I can’t completely explain why I love the burgers at Tony’s. When I was a kid, I had a similar experience, not with food, but with television. The 80’s were the peak of pointless, scripted programming. While these shows can’t hold a candle in the mind-numbing qualities of Jersey Shore, the Bachelorette or Toddlers and Tiaras, etc, I was mesmerized by the likes of Riptide, Manimal, Dukes of Hazzard* and … the A-Team.
* Though I should note that the Dukes of Hazzard did reach an unwatchable level when the brain boxes at CBS replaced the leads in the show with other redneck cousins. Maybe we can start a movement that when a show makes a stupid move like replacing its lead characters (Bo and Luke Duke in this case) we can say that the show has now “Coy and Vanced.” **
** Similar to how “jumping the shark” is used when a show, like the Fonz in Happy Days, makes a creative waterskiing jump from novelty to stupidity.
Tony’s (located near the intersection of Valleydale Road and Hwy 31 in the Publix Shopping Center) is like the A-Team for me. I can’t completely tell you why I like it. The show made about as much sense as having Mr. T lead a Girl Scout Troop. Ex-special forces guys going around doing good deeds, shooting massive amounts of ammo and no one ever getting shot. Four guys living in a van. Plots as predictable as every episode of CSI or American Idol.
But I would still watch. Every week. The only difference between Tony’s and the A-Team? Tony’s is a lot more satisfying.
What I can tell you are things that really draw me to Tony’s. First, it is a true family restaurant – family in execution and ownership. On any given day (they’re open M-Sat, breakfast and lunch), you find the owner and his wife working the grill.
Tony’s has a burger/grill pedigree, it’s just not the one most people assume. Joe, of the Pelham Tony’s, has connections to Sneaky Pete’s owners, but he’s not related to the Tony of the now-closed Tony’s Terrific Hot Dogs in downtown Birmingham.
After a few visits, you’ll notice that the clientele at Tony’s consists of many regulars. There is no “Welcome to Moe’s.” But you might hear, “How’s your momma?” or catch Joe’s wife trying to make someone’s kid laugh.
Does Tony’s use only heirloom tomatoes? Only local cattle, hand-fed grass clipping from a velvet glove? Inspect every potato?
In a word, no. But when you eat a burger there, you won’t care, either. It is just – hands down – one of the best you’ll find in the area. The whole experience is one of the best. I’m also throwing a shameless plug for a good dog here. That aside, man I love me some Tony’s Jumbo Cheeseburger.
At Tony’s, you can watch them put your massive burger together. The meat is fresh, thrown on a grill, seasoned appropriately. The Jumbo Cheeseburger is straightforward – lettuce, pickles, tomato, onions on a sesame seed bun. He goes heavier on the mayo.
And the first taste is just divine. It’s a guilty pleasure of life. It’s one of those places where the burger is so good, so deliciously decadent in its simplicity that I look past possible shortcomings of the place.
And that’s where I understand it also. The burger is terrific. I’d put Tony’s burger up against Chez Fonfon, Stadium Grill and Green Valley Drugs. But I go back because eating there and being a part of the life of the owners and the people you meet there is like going home.
And that’s part of the allure of a burger to me. It’s not completely about going out and finding the greatest pieces and assembling the Yankees of the burger world (the best team you could buy). Sometimes, instead of a white table cloth and a polite waiter, I want an owner who comes over to my table to see how my kids are doing and pulls out a photo of her baby to show. It more than welcoming; it’s feeling like you are a part of the place.
You see, we can’t always put into words why some place makes us feel at home, but we know that comfort when we feel it. And that, my fellow burger lovers, is as organic an experience as you’ll likely ever have.
Meat – 9.25 … Hand-made patties, cooked on a grill to just the right amount of greasy goodness. The meat has a good, garlic/onion-salt flavor. I don’t know how they do it so consistently, but the mix of the burger, the seasonings on it and just a touch of mayo is burger magic. This place gets the Samuel L. Jackson “Tasty Burger” seal of approval.
Bun and fixins’ 8.5 – Nothing fancy here, but if you do it right, it doesn’t need to be fancy. They also serve a tasty bacon cheeseburger here.
Sides – 7.5 … Huh??? When I was a kid, sometimes when I had to mow the grass before my favorite shows came on, I’d run out and literally run behind the push mower to get through quickly (which leaves a really bad mowing job). I usually eat my crinkle fries first, here … for similar reasons.
Service & Presentation – 8.5 … You might think that they wouldn’t get a lot of points for presentation, but to me, if you run a short-order grill and you serve things on throw-away plates and paper, that’s fine. And the people are the nicest.
Ambiance – 9 … Did you just read the review?
Bonus X – +1 … “Bless me, father … I confess that some of my children visit Tony’s and don’t eat a burger. They eat the hot dog. But I can’t make myself order a burger and dog at the same time for myself – though I REALLY WANT TO — it seems too sinful.”
Rating — AA-