There are certain things that always get me into trouble. Getting into silly arguments. Telling me I can’t do something. An all-you-can-eat bacon buffet. But topping the list has to be the “expectation” thing.
You see, we can’t go through life and not have expectations. They come naturally and can be a pain in the patootie. We expect this thing from a job, or that from someone else. We expect our children will clean their room … or that people just get us. Expectations move us toward an assumption of what will be; a quandary I now face as I review a recent trip to Hamburger Heaven.
Hamburger Heaven (HH) is an iconic Birmingham burger place, both a local favorite and a place I’ve eaten at probably 20 times over the years. It started some 25 years ago as one, lone burger stand between Irondale and Roebuck. Today, the original still stands, and there are additional locations in Homewood, on 280, in Gardendale and Tarrant.
Hamburger Heaven is a place that states, in its name, that it is a divine realm of hamburgery. It was a winner of the best burger award – 2008. It is, rightly so, proud to serve a good hamburger. And my memory of eating there has been good – good family times, good food and always a surprise, like their shakes.
But following my quest trip (which was to the HH on 280), I left feeling … ehhh. I wasn’t in love. I wasn’t even in lust. The meat on my burger was fresh, but way overcooked. The fries are not anything to crow about – bagged and blandish. I ordered banana pudding that should have been called “vanilla wafers and pudding,” because the existence of a “banana” in that dessert would need to have been authenticated by a professional.
Not everyone in attendance with me had the same experiences. Another person’s burger was less overdone. The ice cream was tasty (and I was kicking myself for being a banana pudding sucka!). People swear by other stuff there—the cornballs, the shakes, even the hot dogs are good.
So, in answer to the question — “Was the meal just disappointing or were my expectations too high?” – I have decided to answer, “Yes.”
It was disappointing. I’ve had better meals there in the past. With a quest comes a twinge of good and the bad – and in this one, ya’ get one chance. But my expectations for HH were also unrealistic. While HH looks the part of a hamburger joint, it really isn’t (at least not any more). While it has integrity in terms of freshness and doing things their way, it makes compromises, like the fries.
I realized that my primary issue is that HH is less of a homey, burger haven, and it’s more of a not-so-fast, fast-food, sit-down place. Heat lamps. A drive-thru. Assembly lines. Signs selling their secret sauce (which tastes strangely like Sneaky Pete’s sauce).
So, if you’re looking for a haven from most fast food, a place that is local, a place that is reasonably priced, and you want – included in that list – a typically good burger, with some ice cream or onion rings, then (forgive me, Belinda Carlise) Heaven is a place with six locations around Birmingham. But if you’re looking for the best, then come back to Earth and join the rest us as we continue the quest.
Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)
Meat – 6.5 … It means something that a place touts hand making patties and the freshness of their meat. But mine could have also carried a “cooked so long that no germs be here” seal … it twas a devout Puritan patty – honest and noble in its birth, structured but overworked as an adult, and ultimately, too grim and serious.
Bun and fixins’ 7 – The buns are “lubed” up in some machine that leaves it a bit greasy. I’m personally not a big fan of the special sauce.
Sides – 6.5 … Zzzzzzz. Wake me when a real side shows …
Presentation and service – 7 … It’s an order at a register place. They did mess up our order (some of us, who will remain nameless, insist on a having a burger that’s dressed in a bikini of cheese and condiments only). But fixed it quickly and without any hassle.
Ambiance – 8 … I do like HH, and the décor and the place is not frou frou. It’s burgery – with pics of The Bear and Shug on the wall.
Bonus X – +1 … I’m gonna put the vanilla wafer and pudding thing out of my mind. I like the ice cream. And they do have an AWESOME shake. BTW – all kids meals come with ice cream!