By Carolyn Drinkard
Turn off Highway 25 onto County Road 30 in Marengo County, go about 2 miles, and you’ll find a small country store, sitting right beside the road. This is Curry’s Country Store. Located in the heart of Magnolia, Curry’s is a community gathering place, where residents can “pick up” basic items such as milk and bread or buy gas for their vehicles or tractors, without having to drive many miles into larger areas such as Linden, Demopolis or Thomasville. Most outsiders are not even aware of the store but, if you enjoy good, downhome, Southern cooking, this is the place you want to visit.
Loretta Curry opened Curry’s Country Store in 1984. The original store had a kitchen area inside, but Curry did not use it at first, because she had a full-time job with the Extension service in Linden.
“I spent 26 years with the Extension service, and I won every award they gave,” Curry said proudly. “I have 45 plaques recognizing my work.” In fact, Curry rose from program assistant to agent assistant in her years of service.
“I stayed longer than most of the supervisors,” she laughed. “Often, I had to teach them, because I had been there longer, but I thoroughly enjoyed my job.”
During her tenure with the Extension service, she worked with many different programs. For 10 years, Curry went into homes, teaching underserved women how to use commodities to put together healthy meals for their families. After this, she taught prenatal care to pregnant teens. Her favorite assignments, however, were those involving children. She enjoyed working in the schools with disadvantaged students.
Another favorite activity for her was summer camp.
“I loved to go to camp with the 4-H kids,” she explained. “My heart was there, because I loved people.”
It didn’t take long for stories of Loretta Curry’s cooking talents to spread throughout Marengo County. Like many other good cooks, she learned from her grandmother. As one of 13 siblings, she started cooking for her family before she was 10. So many community members begged her to open the kitchen at her store that she finally agreed, but only on Fridays and Saturdays, after 5 p.m. At first, she served burgers, fish sandwiches and fries. Even though all food items were carryout, the small restaurant was quite popular with locals. As time passed, more people heard about Loretta’s Country Kitchen, and her reputation for good, country cooking brought in customers from other counties
In 2013, a fire destroyed the original Curry’s Country Store. Customers were so distraught they pleaded with Curry to rebuild. She moved across the road and used a drawing to reconstruct her new store.
“One of my customers gave me a pencil drawing of the old store,” Curry said, “so I told the carpenter to build it just like it was. He used that picture to know what to do.”
The drawing now hangs prominently in the new building.
Curry planned her new kitchen in detail. She put it in the back of the store, with an area for customers to wait after ordering their food. A love seat and a recliner give customers a place to sit while watching Curry work her magic.
Curry estimated that 80 percent of her business is call-ins, because this eliminates waiting time. Recently, however, one of her customers built her a large, barn-board farm table to sit parallel to the waiting area. Jacques Prescott said he felt sorry for people who had been eating their food on the back of pickup trucks.
“I saw men in suits, sitting on the tailgates of their trucks, so I convinced Loretta to let me build her a table that would seat at least 10 people.” The newest addition has recycled wood that is over 100 years old, and it has been a big hit with customers.
Loretta’s Country Kitchen first offered burgers, fish sandwiches and fries. As more customers came, Loretta gradually added to her menu: shrimp, catfish and whiting boxes; BLT and bologna sandwiches; and more chicken favorites such as wings, tenders and nuggets as well as gizzards and livers. She also added sides such as fried okra, sweet potato fries, coleslaw and corn nuggets. Even with more choices, the burgers are still her most requested items.
“Lots of folks call them ‘Curry Burgers,’” she laughed. “Some even say they are ‘Loretta Burgers.’ It don’t matter. To me, they’re just burgers.”
Those who have tried Curry’s burgers rave about them. Prescott, a city councilman from Thomasville, has business interests in this area. He recalled his first taste of these iconic goodies.
“It had to be the best burger that I ever ate,” he said. “I watched them cook it and put fresh veggies on it, like old school.”
Prescott and many others posted their pleasure on Facebook, and the word was out.
Curry’s customers declare that once you try her burgers, you’ll know they are special. Curry, however, said she has no secret recipe. She uses real ground beef, rolls the patties herself and seasons with only Gold Medal Seasoning Salt. “That’s it,” she laughed. “No secrets, and no black pepper!”
Curry slathers mayo and ketchup on both sides of the bun, and then adds onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, bacon or cheese, to the specifications of each customer.
“I just put enough on there to get the flavor of the beef,” she admitted. “You don’t get a dry burger here. You get a flavorful, juicy burger!”
Her prices are another treat! A Curry Burger starts at just $3.25, with a cheeseburger going for $3.50.
“Folks tell me my prices are too low,” she laughed, “but I can still make a little and give my customers some good food. My greatest pleasure is when people enjoy what I cook.”
Curry’s burgers are so popular that people drive for miles just to get them. In fact, it is very rare to find a small country store that sells over 400 burgers in one weekend, but that is just the start for her.
“It’s the best burger I’ve ever eaten,” said Kathryn Friday, who lives in Linden and serves as the vice chairman of the Heart of Marengo Chamber of Commerce. “When my children and grandchildren come to visit, they want a ‘Loretta Burger,’ so we drive down. “
Curry has two employees in the kitchen with her on Thursdays, and three on Fridays and Saturdays. Another employee works the store register, tending to customers, taking orders and answering the phone. Curry herself handles the cooking.
She loves to cook good, Southern home dishes, which people no longer have time to fix. She told about visiting her daughter and grandchildren in Maryland.
“I always take a whole suitcase full of food,” she laughed.
To Curry, this means collard greens, chicken wings, sweet potato pie filling, chicken and dressing, peas and Conecuh sausages, which her daughter couldn’t get.
Loretta’s Country Kitchen may be off the beaten track, but that does not stop customers from finding it. During hunting season, visiting hunters eat here regularly. Loggers, county and state crews and railroad workers often stop by. Home health and hospice nurses say they enjoy coming to this area, because they can get Curry’s cooking and complete paperwork, while eating in their cars.
Loretta’s Country Kitchen is also an iconic throwback to a time when neighbors really “visited” with one another.
“When you go into Loretta’s, it is the neatest place in the world,” Friday explained. “While waiting for your food, people really ‘visit’ with one another, like they used to do in the Old South. You may not know a soul in the crowd but you will before you leave.”
Since 2018, the hours for Curry’s Country Store are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Curry offers only carryout service, and she recommends that customers call ahead, so they will not have to wait. Weekends are especially busy.
For Southern cooking the way your grandmother did it, head on down to Loretta’s Country Kitchen in Magnolia, where the grill is always hot, the staff is always friendly and Curry’s food is always good.