In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Green Knight challenges Arthur’s knights to swap a blow with him. After Gawain cuts his head off, the green bad boy picks it up and leaves, one of the lessons being — in that quest as it is in mine — that not everything is always as it seems. Appearances can deceive. In the end, patience, dedication and humility pay off. Yes, it is humility — to acknowledge that beauty, truth and joy can come from unexpected places.
Stadium Grill in Bessemer is the kind of place that my parents would have never gone. It looks on the outside like a class-A shack. It sits directly across 4th Ave. from the tongue-twisting, Snitz Snider Stadium, the home of the Jess Lanier Purple Tigers (until they high-tailed it to the Bessemer burbs and the new stadium near Academy Dr.). The parking lot is gravel-ish and paved-ish … depending on where you park. This ain’t the Summit … heck, it’s not even Wal-Mart.
But when you walk in … it’s homespun beautiful, a burger dive in Bessemer. The inside of Stadium Grill (if you can, here’s a link to their FB page)is about as burger jointy as you’ll find. You can get beer. You can get a soft drink in a can. You can get what is supposedly a great rib-eye sandwich. But bring cash. And bring a picture of yourself. And get ready for a great burger.
The walls and the booths at this small place are adorned with photos of people who have patronized this Bessemer icon. You can see from the pictures that the place has been around several days. The tables are worn. The walls are dark. Which makes the flat screen tvs on the walls at once predictable and completely out of place at the same time.
They also boast of a great burger. And to be honest, it doesn’t disappoint. While I was there, I saw them bring in their meat; they’d bought it from a local grocery store. I ordered a regular cheeseburger and taking the waitress’ suggestion, opted for the hand-cut fries.
The burger was first-rate, terrific even. The patty was knobby and clearly had been hand patted and was not overcooked. I asked for medium, and it came that way — juicy and eventually overwhelming the bun. The meat was fresh, cooked perfectly and seasoned just enough to be interesting. The fixings with it were what you’d expect also.
I liked the place the moment I opened the door and saw the pay phone still inside, the familiarity and warmth of the owners, patrons and employees. I considered professing courtly love to it when I saw the pictures on the walls and my burger. But they had me – 100 percent – when I got the fries. Hand cut. Fried and hot and greasy, but not soggy. With enough of skin left on them to make them interesting and with earthy flavor.
Oh, they also brought me some of their “special sauce” to dip my fries in!
I will be going back – with more cash. And this time, I’m not sharing the fries. And I’m taking my picture, too.
Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)
Meat – 8.5 … No question this was fresh. No question it was made with love. Juicy but not runny. Flavorful (almost), but still room to achieve something more.
Bun and fixins’ – 7.5 … Points for good, solid extras that don’t break down and turn to burger mush.
Sides – 9 … Like I said before, “A sucka’ for homemade fries …” Sauce was a nice surprise.
Presentation and service – 7.5 … Fun waitress who knew when we walked in that we were Stadium Grill virgins. Thank God, she was gentle.
Ambiance – 9 … A picture of this place should be placed next to definition of burger dive/joint in the dictionary. It’s the type of place that you need to check your preconceptions at the door and just enjoy the experience.
Bonus X – Not this time.