Burgers and burger places have a character. Ask for mushroom-swiss burger, and you’ll have an idea of what you get. Ask for some frou-frou avocado and arugula monstrosity, and you’ll have an idea of the place and the burger, too. Which makes the Depot Deli and Grill in Helena kind of like taking a trip to the Island of Sodor.
For the uninitiated, the Island of Sodor is home to many characters – Thomas, Percy, Sir Topham Hatt, and a host of steamies, diesels, cars, trucks and people – associated with Thomas and Friends, the children’s other-world where trains are kind of people, too. It’s wholesome, kid fun in which, luckily, no one get hurts. But every train has a character; each is slightly different … in a keep-kids-interested-and-force-parents-into-buying-the-latest-new-train-on-the-island-vortex.
So, when I visited a place that actually called itself a depot, I thought, “What train would this place be?” Now, to start, we could play a little game and go to some of my old reviews and assign a train to the place (if you know the show and the trains, this will be fun!):
- Green Valley Drugs – Toby
- Mugshots – James
- Five Guys – Mavis
- Tony’s – Rosie
- Chez Fonfon – Sir Topham Hatt
And without considering that his name is a bit misleading for a burger place, the Depot could only be Salty. Now, let’s clear this up, straightway. The meal wasn’t salty …
Salty – and its doppelganger burger existence in the Depot Grill – is an easy-going, likable diesel. He was brought to the island by that
corpulent but enlightened despot, Topham Hatt. And Salty either entertains or drives his really useful friends nuts with the constant stories, sea shanties and an overall cheery attitude. He’s hard working, blue collar and appreciated because he’s proven himself to his quarry-mates – Bill, Ben and Mavis.
Depot Grill sits in-between train tracks and the dam/levee in old Helena. It’s all kind of throw back. Downtown Helena is a bit of an oasis in what would otherwise be yet another desert suburban bedroom community with as much fun as a nomadic clan of anesthetic-eschewing dental surgeons.
The inside is quaint, with license plates and decorated dollar bills all around the register. Outside, a large covered porch looks over the Cahaba River. It’s a nice scene. And honestly, that really makes this place. It’s hard working. It’s easy-going and fun. But it is its own unique little place in the midst of Helena-dom. Atmosphere takes this place a long way.
As for the burger, it’s much better than good. I ordered my burger Baptist – almost going all the way, but stopping just shy.
It was good, very good. It was served on a slightly sweet kaiser roll. The meat was the clear taste leader, along with the bun. It came with what you’d expect – lettuce, pickles, etc. And they offered several varieties – smaller and larger – on the menu. As testament to the burger there, I came at nearly 3 p.m. on a Saturday. It was still busy, and most everyone had ordered one of their delicious burgers.
At this point in my life, I view fries like the creators of Thomas use the Troublesome Trucks. They don’t always have a lot of character
individually. They are stock characters — the guy-in-the-red-uniform-on-Star-Trek (but no one get hurt on Thomas). Depot had crinkle fries, uninspiring maybe, but I will eat them … all of them. At least they don’t laugh maniacally like the Troublesome Trucks.
Meat – 8.0 … Like Salty, I have no idea where it came from. It just showed up after I ordered it on my plate. By all appearances, it was hand-made. By taste, it was delicious hamburger meat of unclear origin. But it was done just enough and was tasty, so I moved on.
Bun and fixins’ — 8.0 … The kaiser roll is a nice touch on a decent burger
Sides – 7.5 … The Troublesome Truck usually giggle a lot and talk nonsense. I consider frozen crinkle fries the Troublesome Trucks of the fry world; they are primarily useful as a ketchup delivery system.
Service & Presentation – 8.0 … Order at the window and pick up your food when they call your number. And get your own drinks. It makes me think that I am a very useful patron … and that I should somehow get a tip, too.
Ambiance – 9 … The porch was nice, while I’m sure that it could also be unbearable hot as it does get around here. But with fall in the air, this
place might just be a great hang-out.
Bonus X – +1 … The view is exceptional. Wanna watch the dam? Check. See people frolicking in the water? Check. Watch a train? Check. See people getting married at the wedding chapel? Check. Watch as people get pulled over for enjoying Helena at a bit too brisk a pace? Helena has it all.
Rating — A+