Jack Brown’s Lakeview (Birmingham) — You can take the boy to a burger place, but you can’t stop him from writing a glowing review.

The family went to Jack Brown’s Burger and Beer Joint in Lakeview (Birmingham) recently, and my oldest son, begggggggged to do a review. So, here it is…

Bouncy (i’ma use a codename because it’s cool) — Professional Undertale Music Listener, Competitive-in-training Gamer

First, let me say, it is an honor to be able to publish a blog post on this wonderful blog. My dad has decided that it was okay for me to write a blog post on a burger I had tonight.

Right of the bat, I knew I was gonna have a good burger, since the place itself was a burger joint, Jack Brown’s Burger and Beer Joint.

Being a minor, of course, I had no beer, save for a bottled root beer. But the atmosphere had a more adult-humor vibe, being partially a beer place, and all. There was a chandelier over the bar that my dad pointed out, which was covered in *cough*…bras…*cough.* There was a headless mannequin stuck to the ceiling, clothed of course, and across the place, there was a mannequin with her entire lower body missing and only wearing a hat.

As for the burger, it was FANTASTIC. I chose “the Elvis,” which had Peanut Butter, Applewood smoked bacon (how they turn Apple devices into a fuel for a grill is a mystery to me), and had a blend of cheeses. Now, even though my school is one of the best, I must say, if i was to even set foot in the lunchroom with anything that had graced the side of a jar of peanut butter, the lunch ladies, sounding the *unclean alarm,* would attack me — like a moth to an electric light — snatching up my sandwich in a sterile plastic bag and stuffing me in a human-sized hamster ball.

(If any of my lunch ladies read this blog, it’s a joke. Please do not ban me from the lunchroom … or do anything, unnatural to me …)

Anyway, here it was, in all it’s bacon-y, peanut butter-y tantelizingness. The moment I bit into it, I knew right away that the peanut butter was gonna drip down on my hand, which is my favorite part about a lot of burgers, because when you feel that drop of sauce on your hand, it just gives you a moment to appreciate the time and love that a lot of local places put into their burgers. If there are two things in this world that I can’t live without, it’s cheese and peanut butter. And because this burger has both, it’s the best of both worlds!

Plus, melty cheese plus peanut butter sauce is, like, #perfectlysalty.

The fries were fantastic, and all orders of fries come with a special secret sauce. I have no idea what’s in it. All I know is, it’s good, and it’s perfect for their fries.

The service is nice, the workers are polite, and there’s even a patio out back.

In short:

  • The food — ‘Nuf said.
  • Atmosphere — Just ‘cause i’m posting to an adult burger blog and i’m a teen doesn’t mean I have to necessarily get and enjoy those kind of jokes.It was ok, though.
  • Service — They were really polite and always came around when we needed a refill. No bored eye-rolling, which is a very good sign.

The place is fantastic. No putting otherwise.

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A Mission of Musical Mercy — Earworms for your heart and soul

This is a mission of musical mercy. I don’t know how you stumble into new music these days, but mostly for me, it’s just pure luck. But the world is full of little musical gems waiting to be mined and shared. Hopefully these will brighten the day.

I’ll give you the song and a link (when possible), and also a little extra. This playlist is stuff stuck in brain recently

I’ll See You When I Get There – Lou Rawls 

You can have your Peter Coyote. Or James Earl Jones. Or Morgan Freeman. When it’s time for my biography to have its voiceover, I’m taking Lou Rawls. Heck, I’d give money to the UNCF and invest in resurrecting his silky-voiced person (my chances of getting Lou to agree to this are next to zero since he passed away in 2006…). But Sweet Lou could take some cheesy lyrics and turn them into soulful gold.

Any man who could turn, “When you’ve said Budweiser, you’ve said it all” isn’t your everyday pitchman.

But this song – I’ll See You When I Get There – is a testament to 70s cheese and soul. Let me hep you with some lyrics:

Candlelight, cold wine, soft music on the radio
And you got everything you need from the store
‘Cause I’ll be in for the evening
And I don’t wanna come out no more

Whoa, and I’ll see you when I get there
I’ll see you when I get there
And you be ready for good lovin’
You be ready for good lovin’
‘Cause I’ve worked hard all day
Now I’m comin’ home to lay and relax my mind

I wanna be this man!
Ain’t Got God – Heath Green and the Makeshifters

 

Heath Green has been kicking around the Birmingham music scene for at least two decades now. He’s cut from the bluesy, full band sound of Alabama-music. And while he’s not specifically credited with the influence he’s had on others in the area, you’d be right if you saw the roots of the success of bands like St. Paul and the Broken Bones in the various iterations of Heath Green.

He’s one of those guys who knows all the great players locally, and seems to have played with most of them. And he’s just a good dude. He’s a supporter of music all over Birmingham, and you can find him playing and attending a variety of shows, of all genres.

“Ain’t Got God” is exactly the type of simple blues song that allows for all aspects of the band’s skill to shine. Jason Lucia on drums. Jody Nelson on guitar and Greg Slamen on bass. Let Bro Green take you to church, my friends… Check out their website — http://www.heathgreenandthemakeshifters.com/

The version above is on a recent LP; the one below (lesser quality) comes from the singular McCalla Walla fest, which I was honored to be a part of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr0LDGSabR8

Blue Samuel – SWR Big Band

 

When people think of jazz, they usually think of the smooth, goopy stuff of easy listening. Sammy Nestico, and this version of Blue Samuel (a song written by him … but just as much an homage to him), should and can wad that idea up and shove it in your ear.

This song starts with an absolutely screaming chorus, repeated often during the song. There is no work up or easing into the song. The drummer does a couple clicks on the high hat, and the rest of the band comes in with a punch in the nose. But it’s a nice punch. Kind of just getting your attention.

Nestico (who is in his 90s now and still kicking) and his arrangements have been a staple of Big Bands for years, and he is and will be tied to his work with Count Basie and his orchestra.

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man 

I’m putting this song here, as a type of therapy or a complete cry for help. For around a month, children in my home have been singing four bars of this song. Over. And. Over. It’s catchy, I’ll give you that.

And I actually like this song. In my mind, you aren’t coming out of left field yourself if you ask what good can come from Wasilla, AK. But the song’s deep lyrics and “appropriation” of “Please Mr. Postman” (something the band has not denied) have helped it become one of the most successful singles of the modern music era. Con. &*%&^. Gratulations.

Now, just talk to my kids and see if there is a way to reprogram their minds to teach them lyrics, other than:

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

Not to kick it like it’s, whatever, but if I was the word “now” I’d be asking for some Benjamin love, like Martha and the Vandellas…

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=42791

There are a lot of reasons to visit Twisted Root; but the burger isn’t one of them.

My children have been urging me – as subtly as any kids can – to try the Twisted Root Burger Company for at least two years now. I had resisted … until a recent Sunday night, when I was alone, hopeful … and (clearly) vulnerable.

The Twisted Root is located on Rocky Ridge Road in Vestavia, near Birmingham. For non-Hamers, it’s an established suburb, but not really that far from the downtown foodie scene. It’s not a new, hip area of town or even a place where new buildouts are typically the norm.

Nevertheless, a few years ago, Twisted Root joined the Bham burger scene – at the end of the last burger boom. It’s not unique to Bham – Momma and Daddy Root are from Texas/Dallas/Ft. Worth. Twisted Root offers franchise opportunities for those interested in burgers, fries and twists … and roots, I guess. The history of the company speaks a lot – good intentions, good plans and seems homey enough. The original Root was on an early episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

With the family build-up and a free evening, I went.

So, as I was sitting there, eating my “Freshman 15” burger, it struck me. There are a lot of reasons to visit Twisted Root, but the burger’s just not one of them.

I was trying to put my finger on exactly what I wasn’t enjoying about one of my favorite meals. Did the meat taste funny (kinda)? Was the meat overcooked (even for MW; yes)? Was the combo for this one (recommended by the staff) – a burger topped with fries, bacon and a fried egg – just DOA (it shouldn’t be)? If it could have yawned, the dead piece of cow would have. It wasn’t juicy. It was bland. The meat was boring and lifeless. It came with a single piece of lettuce and an onion. While I was left to place condiments and pickles at my leisure, my leisure was that I wanted someone else to present me with what they had to offer and for me to not be tasked with improving a signature dish with my interpretation of what the Freshman 15 needed (not knowing).

It needed some additional taste… This was supposed to be an indulgence burger – one of those, “don’t-tell-your-cardiologist” ones. But if you’re gonna sin bad, it should taste a lot more sinful.

I get that doing food reviews is a bit like getting one at bat in the big leagues or one date with the class beauty. I get that anyone can have a bad day or night. But… I’ve eaten hundreds of burgers over my lifetime. I eat them from Rojo, down the street, frequently. Good and consistent. Jim N’ Nicks – usually awesome, always frustrating.

I could go on. But there is a two-fold lesson here: 1) You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. 2) Impressions are there for a reason. Go with your gut.

My kids, who have an unnatural love of this place, are not going to be pleased with what I experienced, as if I willed taste-less beef to appear. As a reality check, this comes from the same kids that argue about the relative tastiness of McDonald’s … or any meal that’s devoid of lettuce.

So, I considered revisiting my experience … until I started doing my post-visit review of reviews, and found fellows in disappointment … for similar reasons. Bland meat. Weird flavor. Delivering less than expected.

But the place itself isn’t without highly redeeming qualities including:

  • Beer and a bar
  • Milkshakes (custard-based)
  • Milkshakes for grown-ups (I might go back just for that)
  • Excellent, hand-cut fries. There was a kid close by; I considered trading my burger for his fries. He gave me a not-in-this-lifetime glare…
  • Possible fry improvers, like cheese and such …
  • Sassy condiments — ketchups and chipotle blah blah.
  • A pickle bar – dill, sweet and sour, ranch, wasabi and more.
  • A kids play area and a very warm, family-friendly atmosphere.
  • Nice people working there.
  • Clever ways of calling out orders (I was Snoop Dogg).

It’s a fun place, and if the kids were good, and I was feeling agreeable, I’d take them. I wasn’t so bummed by the uninspired burger that it’s tainted me against them for life. But when I got there, I asked for a suggestion (I almost always do): what’s the most popular?

A barbeque thingy … something with avocado … the one with an bacon, egg and fries… Once bitten by the Freshman 15 is twice smarter. If there is a next time, I’ll get a plain cheeseburger. Nothing fancy or twisted there … and one of those $5 shakes.

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

Meat – 6.5 … Enuf said on this. Bland. Overdone. Edible but joyless.

Bun and fixins’  — 7.5 … The bland egg added to the bland meat. But you can get a world tour of sauces and pickles (if you’re into that kinda thing). Bun= What’s your name?

Sides – 9.0 … I’m still miffed that the little kid wouldn’t consider a burger-for-fries trade.

Service & Presentation – 8 … No nonsense and some fun. Nice folks working there, too.

Ambiance – 8 … Someone spent some time at the Ft. Worth Hobby Lobby … Cliched and cute

Bonus (Nada)– Again, I’m sorry kids.

Rating – B-

Jim N’ Nicks – A source of delicious frustration

This review is going be half review and half psyche insight/personal therapy session, because I readily admit that I have a problem (which if this was some sort of Burger Anonymous meeting might be a positive first step). My problem is this: I’m personally frustrated by how much I like Jim N’ Nicks (forthwith to be called JNN cause I’m also feeling a bit lazy).*

*This isn’t my first trip to this couch … I will conceal names of this pubescent grumpy cat face, but I had this same problem in high school. [Insert name of your choice] drove me crazy. She was rude. She was dummerna bowling shoe. Her tastes in music likely included Hank Jr., Warrant and Air Supply. And for the life of me, I am at a loss to explain why I was attracted to her.


She was my siren. Lash me to the front of my Ford Granada and let me face the peril …

Part of my interest in burgers and reviewing food has its roots in JNN, when they opened their restaurant in Hoover. I frankly didn’t know what to think: classy décor, young servers and professionalism. Who ever heard of such in a real barbecue joint? You can’t be a respectable barbecue place or burger joint and have people who are starting their modelling careers waiting your table. You can’t scream “I’ve been professionally designed and decorated to give you that oh so smokey favor.” You can’t have some surfer looking dude at the bar bringing you JNN’s current hipster cocktail – local sourced whiskey, soda made when the thrush knocks on the final light of Durin’s Day, glasses recycled from a local homeless shelter and artisanal ice cubes.

IT’S a Bama BBQ place for Christ’s sake.

• I want more overweight guys working a register

• I want a middle-aged server calling me darlin’

• I want to see people who appear to have first come in sometime around 1988 and are still there

• I want to imagine that the owner decorated the place himself/herself with junk that had just be sitting around their garage

But dammit, if they don’t pull it off and double dammit, I have never had a bad meal or bad experience at JNN. The food is exceptional. The barbecue is some of the best in the region. And everything – everything – on the menu is typically done exceptionally well.

Which brings me to a recent visit and the Southern Burger … I’ve never been impressed by any burger that was supposedly a barbecue burger, until this one. The Southern Burger is simple: fresh meat, same bun as the bbq sammy, cheddar cheese, pickles, unbelievable bacon, grilled onions, and their bbq sauce.

It shouldn’t work… the onions are very likely to overpower… the bbq sauce can cover too much ground … the pickles could give it too much sour.

But it’s perfectly balanced.

And JNN gets a second award; I’ve been to five-star places and uttered the words “cook it medium” and they bring it out exactly the way they intended to cook it the whole time – medium well or burnt-er. JNN cooked it exactly like I asked, and it made all the squishy difference.

And let me reiterate: I’m not a big fan of bbq burgers. But I’m sitting here now, and I want another one!

Let’s add the fries… Help me Oprah! The fries are fresh and perfect, with that unmistakable mix of sweet and sourness that comes only from fresh potatoes, fried.

Add to this, the delicious greens I had (I shared fries) and the indulgence of the hot links appetizer (JNN’s sausage with crackers, sauce, peppers and pimento cheese) and stealing a bite of mac and cheese from the mano junior … and I’m hanging my head in complete shame …

• I have fallen from the true burger way

• I have failed to be an obedient burger or bbq disciple

• I have ignored the oxymorons and enjoyed your fru-fru bbq

And the only thing I can say, really, is that it’s good. It’s very good.

 

 

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

Beautimous Besto Pesto Burgers — a Beautimous Original

Ever since my trip to Rogue Tavern and the somewhat disappointing experience with the pesto sliders, I’ve been making plans to make my own pesto burgers. Now, I didn’t start this blog – initially – to share the various things that I throw together for meals (though I have been cajoled more than once to write my reci … well, I can’t even call them “recipes,” usually, because mostly it’s cooking by the Force).

I am no professional chef. My experience at cooking is trial and an exceptional comfort-level with error. I’m not a card-carrying foodie, though I appreciate the ideals. But God love ‘em, it’s just not practical every time.

That said, I’m going to share my newest creation – following the Beautimous’ squire naming of it – the Besto Pesto Burger. For the complete meal, obviously, suit yourself, but I’ll share what I prepared. Let’s just agree at the onset that it’s more of a food guideline … because I didn’t use a recipe to make it.

Besto Pesto Burgers

I have a basil plant that is freakin’ out of control. So, as a wildlife management tactic, I dedicated myself to making homemade pesto. I consulted several recipes … and then pretty much like always, I modified. Normal or not, here are the “food guidelines” for my pesto:

Besto Pesto

  • 3-5 cups of fresh basil, cup up
  • 1&1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic (fresh or canned)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 to 1&1/2 cups of shredded Romano cheese (any hard cheese will work).
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • At least 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin or light), probably more
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Note this will make a lot more than you’ll need for the burgers. You can save in the fridge for several days or freeze for a couple months.

  1. Besto Pesto -- Pesto Burger mixPlace all the ingredients, except the vinegar and oil (and s&p) in a blender (or food processor). Pour in the vinegar and 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Blend on lowest speed. You’ll probably need to stop and scrape the side occasionally.
  2. Add more oil, as needed. What you’re trying to achieve is a certain consistency in the mix – chopped, wet, pasty but not liquefied (see the rough, gross photo for an idea … it’s the best I could do, the pesto’s almost gone!).  If you need more than 4 tablespoons, go for it … get it to the consistency that you want.
  3. Taste it … then add salt and pepper as you want (around a tablespoon or less). Voila. You’ve got pesto. What does it yield? I don’t know. A bunch of pesto!

Besto Pesto BurgerBesto Pesto Burger – Grilled
Yields about 6-8 patties

  • 2 lbs of ground beef (80/20 … don’t use lean meat and don’t go for the 73/27 either)
  • Besto Pesto Mix … and yes, you COULD use sto’ bought pesto. I won’t be around to tattle on you.
  • Sliced yellow tomato (or whatever kind)
  • Sliced Purple onion
  • Sliced mozzarella cheese
  • Romaine lettuce leafs
  • Loaf of French Bread
  • Condiments to suit
  1. Fire up the old grill and let it get to a good medium-low heat
  2. Thoroughly mix 2 tablespoons of the pesto into a quarter pound of the meat.
  3. Repeat until you have all burgers ready for the grill.
  4. Cook on low to medium-low heat 5-7 minutes on each side or until done to your liking. WARNING (Other than the ones that you should know about cooking safety … these burgers are oily and likely to have flash flames on the grill. Keep some water handy, don’t flip more than necessary and DON’T PRESS).
  5. Also place the purple onion on the grill. Prep in favorite way to keep it from sticking.
  6. Onion is done when it is has some scorching … this is delicious (caramelized sugars on the onion).
  7. When the meat is cooked, build your burger. Serve on French bread topped with tomato, some grilled onions, a slice of mozzarella cheese, lettuce and whatever condiments are to your liking (suggest mayo and very light mustard).

Besto Pesto Burgers with mashed potatoes and steam squashWe ate these burgers with a strange combo that only could have been demanded by family and what needed to be cooked in the fridge … homemade garlic cheese mashed potatoes and steamed summer squash.

Let me know how this works for you … It was a hit around here.

The Beautimous Grading System; or More S&P Vagaries for your Food Pleasure

If Satchel Paige had been a restaurant reviewer, he probably would have said “Don’t look back, because something might look different as you get farther away.” Or maybe Yogi Berra would have said it. For me, as I look back on the burger joints that I’ve visited since starting the Beautimousburger blog, it might be helpful for the intrepid readers to have a short-hand for my reviews. Sometimes, I might love a place and have a problem with the food, or vice versa. But what’s the bottom line?

Since a blog of this type offers one of the purest opportunities available to refer to oneself in the third person, beautimous will take the opportunity to be annoying as only someone writing in the third-person can be. For those who know and appreciate beautimous, you know it’s more likely than not that he holds disparate opinions of the same place at the same time: the “I love you and loathe you” in the same breath.

So, what beautimous has done is shake it all together and assigned a letter grade, kind of like the fairly random grades assigned by Harold Weber
in my grad school classes or by S&P. And since S&P and credit ratings seem all the rage these days, beautimous thought, “Why not me?  The grades are loosely based on the credit ratings assigned by S&P, Moodys and Fitch. And trust me, they are just as confusing …

For reference AAA is the highest rating – it’s the pinnacle, unchallenged and no chance of a bad experience at all. With ratings AA+, AA, AA-, they
represent the top experiences; Single digit “A’s” give way to BBB, the BB+ and so on. BB+ and lower and you’re in sketchy territory; a C (or lower) would be short for “caution” cause you’re in for something unpleasant …

For a brief overview of these ratings … consult the online encyclopedia

Without further adieu, here are the grades (in order that the review was completed):

Rogue Tavern – A+

Chez Fonfon – A+

Mugshots – BBB+

Great Southern Café – A+

Rotiers – AA

Stadium Grill – AA-

Hamburger Heaven (280) – BB-

Purple Onion (Southside) –CCC

Green Valley Drugs — A

Chez Fonfon – Where is the Chez Fun?

Chez fonfonLet’s cut to the chase about the burger at Chez Fonfon. It’s good, maybe great. It’s made with care, handmade from local, organic beef. The bun is terrific and baked at another restaurant owned by Frank Stitt. On the day I went recently, I even ate the grilled onion – scored by marks from the grill – and for me, that’s something, because I profess a respect for the onion but no enduring love. And the pickles are like eating … tiny, delicious pickles.

The winner of the 2011 Birmingham News Best Burger, the burger at CF is top notch. I would add for the sake of honesty that I felt the meat was a bit over-seasoned, even approaching a bit briny. It was enough so that I noticed how salty the burger ended up being, seeing what appeared to be seasoned meat and salt/pepper on some of the lettuce. But this is a quibble. It’s delicious.

And the fries… The foodies of the world may cheer for the burger there, but I could eat my weight in the pommes frites (fries, for the un-Frenchy-fied). They are sliced small, fried and served warm, but not greasy. Not an easy task … or at least, I’ve not seen it accomplished too many times.chez fonfon

So, if you want an exceptional burger and fries … that comes with some baggage, then Chez Fonfon is the place to go.

Baggage? Absolutely.

All that fuss comes at a price. For one, a $12 price. Maybe it’s worth it, and maybe no hamburger – BY ITS NATURE – should be $12.

The restaurant, on its own website, calls itself a “cozy, casual French bistro that transfers you to Paris, Lyons or Nice.” That’s all well and good, just as is the grilled fish with ratatouille and aioli, the chicken provencal, or the veal paillard.

The problem is that the humble hamburger would have been part of the proletariat masses that would have stormed the place during the revolution and executed the pate-eating crowd. It’s not that the burger couldn’t be suited to the place (which it is), but that in many ways, the place is not completely suited to a burger.

I suspect that if Frank Stitt got it into his head that he wanted to jump on the back end of the burger craze, he could open one hell of a burger joint. But as it stands, one of the best hamburgers in the city is offered in a most unburger-like setting.

I’ve been recently and I’ve been in years past … and the thing that I leave with is confirmation that the meal was tasty, but wishing that I’d gotten to eat it somewhere else. A place that was less “transferring” and more homey. That wanted to commune with me, instead of educating and impressing. Less pretentious and more focused on making the experience fit the dish.

This feeling has nothing to do with the staff, either, who always have been professional. It’s about a burger experience. It’s about American familiarity, pride at humble beginnings. Where is the waitress who’s been working there all her life? The kids? Regulars who are known and greeted by name? Evidence that the place is loved more than respected? Where is the Chez Fun in Chez Fonfon?

When I think of a hamburger, I see a metaphor: a symbol of something American, something that can transcend the many things that pull us apart: a food – in it verisimilitude of varieties from veggie to Kobe — that we can share. So, in a way, the burger at Chez un-Funfun is a special envoy, a missionary spreading the gospel of the beauty of common food in a field populated with both ham and cheese and turkey sandwiches and steak tartare and escargot. And you know, in quiet times, in spite of what it’s accomplished and how terrific it may be (or how amazing the food and respectable the locale), that this lonely, displaced burger yearns to breathe the free air, go out for a night on the town with old bacon (not pancetta) buddies, flirt with other spicy mustards and maybe come home with a kiss from some fancy ketchup.

Meat – 8.75 … Ground meat is a tough thing when it comes to seasoning, even if you use steak and basically make your own. But I thought the meat was a bit too salty and hid some of the natural flavor. Kudos for delivering the patty cooked as I asked, however.

Bun and fixins’ – 9 … On the burger side this might be the best part. The bun is delicious, a bit crunchy. The sides are served on the side and I loved how they were not just thrown in.

Sides – 9.25 …Approaching fry perfection. I miss them already. Hand-made. Fried. Crispy. Hot/warm. They didn’t last long.

Service & Presentation – 7 … The waiter was attentive but also not particularly interested in me being there (alone also). The presentation at lunch is a bit showy — you know that “presentation” thing … when you’re kind of compelled to tell someone that the plate that has a burger on it is “lovely.” Let’s just say I would have been equally happy if it was wrapped in paper.

Ambiance – 5 …”Would you like some snails to start today? No? Oh I see, you want to get it to go and eat sitting at the fountain.”

Bonus X – (-1) … Call it insult to injury … I know, we are spoiled in Bham, but you know what? We don’t pay to park and parking in Southside is a pain in the butt. Add to it the $12 you’ll pay for your burger …

Chez Fonfon on Urbanspoon

777 lbs. of anything is scary

You know, I love a good burger as much as anyone. Heck, I’m not above eating one that isn’t that good. But I guess I never considered that it’s not just quality that the world seeks … it’s quantity.

Community sets World Record with 777 lb. burger

I was — I don’t know — amused. Scared. Confused. Amazed. When I read this article, I was speechless. It’s one of those stories that sounds cool on some level, and then you start to think about it, and I found myself dwelling on the sheer size of this thing.

Pounds of lettuce. More than 1 million calories. And for a more $.99 you could have indulged, too. I just wonder how good it actually was.

Look for my review of Purple Onion and an experience that took me back to my past.

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