and taste come together for the perfect slaw.
There is no evidence that the red slaw dog originated in Scottsboro, but it’s the dish that our returning expatriates think of when they come home. And there’s really no substitute for Payne’s version, especially given the 1950s ambience of the soda fountain that serves it.
The Frito Pie
In its early days, Dairy Queen stores were not bound by a set menu or by a supply chain dictated by the franchiser. The independent stores were free to introduce their own versions of traditional offerings and to devise unique dishes.
In the early sixties, Scottsboro’s Dairy Queen, located at Five Points (518 E Willow St.), was owned by a Fort Payne resident named Wallace Ingram, and managed by Ola Mae Wood. When Ola’s husband, Eddy, returned from the service, the couple acquired the Dairy Queen from Ingram and set about refining the store’s specialties: footlong chili dogs, steak sandwiches, parfaits, and what was generally accounted as the best chocolate milkshake in town.
But nothing equals the Dairy Queen’s Frito pie in the public’s fond memories of the place.
Vivienne Atkins was the first to prepare one and offer it for manager Wallace Ingram’s approval. She recalls that he immediately promoted it to the menu and priced the dish at 35 cents. Savanah Isbell Welch, who began working for the Woods in 1962, dispels the claim we’d hoped to make that the Frito pie originated in Scottsboro, though. She says the pie predated their first serving it. Wikipedia states that a Frito/chili combination was first included in a cookbook in 1949 and that it was served at the Casa de Fritos, a restaurant in Disneyland, in 1955.
The Dairy Queen’s Frito pie consisted of a small bag of Fritos, split open along the side, smothered with Eddy Woods’ chili, and topped with shredded cheese and onions. The bag was wrapped in a napkin with a plastic parfait spoon stuck in the top. In later years, Frito pies were served in a styrofoam cup and then in a cardboard tray of the sort used to serve French fries.
Shortly after the Dairy Queen introduced the dish, the Dairy Twist (at 720 S Broad), owned by Bud Whitaker, began serving Frito pies. The Dairy Twist still has devotees who claim that the Twist’s version was the equal of the Dairy Queen’s.
A few years after the Woods bought the Dairy Queen, they left the Dairy Queen franchise. They repainted the sign atop the building to remove the curlicue on top of the soft serve ice cream, thereby altering the trademarked familiar franchise logo. The name was changed to the Five Points Dairy Bar, but the name change didn’t catch on; people persisted in calling it the Dairy Queen, and frequently still do 50 years later.
The Five Points Dairy Bar burned about three years ago. As far as we know, no commercial restaurant serves the Frito pie in Scottsboro today. Sonic Drive-In served a version until fairly recently, but today serves only a chili/Frito “wrap.”
A recent Facebook discussion confirms that many of us still make the delicacy at home. A dollop of sour cream and chopped fresh tomatoes are now frequent additions to the traditional ingredients.