Galley and Garden: Afterthought burger possibly?

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

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Buck Mulligans: Ulysses and an Ironically Fine Burger

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

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

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

Hooter’s Highway 150 Pelham – All I needed to know, I learned there

Channel your inner Aristotle for a moment: just what in the world should you expect of a restaurant where the breasts getting the most attention are the ones bringing you the food? I’m not knocking the place; I’m just asking a simple question.

Beautimous blog burger review HootersI’d say, don’t expect too much from either the food or the server.*

* Young (or not young), single men: consider that a life lesson.

Let’s just drop the pretense for a moment that Hooters is a restaurant. I will, at the end, give you some real idea about the burger, cause this is a burger blog. What I have instead is like a substitute for a review. Let’s call it, “Things I learned on a recent trip to Hooters on Highway 150 in Pelham.” And no, I’m not making any of this stuff up; how could I? Let’s say much of it was as freely offered as the pleasant company.

  • There seems to be a ta ta trail way that runs from Hueytown to the Hooters on 150. Now, this isn’t to say that all aspiring hair stylists from Hueytown are destined for a stop at this fine establishment, but the number at this one was astounding.
  • Normally, the staff at Hooters wears the painfully tight white tops and orange shorts, with hose and leg warmers (whatever). But there is a second outfit: the black one, which is for special occasions only. Monday nights. Your birthday … or according to one source, if you are a be-yatch and are bloated.
  • There is a famous book about what happens when children manage children. Have you read/seen Lord of Flies? You’d be half insane or deluded to think that managing a place like that would be a dream job. God bless ’em. God bless ’em all.
  • What is it about a table with two men sitting at it and one unoccupied chair? I realize my dashing good looks and suave personality naturally makes me irresistible, but I have my married friends to think about. I think at final count, we had five different women sit/serve at our table.
  • Unlike On Tap Sports Grill, there is no issue watching the football game you want. I appreciate hockey as much as the next person who doesn’t really care about it, but seriously (at On Tap), you’ll take one of your prime televisions and dedicate it to hockey, in the middle of college football season. Are you out of your mind?

Hooters Hwy 150 Pelham burgerOh, there was more. There always is at Hooter’s. There are the givens: the table of already drunk frat boys; the table of middle aged bikers – men and women looking rode hard and put up wet; a dad with his one or two little children … It’s a family place (and no, I’m not above such … I’m just saying …).

And there was food. I’m reviewing the burger, cause as I’ve mentioned in the past, this is a burger blog. But I will admit an affinity for their wings. I’m happy to give Hooter’s a tweak on the proverbial nipple, but for a chain, you know what you’re getting … pub food, that’s not bad.

The burger was pretty good. I made the mistake of asking about the meat, as I do sometimes. But safe to say, it’s sourced but not bad. Didn’t taste frozen/thawed. And it’s juicy. The burger itself comes naked. You can order whatever you want on it, but the fun stuff is extra (ain’t that always the truth). Bacon. Mushrooms. Etc. I liked the sesame seed bun; it’s a bun that seems to have fallen out of favor of late, but I do like them.

Oh, lest I forget the fries … Hooter’s has a beautimous favorite – curly fries. Sure, they are mostly for show. They are no different than any potato, but revel in being teasing you with curly-que-ness … kind of like Hooter’s itself.

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 8.5 … I’m giving it credit because it tasted juicy and the way you’d expect something that had not been frozen to taste.

Bun and fixins’ — 8 … I’ve never really gave someone extra points for lettuce, but I like the leafs that were extra crispy. I also liked the sesame seed bun. Condiments are on the side.

Sides – 8.75 … Maybe these should be potential points. The burger doesn’t come with anything, unless you consider the lettuce and tomato as sides. Now, if you order sides, you’ll make an old man happy. Curly fries … Or you could get a side of hot wings … or a side of lipitor … or a defibrillator, to go.

Service & Presentation – 8 … I just consulted with my PR guy and attorney, and we have an approved statement on this … “The service was adequate and appropriate to the venue.”

Ambiance – 8.75 … I think I’ve covered this.

Bonus — 0 … They have a decent beer selection at Hooter’s. Not the best, but certainly you should be able to find something. Now, when you go through your first choices and are shut out, that blows. But they finished strong (Sam Adams Oktoberfest).

Rating – BBB+

Hooters on Urbanspoon

Sam’s Super Samwiches – a load off my mind

Brace yourself: I can be a bit stubborn, with a side order of procrastination. And no, I’m not impressed by the people who’ve just jumped up to second that one! Sometimes, that stubbornness manifests itself in me choosing not to do something – like when I went years without getting a mobile phone.*

* Which I can also say that I haven’t gotten yet, in a technical sense, since the  phone was kind of forced on me by a previous boss … But it’s now the only phone I have and I am a bit addicted, not that this has anything to do with this story.

I’ve been putting off a trip to a hamburger stand of high regard, not because I didn’t want to go. I’ve put it off because I know the owners (XX, Sue!). A lot of this blog is just for fun, but I take seriously what I write about; if I don’t like it, you’ll know. See my Purple Onion review.

I’m breathing a sigh of relief now that I’ve actually been to Sam’s Super Samwiches in downtown Homewood. First of all, the place is an icon. There are a lot of nice shops in the revitalized downtown Homewood. Most are a bit high-brow, but there are a few hold-outs, like Sam’s.

Sam’s is really a hot dog stand, in the Birmingham sense of the word. Its look, feel and food, to a degree, are evocative of the Greek-inspired hot dog stands in downtown Birmingham (see my review of Lyric Hot Dogs). It can get busy and frankly, if you want a place to sit and eat, you’ll likely need to be willing to eat on the curb (not the Curb that used to be in Homewood … the actual curb).

That’s not to dismiss it; it’s just not a sit down place. It’s a place to order a great dog and a tasty burger.

First, on the burger; It’s a sloppy, delicious mess. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you decide to eat outside (which you’ll probably want to do, instead of trying the few counter spaces). And let’s say, that it’s freakin’ cold. And you don’t want to move … GET SOME NAPKINS BEFORE you walk out.

The burger is grilled on a griddle, not too firm and not too loose. So, it’s juicy and has a great, not too seasoned taste to it. I got the SuperCheeseBurger … and then saw someone next to me with a SuperCheeseBurger with bacon. Damn. I wish I’d thought of that, cause I would have arm wrestled that little pip-squeak for it. Beautalicios was there; she would have tackled his parents. The fixings on the burger as just about perfect, with chopped lettuce and onions that mingle so nicely. I almost thought I heard them singing Kumbaya.

But Sammy’s is definitely a low-tech establishment where you should check your pretense and desire for pomme frites at the door. It is gloriously a throw back, not in a Johnny Rockets-plastic way, but it a WYSIWYG way. It’s a hot dog and burger stand. No trays. Your food will come wrapped in paper.

Now, if I said this was the best burger in the town, then my quest would be over and you’d not have the pleasure of reading more of my reviews. Sam’s has a tasty burger, but my quest will continue. Plus, Sam’s has something else going for it – reputation and being a local institution. Plus it has a good dog, too.

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 8.75 … I have no idea about the origin of this burger species, but the meat tastes fresh. It’s also treated in a way that doesn’t dry it out or make it too runny. (According to a source, who is — should I call it “inside the ownership” — the meat actually comes from the Pig down the street, patties made daily.)

Bun and fixins’ 8.75 – This was a nice surprise, with the lettuce and onion mixed and the sauce not too overpowering.

Sides – (unsure) … Well, I don’t think that I can give real points for fries on this one, since you can’t get them there. Chips, you can get. However, the homemade chili and having a hot dog could be kind of a side … okay, I did that, but I’m a glutton. All in the name of my craft.

Service & Presentation – 8 … I like the feeling of being moved through a line a warp speed and not have someone cranky about it (I’m looking at you Niki’s). There’s nothing wrong with no plates and having everything on paper; fits the place.

Ambiance – 9 … You can’t pay for nostalgia.

Rating – A+

Sam's Super Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

On Tap Sports Bar: Zombie Apocalypse

When did it become cool to be a zombie? When I was a kid, being a zombie was a scary something. But today, you have zombie weddings. Scholarly studies on the spread of zombie viruses. And just about all the zombies you can want or stand in terrible straight to DVD movies.

Then, you have zombie restaurants …

On Tap Lakeview Beautimous Burger BlogHeretofore, readeth the disclaimer: I, Beautimous, have visited On Tap Sports Bar on several occasions. I do enjoy going. But they all aren’t created equal. Their beer menu is one of the best in the area – and it is a place that feature deals on micro-brews and offers many high-gravity selections.

But the night I went the place was the walking dead.

I went that night with other warriors, to the Lakeview location. First, of all the On Taps, it is the least agreeable … some by its choices and other my misfortune. It’s a re-tooled place (though I can’t remember what was there before it). And it can be a little cramped and dank inside.

Second, I had an unfortunate dating excursion there about a year ago. There was a zombie theme to that one, too, believe me (Hello! Is there a sentient being in there!).

But I digress.

When it comes to a sports bar, atmosphere is important, as must be the food.

Heretofore, I confess my sins: I believe that I allowed the zombified nature of that place to tempt me. I confess I did not love the burger with a whole heart. I failed to be an obedient knight. I rebelled against the true way. I broke my laws.

I ordered a mushroom-swiss burger – The Old Bailey Burger at On Tap.

I love a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, but for some reason, whenever I order a mushroom-swiss burger (the burger attempt at being all Brotherly-Love) it just never lives up to my expectations. The one at On Tap was decent. Meat from who-knows-where. But the Swiss overpowers the rest of the flavors in the burger, and you’re left with a Swiss cheese sandwich, with mushroom and burger juice flavor.

Overall, the food at On Tap is decent, not exceptional, but adequate for a sports bar. If you’re going to watch a game, I’d suggest the one in Hoover … better food, better service and a more spirited crowd.

In medieval times, we believed that the way to deal with our undead was to burn them at the stake; at On Tap in Lakeview, they believe the way to deal with the living is to let them burn their own stakes … i.e., it might be the one place I can think of (other than a cigar shop/bar) where people still smoke indoors. And I was assailed multiple times, by cigars no less, which is great at in its place, but it doesn’t pair well with Old Bailey.

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 8.0 … Uuuhhh. Zombie eat brains. Zombie eat brains, but love them hand-patted and fresh!

Bun and fixins’ 7.5 – Zombie always order mushroom-swiss. Zombie like burger with boring taste. Zombie no need Kaiser roll or bacon.

Sides – 7.5 … Fries are like people fingers. Fresh is best. Frozen … zombie get frozen anywhere.

Service & Presentation – 7 … Zombie enjoyed service of slow waitstaff. Lulls the living. But zombie notice knights dying of thirst, hoping for last drink. Living are so cranky when nothing to drink.

Ambiance – 7 … Perfect zombie hangout. Lifeless. People drinking and smoking. Games on no one cares about.* Zombies better move fast – for a zombie; feed before everyone dies of boredom.

Bonus X – +1.5 What drink do undead drink … a zombie, of course … (Great beers and nightly specials here).

Rating – BBB+

* I’ve said how dead the place was. And this was on the night when two of the great baseball games of this century were played, with both the Braves and Red Sox choking on collective opportunity. No partisans. Zombies in the crowd; zombies on the screen.

On Tap Sports Cafe Lakeview on Urbanspoon

Wild Rock Grill: “The Artist Formerly Known as Locos”

You might call Wild Rock Grill a Prince of a Grill. You might call it a great place to have a meal.

Then again, you might be drugged frequently, forced to watch Gong Show reruns and look forward to your hunting date with Dick Cheney.

But lest I hold back … My experience at Wild Rock Grill was like the music of Prince (in case you were unaware, he’s changed his name back to a name). No, sadly, it’s not the inspired funky, rock, soulful grooves of Purple Rain or Sign of the Times. No, it’s probably from a period you don’t know much about, unless you are especially fond his purple majesty … Wikipedia politely calls it a time of increased out put; let’s call it what it is: a creative enema.

Around the year 2000, Prince got in a snit with his publisher – Warner Bros. Not that this is unusual or unusual with him. Instead of contacting
lawyers and working it out the American way, Prince (the symbol at the time) decided that the best way to be let out of his contract was to flood the universe with crappy music, producing albums quickly to hit quotas. It was a puzzling mess of uninspired schlock – album titles that no one can remember and songs as forgettable as junk mail.

Which brings me to Wild Rock Grill (in case you’re wondering, it’s the restaurant that replaced Locos on Lakeshore Pkwy) … Some places get by on reputation. Some get by on great food. Some atmosphere. If Wild Rock Grill is getting by in the burger department, it’s only through the support of people who are connoisseurs of uninspired schlock (or they could be the same people who purchased albums during Prince’s “Slave” period).

I went on a Wednesday evening. Very few people there. For a place that purports to be a sport bar and a bunch of other stuff, it was empty. To make the experience worse, “Wendy, Lisa and Sheila E.” were sitting in a booth next to us, discussing the intricacies of bladder surgery, oozy discharges and enough unsavory things that I was kind of hoping that there’d be more people to drown out there “disgust-ion.”

The service was fine, and the waitress was pleasant and attentive. It’s not her fault that when I asked about the fries, she said – without flinching –
“They are those frozen steak fries.” So, in a first for this blog, I ordered … the steamed veggies (fear not, I tried some of my kids …).

Ordering the burger was like going to a buffet, and about as inspiring. The signature burger comes with whatever you choose out of the list of stuff
you’d normally expect. Cheese is extra. Exotics, like mushrooms, are extra extra. You could dress this burger up with a $100 bill, and it would still be not be able to pay you for a hamburger today. What you’re getting is an uninspired attempt to fill out a menu at a place that has better foods there.

When it arrived at the table, I looked at the burger. It was a pre-made patty and had that “solution” taste that’s somewhere between meat, preservative, saline, melba toast and black licorice (maybe great in a wine, not so great in meat). So, I asked the waitress to tell me where they got their meat. She demurred …

At the end of the meal, which I didn’t finish (except for the veggies), I asked again, when she had yet to supply the answer. She came back, having consulted someone for talking points or whatever, “It’s doesn’t really come from anywhere; it comes on a truck. We get it from a service.”

In the end, I’d wished I’d ordered a veggie plate, or corned beef, or an additional copy of 1999. But in the end, I’m reaching for my mallet and whacking the gong on this act.

Points …

Meat – 5.5 …I don’t know, when I ask where the meat comes from, it’s not likely to make it more savory to say that it comes from a truck.

Bun and fixins’ — 6.5 … Let’s see, I could pick whatever I want on the burger from lettuce, pickles, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo. I could … wait for it … have one of two kinds of cheese. It’s not that the quality was awful here, but the lack of creativity and curiosity.

Sides – 6.0 … I wish you could get votes on this for steamed veggies, but it kind of cuts against the burger grain. But after having done this for a
while, some days, you reach a frozen fry limit. I found mine that night. Did try them … [sigh].

Service & Presentation – 7.5 … I don’t fault the wait staff for not having sufficient answers to simple questions. They only answer what they know to
say. The service itself was good, and I kind of like the simple presentation at a pub.

Ambiance – (-1) … This place receives the first negative score in the history of the beautimousburger blog. It might not be “their fault” that the conversations taking place around me were way more graphic than for polite company (had little kids with me). But that was my experience. Don’tmake the news; just report it.

Bonus X – … No points, but some of the other dishes looked more inspired and more authentic. I won’t be returning, but if you do, there might be
something there to appreciate.

Rating — BBB-

Wild Rock Grill on Urbanspoon

The Depot Deli and Grill (Helena): A Visit to the Island of Sodor

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!):

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.

Points …

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+

Depot Deli & Grill on Urbanspoon

Five Guys Burgers and Fries – Therapy and a burger to bind them

Five guys burgers and friesI’m convinced that if I keep up this quest to find the best burger experience in Birmingham I’m going to need serious medication or serious therapy, maybe both. After a recent trip to Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Hoover, Alabama, I’m going to let you be the judge … about the therapy part (I’m still doing the reviews around here).

You don’t mind if I lay down on this couch do you? I’m old fashioned that way.

“It all began when I was a child. Well, actually, it began several years ago, when this chain-burger-place movement started. And I started having these dreams … I would be running in a field of flowers, the wind blowing through my chain mail. And I would come to this castle. Wrapped in shimmering samite, a burger would rise over the castle, and I would hear these voices.

“‘Seek out a true burger. But beware … One burger to rule them all. One burger to find them. One burger to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.’”

I’ve been scared of the bind part ever since … I get mentally bound by Five Guys, and to an extent all the other chain casual-dining burger places. I’m drawn by the seductive food, because it is typically good. But like the one true ring, it serves another master. You may be able to harness the power of those places and have a delicious meal, but you do it at the expense of individuality (like Smeagol being turned to Gollem).

And no, I’m not saying that these places are evil. For consistency and efficiency, they have a decent common experience that is still somewhat contrived and plasticized.

So my mania on this topic is crystal clear: I do like Five Guys food. The burger is cooked well, so there is no confusion on what you’ll get, but they also don’t allow the burger to become dried out or overcooked. Also they tout that they only use fresh meat, not frozen or pre-made (that’s clear from the patty). They are so proud of the freshness that — according to their website — there aren’t freezers at Five Guys.

It’s is a succulent experience of grease in all its beauty. They also offer a long list of toppings that you can choose, all at no extra charge, including all the usual suspects and unusual (free) ones like mushrooms, grilled onions, jalapenos and A-1 Steaksauce.

I had my burger with “The Works” – which is pretty much the burger equivalent of “the normal stuff.” Also note, the only real difference between the small and large on the menu is the number of patties on your burger, two for the latter.

Lest I go on about the burger, let me cut to the fries. Five Guys is proud of their fries, that they are fresh, made in-house and cooked in peanut oil (if you have a loved one with peanut allergies, consider this place unclean). They truly are a work of art – greasy art. When you walk in, you see bags of potatoes. When they emerge in their fry form, they are crispy, lightly salted, pieces of peel and with that hint of salty/sweetness that cooking in peanut oil brings.

First timers should know that a large fries is enough to feed several people. Unless I miss my guess, they fill a 16 oz. cup to the brim and then, per corporate guidelines (I assume) dump some extra into your paper bag. It leaves a greasy stain that I suggest ignoring. Focus on inhaling them before you put extra thought into things such as calories, fat — the large fry weighs in at more than 1,400 calories.

Probably this approach is best all the way around. While the experience at Five Guys may not be unique, it is consistent and a worthy burger.

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 8.5 … This is an example of a burger place that uses fresh meat, but lets the meat do the talking. Not a lot of seasoning and served seared (sealing in juices).

Bun and fixins’  — 7 … Have it your way … A sesame seed bun and then whatever you select to go on it. Nothing really exceptional about all this part of the experience. And as a side note, I prefer places that offer the burger a specific way. It lends itself to a better feel for what really works on it.

Sides – 9.5 … As close to fry nirvana as you are likely to get. I guess you could improve them by not making them so bad for you.

Service & Presentation – 6 … A sack … and order at the counter. I don’t know if I am at a sit down place or at Hardees.

Ambiance – 6 … Décor at Five Guys is boring. Plus, I really dislike all the clips of their accolades in other cities. It’s overkill. And while I believe that they have a great product, why not just let a good burger speak for itself.

Bonus X – Not this time.

Rating – A

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

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