Archive | December, 2015

The Sweet Burger Smells of Home – What I learned from a revisit to Tony’s

30 Dec

A few years ago, I wrote about an affinity I have for a small mom/pop burger place south of Birmingham – Tony’s. It’s homey, with a line stretching nearly out the door most days. The food is good, better than good. But even then, I wasn’t really sure why I liked it so much, until recently, it all came together.

I still really like the place, and I like that it seems to have a following of everyday, regular people – business people, parents, grandparents, etc. Tony was there slinging burgers and dogs that day.

But the why … let me set the way-back machine for the late 1970s or even early 1980s.

Wayback

Tony’s takes me back … to how I remember homemade burgers tasting as a kid. Cooked on a stovetop, in a skillet, smashed down to brown, with the ever-present smell of seared meat and fat wafting around … then the patty was topped with garlic salt, maybe pepper and seasoned salt. The smell is unique. And it’s the way I remember a burger when my mom (and on a rare occasion, dad) and my grandmother cooked them.

  • We didn’t just dash off to fire up an outdoor grill.
  • No premade patties
  • God help you, no broiler…
  • You can try and remove some of the grease with a paper towel, but it’s kind of like trying to keep toddlers clean at the table

A trip to Tony’s reminds me of those times. It’s not just homey, but the smells, the spices and flavors remind me of home, family.

I realized as I ate my burger – it’s served on a giant sesame seed bun, with lots of mayo to give it that rich flavor that mixes so well with seared meat – that over the time I’ve been reviewing burgers, I’ve probably had several that are better made, better all around. Tony’s fries are good, always crispy. But they are from a bag …

No, what I like most about eating a burger at Tony’s – and what is most difficult to explain to people when they ask why I like this or that burger – is that eating a burger at a place like Tony’s make you FEEL GOOD. It makes me feel good:

  • It reminds me of being a kid and home
  • It tastes good
  • You know it’s not good for you (and that’s part of the allure, for sure).
  • It’s also stripped of pretention. It isn’t trying to be a burger place; it isn’t trying to be hip; it isn’t trying to have a burger that could be served at a five-star place … it’s just a place that makes burgers and dogs. It’s an honest burger, from an honest place.

So, enjoy your burger, wherever it may come. Enjoy it cause you paid too much from it; enjoy it because it’s one of the best; enjoy it because it reminds you/comforts you … but most of all Enjoy It, and the slice of the good life that it is.

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Chili’s in Trussville (or anywhere): “Be careful, son. The dullness rubs off.”

16 Dec

Desperate times call for trips to places that you didn’t intend to go. Hence, I recently found myself at Chili’s in Trussville. While the name might cause you to think that the place is spicy and fun, well, you probably want to think again.

In fact, as I’ve considered this review, I was reminded of a post-game clip of then-Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWmQbk5h86w

And let me just tell you, that meltdown rivals in explosiveness the potty meltdown that occurred scant few minutes after consuming my Oldtimer with Cheese at Chili’s.

All this knowing that Chili’s was what I thought it would be … B.O.R.I.N.G.

Oh, it’s not for lack of trying. Why that place is nigh unto rocket-sciencey. It’s outfitted with a spiffy appearance. Gone is the darkness and loud colors. Replaced with light and metal and hipster tomfoolery. Hell, it’s not even hipster tomfoolery; it’s suburban urban outfitters gobbledegookery.

And the pay by yourself kiosk on the table to let you control your own destiny… No, I don’t like them because it’s one more replacement of actual people doing actual work in a business. But it could have redeemed itself consider if it offered some pre-emptive relief: “Yes, I’d like to top this meal off with a Metamucil brownie, since I know where I’m headed in a minute.”

I will give the wait staff credit; they were energetic and helpful enough … though I probably should have been given a quick primer about the tablet/kiosk. And for what it was, the food was adequately prepared. It’s just …

There is nothing memorable about this burger … or any burger at Chili’s. They are over seasoned (God, the sodium!). Over sold. Not bad. Not good. And you can throw in Mr. and Mrs. Fry with it. And we went in with muted hopes anyway.

In fact, I stumbled upon an article from the “Eat this, Not that!” folks https://www.yahoo.com/health/15-insanely-awful-foods-got-083033307.html  that stated: “From burgers to baby back ribs, Chili’s serves up some of the country’s saltiest, fattiest fare. And even the menu items that don’t look all that bad for you can do some real damage to your waistline.”

Or to your colon…

It boils down to one thing … A great burger has local flair, not corporate flair. A look over the menu reminds you that decisions are probably made based on some analytics done in Texas … and by someone with a deathwish for chefs/kitchen staff, with a menu that is longer than the first draft of War and Peace. And it’s a cryin shame that the thing that sticks out the most about the burger is the ridiculously over-seasoned garlic dill PICKLE — the burger’s hairy mole — and that in the end, this fully-unmemorable experience feels as if you have been placed in a lab experiment.

My real concern is that Chili’s mediocreness will rub off, as I fear it already has to the other restaurants in the neighborhood (I’m looking at you Red Robin). FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JIM ‘N NICK’S, YOU GOTTA HOLD OUT!

It’s as one of my heroes, Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce from M*A*S*H* said. He recalls a dream in which he sees Frank Burns as a beached-whale and asks his mom if he can touch it, and Hawkeye, speaking for his mom, says, “Be careful, son. The dullness rubs off.”

Chili's Grill & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yelp Reviews

Galley and Garden: Afterthought burger possibly?

3 Dec

History is littered with many great and forgotten afterthoughts – Ed Muskie, the theory of relativity, the Roebuck part of Sears. But a burger being an afterthought is, in the case of Galley and Garden in Birmingham, unnecessary.

Relatively new to the Birmingham fine-dining scene, G&G is in the old Veranda location on Highland Ave. It opened approximately one year ago and is run by Chef James Boyce, who has a menu of established, excellent restaurants – including Cotton Row in Huntsville.

The menu is varied – with emphasis on local ingredients and seafood. Reviews have generally been very positive. Service – both from reviews and in my experience – was anywhere from excellent to adequate. No issues. It’s upscale. It’s creative. And the pedigree/past helps it.

Why then was the burger I received from G&G such a disappointment? And I ask that question knowing WHY I was disappointed… but the bigger question… well, let’s save it.

Several new/old friends joined me at this lunch. The appetizers were excellent – duck confeit fries and fried oysters. Both delicious. Both presented very appealingly. I could have licked the platter of fries …

Then the entrées came. Two orders of shrimp and grits and two burgers ordered exactly alike – the G&G Burger. Nothing but generally positive reactions to the shrimp and grits. But the burger … from both of us … mmehh.

IMG_2904Underwhelming. The G&G burger (available on the lunch menu for $13) is described as: “grass-fed beef, pimento cheese, bacon, gratitude farms bibb lettuce, tomato.”

Some thoughts:

  1. The presentation of the burger was attractive (see pic). While “elegant” and “burger” don’t often share descriptive space, this one was both.
  1. Some of this may be seasonality, but the overall flavor of the burger was a bit too understated, flat. Nothing really stood out (except it was heavy on the salty side with the cheese and bacon). I’ve experienced this before with burgers wearing eau de pimento cheese … It should work. It looks like it would work (cheddar cheese and meat, with pimentos). But it just never brings its.
  1. I specifically asked – as I always do when given the opportunity – for the burger to be cooked medium. I know … it’s not the rules; some places cook all their burger to MW or above. Mine was cooked MW, as was the other burger in our party (we both requested M). But if you were going to cook it to MW, why ask? And if it was simply a mistake, it’s fairly laughable for a place that likely serves the most expensive pimento cheeseburger in town … it ain’t eatin’ at Western Sizzlin’.
  1. I don’t have confirmation – so consider this a question. But the bun on my burger looked, felt and tasted distinctly like a bun that you could get off the shelf next door at the Western Supermarket. It’s possible it was some artisan bun/brioche/roll, but it looked like a hamburger bun, felt like a bun and tasted like a bun … hence I remember it as a bun (or maybe duck confeit bun).

Overall, the burger was okay – but truly nothing spectacular. It’s neither the best nor the worst in Bham, and you can get a pimento cheeseburger several places (Jackson’s, Blackwell’s to name two).

And G&G has another burger on its bar menu – the Birmingham Burger, which is more straightforward and on a brioche bun.

So, let’s circle back to the hanging question: this G&G burger is neither primary to the menu nor a shining example of the establishment’s or chef’s abilities. Thus, why is it on the menu? Otherwise, the menu is chocked full of exceptional dishes, accompanied by a burger that really is not bad but also not especially noteworthy.

An afterthought… like this line … something that a good editor would likely have deleted.

"Galley

Yelp Review

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