How does an old dive generate new buzz? Taking a two-year hiatus seems to have worked well for The Box. The old-line burger joint, originally known as The Band Box and housed in a squat, windowless cinderblock building on South Main, closed in the summer of 2010 to make way for a USA Drug store. At the time, owner Kelly Joiner said he would reopen in a matter of months. As the months stretched into years, we'd just about come to grips with the idea that the restaurant wouldn't live past 62 years.
But in July, The Box returned in new digs, the former home of an electrical supply company. Unless you sentimentalize grime, the new location is a significant improvement on the old one. It's airy-er with big windows in the front and tall ceilings. The walls are bright red and decorated with the likes of a giant Razorback painting, salvaged bumper-sticker-plastered refrigerator doors from the Main Street location and a framed picture of a dancing burger and fries below the words "I didn't climb to the top of the food chain for tofu." A J-shaped granite-bar, lined with shiny pressed-tin panels, overlooks a prep area and the griddle — A.K.A., the soul of The Box — brought along (of course) from Main Street.
So how's the new Box stack up against the old one, as well other burgers in town? Pretty favorably. They're still as juicy, well-spiced, appropriately charred and irregularly shaped as ever. We got our hamburger ($5.25 or $7.75 with fries and a drink) with everything on it — mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion — with grilled onions and jalapenos added for extra (bacon and chili are also options; all extras cost 50 cents each), and will likely make that order again.
On another visit, we were drawn to the stuffed cheeseburger ($7.25), which turned out to be not much different than a plain ol' cheeseburger. It's apparently The Box's attempt at what folks up Nawth call a "Juicy Loosey" which is, according to the New Jersey-born companion we had tagging along that go-round, two burger patties sealed together around a core of sliced cheese so the molten cheese doesn't goosh out until you take the first bite. The Box doesn't seem to have time for sealin', so what we essentially got was a double cheeseburger with a lot of American cheese tucked between the patties (hot, Swiss and cheddar are also available). That was kind of a letdown given that it's set apart as its own species on the menu, but it didn't hurt the flavor. Like The Box's standard burgers, our stuffed cheeseburger was big and tasty. It was enough to take us back to the days of hanging at the dairy bar, especially when paired with a side of their tasty, handcut fries.
Less successful: the chili cheese dog ($5.50 with fries) and chili cheese fries ($3). The dog itself was good and considerably more substantial than most, but the chili was more like runny chili sauce and the cheese looked and tasted like the yellow glop that comes with nachos at the fair. But, really, who would get anything but a burger at The Box?
My wife and I love going there for lunch. Their soup is a great start…