Bristol, TN: Classic Sliders at Blue Circle
Editor's note: Please welcome Jed Portman to AHT! Jed was an intern at Serious Eats HQ over the summer, but even though he's no longer in the office with us [sniffle], he's still checking in from the South with reviews of sandwiches, sodas, and now burgers.
333 Bluff City Highway Bristol, TN 37620 (map); 423-764-4732
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Wafer-thin patties with onions, pickles, and mustard make for textbook sliders. After a meal here, you'll wish the unpretentious Blue Circle was still part of a chain.
Price: Slider, 80¢; w/cheese, +15¢
Notes: Open Mon. to Fri., 7:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Man, does Blue Circle hit the spot on a cold, rainy day.
Once upon a time, Blue Circle was a chain with a few dozen locations in Tennessee and a trademark hamburger slider known as the "Circle Burger." I wasn't around back then, but I can write with some authority about the sliders at the last remaining location, in Bristol, Tennessee.
A Circle Burger costs 80¢, 95¢ with cheese, and is close to bite-size. It comes on a chewy potato bun with a slice of pickle, a little mustard, a sprinkling of sautéed onions, and a half-ounce wafer of beef that registers just barely in each bite.
Blue Circle makes its sliders the traditional way. First, the cook drops a patty on the griddle. She salts it, peppers it, sprinkles it with rehydrated onions, and flips it. Then she stacks the two halves of the bun—bottom first, then top—on the meat. As the onions—now on the bottom of the pile—cook, they release flavor up into the meat and the bread.
As a result, the Circle Burger tastes more like steamy bread and onion than meat. That's not a bad thing. I could have eaten a dozen or more, especially as the rain kept up, but had to settle for a sampling-size plate of three.
Those other Blue Circle locations were shuttered years ago by a few bad business deals. This location caught fire back in 1996 and closed for three months while the kitchen and dining area were rebuilt. But it's carrying on, unpretentious as ever, tucked away on the old two-lane Bluff City Highway just as it has been since 1964. Get to Bristol and try it while you can, especially if it's cold out and you're hungry.
And take note, good people of East Tennessee: Blue Circle offer curbside service. The only thing more satisfying than a good slider is that slider handed to you through your driver's-side window.