Food

Jimmy Mac’s

  • By David Bailey
  • Photography by Matt Rose

A menu with 20 different burgers is reason enough to stop by the popular Bryson City restaurant. The family feel is another.

The-Cajun-burger

When you drop by Jimmy Mac’s in downtown Bryson City, don’t be surprised if your greeter is two and a half feet tall and 3 years old. “Come with me,” Katelyn McNorrill says, handing customers a menu and flashing a grin that stretches from one little pink ear to the other.

“She’s the third generation,” says James McNorrill III — Little Jimmy to most people. “A year ago, when she was 2, she knew if she saw four heads that they wouldn’t fit at one of the booths, and she’d take them to one of our bigger tables.”

Jimmy Mac’s Restaurant — famous in these parts for its list of 20 burgers on the menu — is a dream come true for the 31-year-old McNorrill. “When I was 4 or 5 years old,” he says, “we’d come up here and go eat at this restaurant across the creek in this old run-down cabin, and I told my grandma and my mother and my dad, ‘One day, I’m going to run a restaurant up here.’”

Perfection on a bun

McNorrill got here about five years ago, after his dad, James “Big Jimmy” McNorrill Jr., decided to open another restaurant. Little Jimmy came here to help him out.

Located in what was once the old post office, Jimmy Mac’s continues a family tradition of serving award-winning burgers. Little Jimmy and his father ran several restaurants in Tampa, Florida, before Big Jimmy and his wife, Betty, sold the family restaurants there and moved to North Carolina. Rave reviews of Jimmy Mac’s predecessors adorn the walls. “Best burger in Florida,” one commentary says.

Eat one of Jimmy Mac’s creations, and you’re not inclined to argue. The two-fisted, juicy gourmet burgers are some of the best on the planet. Take the Bleu Max — a softball-size burger, seared to medium-rare juiciness, sandwiched on a fresh-baked bun; it’s got enough bleu cheese and bacon on it to make a second sandwich.

Whether it’s the Minnesota Fats with mushroom gravy, sour cream, and sauteed onions or the Cheese, Cheese, Cheese Burger with mozzarella, cheddar, and swiss, Jimmy Mac’s burgers are not for the timid but promise satisfaction across a spectrum of tastes. And beef patties aren’t the only option — all 20 variations can dress up buffalo burgers, elk burgers, and even veggie burgers.

“I’ve had all 20,” says Brad Walker, the city’s mayor. And 20’s not enough. Sometimes, he goes off the menu and creates number 21 or 22 or 23. “They’ll fix them any way you want them, and I’ve eaten the Bigger Mac,” he says, referring to the massive one-pounder. “I’m a simple person, and I like simple food and a simple atmosphere.”

In the beginning

Big Jimmy started the original Jimmy Mac’s in Florida in 1974. Back then, he didn’t know better than to pay a premium for USDA Choice chuck: “I was 24, and I had never worked in a restaurant in my life.” Customers loved his hand-patted burgers, and now he knows better than to use anything but top-choice ingredients. His restaurant thrived, and over the next three decades, Big Jimmy operated a half-dozen other restaurants, including a seafood place that seated 350.

Ask Little Jimmy how long he’s worked in his dad’s restaurants, and he’ll tell you, “since birth. … I was in one of those little chairs swinging back and forth and watching them.” 

Working shoulder-to-shoulder, father and son made each venture into a Tampa institution, but as development soared in the Sunshine State, Big Jimmy sold his Florida holdings. “We moved out of Tampa before the market crashed,” he says. “We were just lucky, not smart.”

But that left his son without a workplace — which at the time was OK by Little Jimmy, who sometimes chafed under his dad’s supervision. “My dad is very detail oriented,” he says. The lettuce garnish must be shiny-side up. The presentation of burgers involves a splaying of the lettuce, tomato, and onion “like a deck of cards with the pickle spear on top,” he says. “I always wanted to know why it had to be that way or this way.”

Big Jimmy has his reasons. “We were always getting into it, but when the day was over, so was the argument,” he says.
Even so, the son welcomed a chance to prove himself and went to work for the Bob Evans chain. He quickly moved up through the ranks and became an assistant general manager and made his dad proud.

Mountain move

Meanwhile, the elder McNorrill and his wife, Betty, moved to Bryson City and began fixing up rental properties when, one day, Big Jimmy went for lunch. Nearby was the Family Restaurant’s walk-up window with its yellowed menu board with the classic Coke logo and a decor that was virtually unchanged since it was founded as Ma Barker’s decades earlier. “He went to get a hot dog,” Betty says, “and he came back and said he was going to buy [that] restaurant.”

The idea was to lure Little Jimmy, who was talking about getting married, up to the mountains. “Kim and I were engaged,” the younger McNorrill says, “and Dad maybe thought I was calming down a little bit.”

Jimmy Mac’s opened in July 2006, and it’s been a family enterprise ever since. The younger McNorrills work at night while the grandparents watch Katelyn. During the day, the couples switch roles. When you run a restaurant, Little Jimmy says, “you don’t get out much.”

Customers become your extended family. Such as Bruce Cole, a Bryson City native who helped build a number of the bridges that span Interstate 40 for Taylor & Murphy Construction. Cole says word of mouth convinced him to sample the restaurant’s signature burgers. He loves them and has tried almost every one.

Coming from a family of five boys and three girls, Cole says Jimmy Mac’s family atmosphere also makes him feel at home. He’s not the only local who has embraced the McNorrills as his own.

When Katelyn was born, customers showered Little Jimmy and Kim with gifts, including a handmade Winnie the Pooh quilt. The couple was overwhelmed.

“You wouldn’t have got that in Tampa,” Little Jimmy says.

Eat

Jimmy Mac’s Restaurant
121 Main Street
Bryson City, N.C. 28713
(828) 488-4700
Hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 11:15 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:15 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

David Bailey is a Greensboro writer obsessed with burgers, barbecue, and blue crabs.

This entry was posted in Dining, June 2011, Mountains, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Jimmy Mac’s

  1. Melissa says:

    My Husband(the cute coastie with the blue eyes) and I (the damsel in distress) met at Jimmy Macs in Tampa in 2005 (All thanks to Betty) we were so disappointed to hear they were closing and we would no longer have that sentimental place to go where we first met. I am so happy to see we can take a road trip to NC and Re-live the best day of our lives and have a hawaiin burger!
    NC here we come!!

  2. Don Parsons says:

    Best food ever!

  3. Belinda says:

    Another Tampa native here, had the best soft shell crabs. We have our future retirement home in Murphy, NC. Will definitely stop in while taking grandsons on the train. Love that little town, no wonder that you decided to move there .

  4. Chrissy Booth says:

    When I lived in Tampa 23 years ago, Jimmy Macs was my favorite restaurant. We live in TN now and are heading back down to Tampa next week for a Bowl game and I wanted to see if it is still was still there. Such a Surprise to find out it is so close…. Next time we head home to SC from TN , we will make a detour and got to Jimmy Macs for a burger!

  5. Moocow Biker says:

    The Moocow Bikers from Fayetteville, Ga have made this a destination trip for a couple of years now. Best burgers around, by far. Better be hungry if you think you can eat one by yourself! The blue cheese burger is great. Looking forward to our next trip.

  6. Sally says:

    No stars for this place! The shrimp po boy was not worth the money. If there is no where else to eat, I would still not eat there! There isn’t enough shrimp to fill the sandwich and when I said something the owner was VERY rude. Rude enough to make me walk out of the restaurant

  7. Brian Ferber says:

    My family and I first went to Jimmy Mac’s when they forst opened. We knew it would be a place where “everyone knows your name.” We love it. Great food, great fun, great prices.

  8. Larry Katz says:

    Best burgers and steaks i’ve ever eaten. I don’t know how he can charge so little for so much but I’m happy he does! Go hungry

  9. Debbie Dopson says:

    I FELL IN LOVE WITH JIMMY MAC’S WHEN THEY WERE IN TAMPA FLORIDA. IT WAS A WEEKLY FAMILY EVENT FOR SO MANY YEARS. SO MANY GREAT DINNERS AND FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS PARTIES. WE WERE HEART BROKEN WHEN THEY LFT BUT TO MY SURPRISE I FIND THEM IN THE TINY TOWN OF BRYSON CITY ON MY JOURNY TO NYC. I WILL MAKE THAT TOWN MY STOP EVERYTIME I GO THROUGH IT.AWESOME!!!

  10. Ed Cutler says:

    Great article! Unfortunately, I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing Jimmy Mac’s in Bryson City, but I look forward to it and perhaps even getting to see Jimmy, Sr. for the first time in many years. I ate at the original Jimmy Mac’s, as well as its successor location on South Westshore Blvd. in Tampa on many occasions. Our son held his Bar Mitzvah party at the original in 1973 and everyone raved about it.

  11. Marge Stasek says:

    This is a great place to eat ! Good food with good prices and friendly waitstaff .When ever we are in town we make a point to eat there .

  12. Keith Inscoe says:

    I have eaten a Jimmy Mac’s several times now and it has always been with others in my motorcycle group. The food and service has always been great! My next trip is coming up in September and I can guarantee you I will be trying one of their burgers!

  13. Hugh Morris says:

    We went to Jimmy Mac’s for the first time today, based on your review. Thinking that a hamburger would not be enough, we ordered an appetizer, the Grouper Bits. Wow! From the review I did not realize that there was more to the menu than burgers. They have grouper, mountain trout and catfish on the menu, as well as a other items. We did order the burgers. They would have been plenty. This was the first burger I have ordered in a restaurant that had real, true Cheddar on it and not a presliced piece of goo. (If I go to a restaurant that might do that, I order steak.) But as good as the burger was, the next time I head that way I’m ordering the grouper…or the trout…or…

Leave a Comment:

Comments are moderated and once approved will appear in the space above. Your name will appear as you provide it in the block below. Your email address will not appear or be shared. Required fields are marked *.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>