J & J Grocery and Deli (Bessemer/McCalla) – Chew on a gas station burger/It’s time for your yearly review

J&J GroceryJust 50 miles or so from Tuscaloosa is a piece of burger tradition, at least it is for people who live in Bessemer/McCalla. If you ask people from the area what the best burger is, you’re likely – sooner or later – to hear about the ramshackle gas station at the corner of Dickey Springs Road and Pocahontas Road — J&J Grocery and Deli.

You might call it a sight for sore eyes; or as some people I know also called it, “an eyesore.” But J & J has enjoyed moments in the burger lamplight of fame…  My friends at Yelp give it four and half stars. Like its university cousin to the west, it’s been honored and recognized … and possibly endorsed in some ranking by people as dead as Ears Whitworth.

The inside of J&J Grocery, near Bessemer.
The inside of J&J Grocery, near Bessemer.

Some people love J&J. It’s a place that impresses … someone. It’s just that I was more taken in by the place than the food. It’s kind of like Alabama … or Cirque de Soleil or REM. It’s transacted on hype and tradition so long you never know truth from the unreasonable exuberance.

So, in the spirit of doing a review, I thought that this review should be a review … like a yearly review.

So J&J, is it okay if I call you that? Thanks. We’re here for your yearly review. Clearly, you’ve done some awesome work over the last year and the folks upstairs are really pleased with what you’ve done, and so am I. 

Well, thanks boss. You know, I’ve been doing this for 15+ years now.  

I know, and that’s one of the amazing things. You’ve gotten quite a following over that time.  

So, I’m getting a raise … 

Well … we have a couple of opportunities – growth areas — we need to discuss. 

Opportunities? Growth areas? What do you mean? 

Well, it’s actually … it’s the food. 

Everyone loves my food! I’m ranked as one of the best. The people who work at my place are nice. They are fun. The place is just down-home, redneck goodness. 

Yes. Yes, if we can stick to our agenda, everyone loves the people. Everyone loves the homey-ness. But we’re here to talk about the food … there are some very good qualities to your food. The meat is fresh (80/20). The bacon, nice and crispy. But … 

Burger at J&J Grocery
You better watch the next words coming out of your mouth … You say anything about Allison … 

We’re not being personal here today, J&J. We’re talking about your performance. Your food. I gotta be honest. Maybe a few years ago it was top notch, but it’s just good … ish. The bun. The fixings with it. And the fries. They may be unique and the may be thick. But I’d never come just for the fries. 

Now, you’re cutting me. You’re just being mean. I’ve worked for this company … I mean, I’ve been slingin burgers there for … 

Now let me finish … I really like the vibe there. You’ve got something. And while it’s junky inside, it’s cool at the same time. It’s a gas station and cracker barrel-lite. I get it. I like it. And I’ve noted that on the review. Extra cool points for locale. 

But you hated the burger.  

I didn’t say hate. I said, in not these words, that it wasn’t exceptional. I could see all the stuff you use to make it in the freezer in front on me. While transparent, it doesn’t obscure that mountain of fake cheese staring at me. Or the gallons of mayo. And then there was the bun … grilled but with grilly goo on it.  

That’s my signature move. People eat that up. 

Well, they kind of are forced to, since that’s what you do to them all. 

Menu at J&J Grocery.Come on, man. I’m an award-winner. I’m bona fide. I even got my menu done up on a white board with different colored markers. 

A nice corporate touch. The HR folks loved it. Screams of irony. Just like the actually active and used cigarette ash trays lying around. 

But people think that’s cool, counterculture. Giving it to the man. 

Give it to the man, then. Just don’t give it to me. 

I bet you didn’t like the fries, either. 

Let’s try and keep the rest of this discussion productive. Okay. As I said, I think you have some opportunities this coming year. 

I’ll show you opportunities! 

You’re still getting your normal raise. 

No more free ketchup packets for you. And no more taking my forks, either! 

And you’re still authorized to charge $7-$9 for a burger, just like places that have an equal or better burger. We still think you’re an important part of this team and we want to help you. 

I still get to be country-cool? I still get to dedicate 14 percent of the gas station to odds and ends and the rest to being a grill? 

If you want. You’re still an important part of the team. You’re still a winner … just like the all those NASCAR glasses on top of the air duct. Thanks again for your service and remember that what we discuss here is strictly confidential. 

Unless you put it in a blog …  

Overall – I see why people really like it; I just didn’t love it that much. Nice people. Friendly. Fun neighborly place. Definitely good, but not the best. But if you’re in the neighborhood, give it a whirl.

 

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

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.

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

Yelp Review

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

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

Wendy’s New Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy: All this fuss about a buttered bun?

I won’t call this your typical review. If I was reviewing a place, I look at a lot of things – the ambiance, the presentation and more. A fast food place make certain concessions that kind of take it out of the running – like uniformity, centralized supplies, the culinary equivalent of your basic at-home lobotomy kit, etc.

That said, I wanted to try Wendy’s new burger. Wendy’s has a special nostalgic place for me. As a child, we were not wealthy by most standards. A trip out to eat when I was young was a treat and a half, and one of the places that we went fairly often was Wendy’s. In fact, when I was a kid, I set up a pretend Wendy’s in the back yard of my house. I’d serve burger from there, which was easy since I could do it with dirt and imagination … and since there was a rumor flying around at the time that there were worms in the meat.

Wendy’s hasn’t always held fast to their roots. You might remember the Mega-Bar days at Wendy’s. Or the Salad Bar days. I remember when cheese and tomato was extra. I also appreciate the type of man who Dave Thomas appears to have been. He was an example of the American dream – a self-made entrepreneur – who loved burgers. A man who was orphaned who had a life-long commitment to bettering other people lives.

Like Dave himself, there is much to like about the new Wendy’s burger. Some of the changes are cataloged here, but the company went on a burger vision quest over the recent past … resulting in:

  • A juicier patty, due in large part to less denseness and less mashing during cooking, but still square-ish
  • Crinkle pickles, over flat ones
  • Permanently hold the mustard
  • More cheese
  • Purple onions over white ones
  • A butter-toasted bun

If you judge this burger against other fast food ones, it is one of the better ones. It ranks up there with my favorites – Backyard and Rallys.

Personally, the buttered bun is tasty, but I felt it detracted from the taste of the burger. The purple onions were just too oniony for me, and I pulled them off after giving them a try (but I do this at most fast food places). But the meat is juicier; and the lack of mustard gives the burger a fuller flavor (undoubtedly from the new full-fat mayo). It’s a pretty good burger.

The other bonus at Wendy’s is the fries. Obviously, they don’t walk down to the farmer’s market and buy their produce locally, but the fries at Wendy’s are about as close as a true fast food place is likely to get to having hand-cut fries. They are some of my favorites (and I always loved their old fries, too).

No, I don’t do a scale or a rating for fast food; it’s like picking Vandy to win SEC football championship … an unnecessary move. But Wendy’s has faced some business headwinds of late and this new burger is an attempt to right the ship. I hope they do, because I’ve always had a soft spot for them.

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

Bob Syke’s Barbeque: Our Hamburgian Cousin

Now, I know that this is a burger blog. But if you want to get people arguing in the South, and you don’t have a desire to discuss college football, just bring up who has the best barbecue. In the Birmingham area, one place usually mentioned on “best” lists is Bob Sykes Barbecue in Bessemer. For good reason …

Bob Sykes is still a family owned and run business. Van Syke’s is involved in the Bessemer community and has from time to time ventured out from the one location – to Tannehill State Park and to the now-anemic Watermark Place. But the mother-pig on Bessemer Superhighway still churns out deliciousness six days a week.* Just look for the massive pig sign out front.

* I don’t take issue with a place wanting to be closed on Sunday for religious reasons. My grandfather wouldn’t let people fish in his pond of Sunday. But it never fails, that my taste-buds yearn for forbidden fruit when it’s withheld … [Bob Sykes, Chik-fil-A].

Allow me, for a second, to chase a pig here … In general, if you are in a bind and just want a decent burger, you can find one at a GOOD barbecue place. They typically – again the good ones – take meat and the preparation of it seriously. Since they tend to get deliveries of meat to smoke daily, they have fresh stuff all the way around and make them to order.

Which brings me to the burger at Bob Sykes … First, please check any conviction that you should only get barbecue at the door, because this place has an absolutely delicious burger. And it’s not your typical one either!

The burger has a healthy dose of the smoky sauce that the place is known for. It also has a pickle on it. In a way, it’s a barbecue sandwich, but with the pork replaced by a burger patty. Oh, almost forgot to mention, that if you get it like they prep it, it will likely arrive with some chow chow (Note: I’ve been challenged about this … it could have been uppity onions, too … who knows)  hidden here and there. Same buns as the barbecue cousin gets, too.

And if you want, you can get your shot of burger deliciousness in a Booth (just not a John Wilkes one).

Look, the only real problem I have with Bob Sykes … He’s a “homer.” He supports our locally grown and more historic Buffalo Rock soda distributor. Which means, if you’re looking for a Co-Cola with your meal, you’re gonna hear, “Will a Pepsi be okay?” As a consolation, they have sweet tea … and Dr. Pepper.

Another fun point of Bob Sykes, unrelated to burgers but to atmosphere: It’s one of few remaining bbq places where you can watch the fun. Walk in, and the pork is being cooked and smoked in front of your eyes. Sure, you’ll need to explain to your seven-year old son that it’s not like home, and dad just can’t go get one, and that no matter how much he asks, you’re not going to let him use the garden hose on your grill.

Bottom line: the barbecue is first rate and so is the burger!

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 9.25 … Clearly hand made and hand patted. It is was done perfectly – juicy and scorched in a couple places. Not over-seasoned. It doesn’t need it.

Bun and fixins’ 9 – I guess a better bun might deliver a better product, but this one is pretty darned good. I love the sauce and chow. I also loved the pickle.

Sides – 8.0 … This could be a bit confusing, because you could get any side that typically comes with the barbecue (baked beans, coleslaw, corn …). And while I think the sides at Bob Syke’s are good, they aren’t my favorite. The fries are decent, but – no way to explain this – get cold every time I visit. And this variety of fries doesn’t hold up well when they are lukewarm.

Service & Presentation – 7 … Adequate.

Ambiance – 8.5 … It looks like a barbecue place, a family one. I like the pit in the front. It’s fun to watch.

Bonus X – +1 … There are lots of other reasons to try Bob Sykes, if you’ve never done it before. Good desserts. Great barbecue.

Rating – AA

Bob Sykes Barbeque on Urbanspoon
http://www.facebook.com/BobSykesBBQ  

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