Tag Archives: Best Burger

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.

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

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

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

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

21 Nov

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

12 Nov

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?

28 Oct

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.

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