Archive | November, 2015

Buck Mulligans: Ulysses and an Ironically Fine Burger

24 Nov

Call it a little Irish irony that the latest visit for the beautimousburger blog was to an Irish pub — typically places of simple pleasures and pursuits — named after a character in an almost unreadbable, unapproachable novel. The location of Buck Mulligan’s — in the former Black Market space on Highland Avenue — has a lot of personal memories associated with it:

  • I may or may not have introduced a best friend to a mind eraser at this location on or near his wedding eve … In fact, I may have introduced him to several
  • I may or may not have gone to my first burlesque show in this building
  • I may or may not have made out with some woman there … and can’t recall the woman’s name or even the name of the bar at the time (and if we’re Facebook friends and you recall this, I absolutely remember now; it was life changing … thank you so much).

The name “Buck Mulligan” comes from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Buck’s a nice lad, liking his food and drink. And he may be one of the few amiable characters in an otherwise depressing and wretched book. And there is a delicious, somewhat ironic parallel between the book and the food at this relatively new addition to the Southside of Bham..

Burgers and burger experiences are not all equal. There is a beauty to the simple presentation of a burger at a hole-in-the-wall burger joint. It’s Americana; it’s homey-ness. It’s bluegrass or shaped-note singing. It’s accessible and shared. It might be delivered in paper, or on something disposable. Simplicity, however, doesn’t guarantee goodness. And at the same time, complexity and creativity aren’t necessarily counter to a good burger experience.

As impatient creatures, we don’t always appreciate slow, or something requiring more than a quick glance to consume/understand… which is where the book and the burger meet on the same page …

Reading Ulysses was part of one of the first grad classes I took, and is one of those books that you’re supposed to read. But I think the world might be a better place if we could get an actual, legitimate account of people who have finished it — every page, and give them some long suffering reader award. Modern readers, accustomed to 140 characters, probably won’t even make it out of chapter 1 (which features Buck Mulligan). It comes from that strain of creativity that emerged in the early 20th century that embraced complexity and the shattering of old tropes (and that revelled in ironic self-reference) for it’s own sake — think Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner, Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, etc.

IMG_2895And the book is beautiful on multiple levels; the complexity and irony in it adds to its depth and its art. The burger at Buck Mulligans — with its Guinness sauce, spinach leaves and garlic aioli on a sweet/brioche-type bun — could make similar claims in the world of burgers.

Buck’s opened in the summer of 2015, and the food — what I’ve experienced — is well conceived and well executed. I sampled the corned beef and have been told the fish and chips are excellent. But for all its claims to Irish pub-ness (which it can legitimately claim for most of the food), it’s also not a burger joint, by any stretch. Might there be a winking, self-referential, ironic nod in a place that transacts on the homey feel of an Irish pub (with thoughts of green beer, songs and lots of beer/whiskey) and also features shaved brussel sprouts and kale on a salad? Is the idea of a night of Jameson shots and a salad liver cleanse a cocktail you’d fix for yourself?

And none of this takes away anything from Buck Mulligan’s fun ambiance and tasty food. It’s actually an admission that a place that raises the bar on pub food in Birmingham is doing it with a good natured, post-modern nudge in the ribs. So yes, an Irish pub has a really good burger that is topped with “aioli”  — a burger that I would recommend (and likely enjoy again) — a complex and delicious burger. It was cooked as I asked (not MW, I live on the edge for medium). And the combo of fried onions and the Guinness sauce were a sweet and salty mix that works. With other fun touches — hints of garlic, spinach and grill scores on the bun, it’s good, better than good. It’s a very artistic presentation that is equal to the taste.

And yes, I had a lovely discussion with co-owner Michael Gordon about fries (both he and the other owner Danny Winter were present when I visited). And Buck’s hand-cuts their fries. They are shoestring size, crispy and a nice compliment.

  • Burger — complex tastes mix well together  … 8.75
  • Fixins — not a complete surprise, and it works … 8.5
  • Presentation and ambiance — it’s a pub with good Irish-themed pub food … 7
  • Fries — you had me at hand-cut … 8
  • Costs — moderate

I’ll go back to Buck’s. I enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed a place that has a good vibe, with food more intricate than you might at first expect. But just don’t ask me to re-read Ulysses …

Buck Mulligan's Public House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

http://www.yelp.com/biz/buck-mulligans-public-house-birmingham?hrid=fcKFlGs8BaJS1lINvpjBSQ

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Hamburger Heaven, Irondale — Is that the person you knew in high school?

14 Nov

Facebook has changed so many things. If you’re younger than around 30, you might not be as familiar with the idea that upon leaving [insert place here … high school, old job, bar you used to hang out too much] that you could generally walk in one direction for a week or two and NEVER SEE THOSE PEOPLE AGAIN. Now that person who you vaguely, fondly remember from high school or the old job or bar is always sharing the specifics of the morning’s run or meme about Pres. Obama being a closet Lutheran.

Which brings me to Hamburger Heaven — the original on Crestwood Boulevard in Birmingham/Irondale.

Let’s get some things clear. I recognize that saying anything — positive or negative — about the original Hamburger Heaven will likely unlock some fierce feelings. It’s been around since 1982, flipping essentially the same food (it was sold some years later). I’ve known people that have had memorable experiences there … but in all honesty, few of them actually involve the food.

The good things about this place is it’s less of a fast food chain (though if you were defining things, it would be a fast food joint). It owes a lot more to its nearby barbecue brethren than to the Golden Arches. The place looks like a local joint — with homages to college football players and similar photos adorning the walls. So, in the decor department, I’m down with it. And as basically a local place, as we say around our parts, “Moo Moo Yea!”

In fact, for the most part, I’m down with the place as a whole. But — honesty box time — it’s a high quality, fast food joint. And this is the basic rub … in the parlance of today, the place is what it is. It’s better than almost any fast food burger you’ll find. The meat is hand-done and purports to be “fresh” and daily delivered. The burgers are typically juicy, made-to-order only when you’ve ordered — though you may have a patty that is just being finished.

It’s an decent burger. It could rival some of the sit-down small chains — Mooyah’s, Five Guys, etc — it could, but doesn’t consistently.

Hamburger Heaven primary transacts now on nostalgia. It draws based on its reputation and name — visit http://hamburgerheavenrestaurant.com and see how they promote their past accomplishments. Years ago, they were the proverbial nice-sized fish in the small hamburger pond. They were the small town jock who wowed in high school but didn’t have quite the ability for the next level. Without the legacy and the nostalgia of people who visited there, Hamburger Heaven might have drifted off a long time ago to be one of those places that you only recall … because of Facebook or, in Hamburger Heaven’s case, because they’ve been able in later years to franchise the business (but believe me, they are not all the original, and I’m not sure they have added to the place’s legacy).

Today, burger competition is fierce. Now, Hamburger Heaven’s competition is more varied than it was 25 years ago when the closest burger competitors were likely Jacks, Krystal and other chains. Those haven’t changed, but the burger world exploded in the last 10-15 years, and now, for a similar price point (+ a buck or two), you can travel a few miles and get a competitive burger.

And here’s the deal: the burger is probably a seven out of 10. The extra points are that the joint has a good shake and for initiates, they know about getting the hamburger steak … with onions. But … I do not dig the fries. They are too pre-fab for my tastes and aren’t bad, or good, or memorable or anything that would cause you to go just for fries.

And my basic reaction to the place isn’t a burning desire to go because I’ve heard from someone else recently how great they think it is; it’s personal nostalgia. It’s remembering that I’ve liked it in the past. It’s a person I knew in a past life and going back doesn’t remind you how exceptional it was. Instead, it reminds you, when you go, of exactly what type of place it is and where it exists today.

Enjoy it for what it was. Enjoy it for what it is. But don’t allow memory to cloud what you’re getting — a decent burger — and shake — from a place that capitalizes on its other best asset — history.

Burger — 7 out of 10

Ambiance — 7 out of 10

Fries — 5 out of 10

Shakes — 8 out of 10

Back in the writing saddle and poetic musings from the lake

10 Nov

I have done something that I never should have done; I have not done this blog as I should have. I have fallen short. I have sinned and failed to be an obedient whatever … etc. But I’m gonna try to do better … and let me explain why for a second.

As sometimes happens, life can remind you when you are off track. I’m the first to admit that funks in life come and go. They are like the poor, laundry and LEGOs. They aren’t just with you always; you are gonna find them and step on them from time to time.

What I haven’t been doing is enough of the things that I love. I haven’t made the time. I have let myself get sidetracked. Life happens.

And one of the things that I’ve let slide for too long is writing … for me, mostly. And also for any of you who might have some interest in my musings … yes, all three of you.

Writing, you see, isn’t about the finished product. A few years ago, I wrote a novel that has turned into one of the best virtual dust collectors I have. I also wrote a series in a project about happiness. What I learned from doing those things is, for me, writing is therapeutic and performance art.

A recent epiphany about me: I am a performer at heart. I grew up singing, played in band and bands, and generally looked for occasions to perform — in school, in whatever. I’m sure that someone can write up my psych profile. It is as “they” proverbially say, what it is.

And what it also is — well, it is also an outlet. It’s therapy for me … and believe me, the cost of a blog is cheaper than professional help.

So, I’m gonna try to use this thing again. And I have some plans that I’ll share in the coming days. But for now, I’ve been on a bit of quest the last few days… to rediscover those things that I’m passionate about and to make a plan and start back on my journey.

So, you are either the beneficiary or the guinea pig…

While I’ve been away, I wanted to find some every day images and marry up some free verse and the images I took. These are all from the lakehouse of a friend (who kindly let me escape a few days). Hope you enjoy the verse and the pics.

Mel

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Aside the still waters

IMG_2882
Aside the still
Waters … where lapping, the stones, submerged,
Rested, unaware of a remolding embrace.
Breaking down, drop by each loving touch of a drop;
Ancient stone, in compliant dementia to the peaceful siren song.
Enraptured by…
The giver
The taker
The partaker
The drug of life
Dependent are we, caught, addicted to your charms
Unaware that your drops will misconstrue, break us
Reform us
I’m unworthy to be baptized by you
“Then, struggle no longer; Come, kiss my lips.”
###
Fingers outstretched IMG_2885
“What more can I do?”
Nothing.
Reaching down, pulling at answers he will not receive,
Responses, more than he bargains.
“But …”
Fingers outstretched… reaching out,
Grasping for straws
Gasping for air
In the silence, filled with light.
Fingers outstretched — embraced
As he is, where he is.
Enfolded by allusion… or illusion
Of a mother, a father, a lover, a friend
An oasis in joy or despair
and if truth be told, who would really care?
###
The lake at twilight
IMG_2892
Bob is a loud-ass fish, unlike some scaly fisheren.
Slimy, bold and a oh so proud.
Stealthy in his swimmy charms.
Caring not about Kardashians, ineqaulity or bearing arms
They come, and bring their bags.
With bangs and bams and zips and yags
And Bob greets them with the subtle, silent baits …
Water and air
Peace
Remembering …
The trap is set
The prey is unaware
The twilight will claim another victim
For it is not you that comes to Bob…
It is Bob that comes, and finds, a needy you.
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IMG_2891
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