A TOURIST IN MY OWN TOWN: THE BEST BURGERS, AT LEAST ACCORDING TO HER DAD

Who knows what would happen if you blind folded Emily. You know make her take a taste test and give her honest opinion. Maybe she’d change her mind if she was exposed to a burger from Winnies and PT’s, the Frontier or any dozen plus bars and taverns in town that have their own local menu. Who knows what she would say.

But ask her, with her eyes wide open, and there is no competition. For her Merrit’s is the best burger in town.
“My dad used to take me here as a kid,” she tells me as we pull up to the drive-in off of Carolina Beach Road. “I grew up in Bolivia and to me going to Wilmington automatically meant going to Merrit’s.”

Emily Watson is 38-years-old now. She moved to Virginia with her husband and kids in 2012. Five years later her dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Three weeks after that, he was dead.

“It was a whirlwind. It just happened so quickly. I still haven’t had time to process it all.”

Emily will tell you her dad, Tom, was a man’s man. He was a contractor, always in work boots and an occasional hard hat. On the weekends, he would frequently have a reason to go back into town, pick up supplies, drop off a check, the kind of things that a small business owner never has time for during the week.

Emily liked to tag along on those trips. This was her time alone with him, the times when she felt closest to her dad, maybe even the times when she felt the most loved. Typically, the older siblings stayed home. They were too cool for the trips. And so, they never knew what they were missing out on.

Because, if Emily behaved, and never complained about how long things were taking, then at the end of his errands Dad would take her to that red, white and blue building where the waitresses came directly up to the truck.

Did you share a place with your father? Many of us did; a burger joint, a breakfast restaurant, a donut shop. For me it was a Coney Island in downtown Detroit. It wasn’t the food that made those places so special. It was more about the secret, a pact between the two of you, a promise that no one was going to tell Mom.

Back at Merrit’s, Emily orders for me: a cheeseburger, fries and a Sprite. “It’s what I always get here.”

She doesn’t remember the last time she made one of those trips with her dad. It was probably in middle school. Sadly, like her older siblings, eventually she became too cool.

When the food comes, our conversation completely stops. Emily becomes choked up without ever taking a bite.

So who knows what burger she’d pick if you blinded folder her. But really, who cares? Taste tests only tell you part of the story. Sometimes a meal is less about the food and more the memories. For her, Merrit’s is the best burger town. And who are we to disagree?

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