Tag Archives: burger joints

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

Bob Syke’s Barbeque: Our Hamburgian Cousin

2 Oct

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  

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

4 Sep

Burgers and burger places have a character. Ask for mushroom-swiss burger, and you’ll have an idea of what you get. Ask for some frou-frou avocado and arugula monstrosity, and you’ll have an idea of the place and the burger, too. Which makes the Depot Deli and Grill in Helena kind of like taking a trip to the Island of Sodor.

For the uninitiated, the Island of Sodor is home to many characters – Thomas, Percy, Sir Topham Hatt, and a host of steamies, diesels, cars, trucks and people – associated with Thomas and Friends, the children’s other-world where trains are kind of people, too. It’s wholesome, kid fun in which, luckily, no one get hurts. But every train has a character; each is slightly different … in a keep-kids-interested-and-force-parents-into-buying-the-latest-new-train-on-the-island-vortex.

So, when I visited a place that actually called itself a depot, I thought, “What train would this place be?” Now, to start, we could play a little game and go to some of my old reviews and assign a train to the place (if you know the show and the trains, this will be fun!):

And without considering that his name is a bit misleading for a burger place, the Depot could only be Salty. Now, let’s clear this up, straightway. The meal wasn’t salty …

Salty – and its doppelganger burger existence in the Depot Grill – is an easy-going, likable diesel. He was brought to the island by that
corpulent but enlightened despot, Topham Hatt. And Salty either entertains or drives his really useful friends nuts with the constant stories, sea shanties and an overall cheery attitude. He’s hard working, blue collar and appreciated because he’s proven himself to his quarry-mates – Bill, Ben and Mavis.

Depot Grill sits in-between train tracks and the dam/levee in old Helena. It’s all kind of throw back. Downtown Helena is a bit of an oasis in what would otherwise be yet another desert suburban bedroom community with as much fun as a nomadic clan of anesthetic-eschewing dental surgeons.

The inside is quaint, with license plates and decorated dollar bills all around the register. Outside, a large covered porch looks over the Cahaba River. It’s a nice scene. And honestly, that really makes this place. It’s hard working. It’s easy-going and fun. But it is its own unique little place in the midst of Helena-dom. Atmosphere takes this place a long way.

As for the burger, it’s much better than good. I ordered my burger Baptist – almost going all the way, but stopping just shy.

It was good, very good. It was served on a slightly sweet kaiser roll. The meat was the clear taste leader, along with the bun. It came with what you’d expect – lettuce, pickles, etc. And they offered several varieties – smaller and larger – on the menu. As testament to the burger there, I came at nearly 3 p.m. on a Saturday. It was still busy, and most everyone had ordered one of their delicious burgers.

At this point in my life, I view fries like the creators of Thomas use the Troublesome Trucks. They don’t always have a lot of character
individually. They are stock characters — the guy-in-the-red-uniform-on-Star-Trek (but no one get hurt on Thomas). Depot had crinkle fries, uninspiring maybe, but I will eat them … all of them. At least they don’t laugh maniacally like the Troublesome Trucks.

Points …

Meat — 8.0 … Like Salty, I have no idea where it came from. It just showed up after I ordered it on my plate. By all appearances, it was hand-made. By taste, it was delicious hamburger meat of unclear origin. But it was done just enough and was tasty, so I moved on.

Bun and fixins’ — 8.0 … The kaiser roll is a nice touch on a decent burger

Sides – 7.5 … The Troublesome Truck usually giggle a lot and talk nonsense. I consider frozen crinkle fries the Troublesome Trucks of the fry world; they are primarily useful as a ketchup delivery system.

Service & Presentation – 8.0 … Order at the window and pick up your food when they call your number. And get your own drinks. It makes me think that I am a very useful patron … and that I should somehow get a tip, too.

Ambiance – 9 … The porch was nice, while I’m sure that it could also be unbearable hot as it does get around here. But with fall in the air, this
place might just be a great hang-out.

Bonus X – +1 … The view is exceptional. Wanna watch the dam? Check. See people frolicking in the water? Check. Watch a train? Check. See people getting married at the wedding chapel? Check. Watch as people get pulled over for enjoying Helena at a bit too brisk a pace? Helena has it all.

Rating — A+

Depot Deli & Grill on Urbanspoon

Lyric Hot Dogs: A little Hall and Oates for your dining pleasure

27 Aug

Lyric hot dogsIt’s as if my whole reason for walking to Lyric Hot Dogs was wrong. I wanted a quick lunch — and a little adventure. Someplace I hadn’t been in all the years I have worked downtown. And in some hopeful breeze wafting through my ear, I heard something about it being national hot dog day.

Which it isn’t. Lies. All Lies.

So, here I am today, having visited an iconic hot dog stand* in Birmingham (on 3rd Ave. across from the Alabama Theater), availing myself on not just a hot dog but also giving their cheeseburger a try. And yes, I did have medicos standing by …

* Now, I do like a good hot dog, but for the most part … the most part … Birmingham’s hot dog history is more a story of successful Greek immigration to the area (follow the link to an interesting video by the Southern Food Alliance on hot dog stand history in Bham). It’s a better story than a dog, and today that story is quickly fading away as old hot dog stand** stalwarts like Pete’s and Tony’s Terrific downtown have gone the way of the bag phone. But for me, I prefer a real Chicago dog or even a Lucky Dog from Nawleans. 

** And have you considered that in the lexicon of food, you visit a hot dog stand, but you visit a burger joint, not a burger stand. I’d posit that we use those words for good reason. A stand connotes a food of individuality. Have you ever watched people eat a hot dog? They hunch over, with that nervous look. Come on now, in your mind, is it a food that you enjoy with company around you, or is your natural inclination to find a corner and devour the tube steak in a inhalation of gluttony.

Let me leave you with this, brothers and sisters: a joint is something where two or more things come together … let your mind wander on that one.

What came together at the Lyric was a hot dog that is served at a nostalgic, downtown stand. At that stand, it keeps its bastard cousin, the cheeseburger, around for grins and giggles. It’s us outsiders who see that the burger is just not as loved and not as popular as the favored son.

To keep a lyrical theme, the burger there is the culinary equivalent of Darryl Hall and John Oates. Guess who gets second billing, and for good reason. Or lets put it this way, if the burger had a bushy mustache, they’d almost favor.

The burger was a pre-made patty (so is the hot dog, which on some level I kind of appreciate). But, I kid you not, I had to open the bun and look inside to make sure that there was a patty. Upon inspection, the burger was bathed in “special sauce,” the same type of special sauce that bathes countless dogs in the city. A sauce which has its roots in Greek food – a sweet and spicy (almost barbeque quality), almost tangy sauce that is good. But in this town, there must be some ordinance that any food including the aforementioned sauce must be drenched/bathed/baptized/rolling in it.

Oh, and a pickle slice that nearly covered the entire patty. While it’ll give you an idea of the size of the patty, the pickle was too big for comfort. I was kind of intimidated.

I’d rate this burger in line with what you’d get at Milo’s, but a bit better. A bit. If you’re looking for a great burger, it ain’t here. To borrow for John Oates greatest piece, check out the  #7 song of the 80s according to VH1. I think this song speaks for how I feel.

Hot Dogs

Now, a few words from our sponsor, the noble hot dog. The Lyric is REALLY a hot dog stand. It’s a place to listen to the 700 Club and chat with others who work downtown. The hot dogs are good enough and for Birmingham, they are some of the more consistent and historic in town.

I prefer the special dog at the Lyric – no onion. That leaves it with mustard, meat sauce (which does give me pause, but if you’re hot dogging it in the first place, it’s best to check your fears and persnicketiness at the door) and that ever-present special sauce – that is special at Sneaky Petes, Jimmy’s, Gus’ and several other special locations around the city.

But sometimes, like when you’ve let yourself be convinced that its national hot dog day when it really isn’t … or you’ve been beating yourself up about goofy stuff and you just need some comfort food, then a hot dog can perk you up. It almost always makes me smile.

Ratings – I’m not going there for the burger at the Lyric. I hope you understand. It’s like kicking a puppy. If you want to go, get a hot dog.

But I will give special kudos to a very interesting website. If you want a quick primer about hot dog stands in Bham, read the history section.

Lyric Hot Dog & Grill on Urbanspoon

Tony’s (Pelham) — A burger from the A-Team

21 Aug

I can’t completely explain why I love the burgers at Tony’s. When I was a kid, I had a similar experience, not with food, but with television. The 80’s were the peak of pointless, scripted programming. While these shows can’t hold a candle in the mind-numbing qualities of Jersey Shore, the Bachelorette or Toddlers and Tiaras, etc, I was mesmerized by the likes of Riptide, Manimal, Dukes of Hazzard* and … the A-Team.

* Though I should note that the Dukes of Hazzard did reach an unwatchable level when the brain boxes at CBS replaced the leads in the show with other redneck cousins. Maybe we can start a movement that when a show makes a stupid move like replacing its lead characters (Bo and Luke Duke in this case) we can say that the show has now “Coy and Vanced.” **

** Similar to how “jumping the shark” is used when a show, like the Fonz in Happy Days, makes a creative waterskiing jump from novelty to stupidity.

Tony's BurgersTony’s (located near the intersection of Valleydale Road and Hwy 31 in the Publix Shopping Center) is like the A-Team for me. I can’t completely tell you why I like it. The show made about as much sense as having Mr. T lead a Girl Scout Troop. Ex-special forces guys going around doing good deeds, shooting massive amounts of ammo and no one ever getting shot. Four guys living in a van. Plots as predictable as every episode of CSI or American Idol.

But I would still watch. Every week. The only difference between Tony’s and the A-Team? Tony’s is a lot more satisfying.

What I can tell you are things that really draw me to Tony’s. First, it is a true family restaurant – family in execution and ownership. On any given day (they’re open M-Sat, breakfast and lunch), you find the owner and his wife working the grill.

Tony’s has a burger/grill pedigree, it’s just not the one most people assume. Joe, of the Pelham Tony’s, has connections to Sneaky Pete’s owners, but he’s not related to the Tony of the now-closed Tony’s Terrific Hot Dogs in downtown Birmingham.

After a few visits, you’ll notice that the clientele at Tony’s consists of many regulars. There is no “Welcome to Moe’s.” But you might hear, “How’s your momma?” or catch Joe’s wife trying to make someone’s kid laugh.

Does Tony’s use only heirloom tomatoes? Only local cattle, hand-fed grass clipping from a velvet glove? Inspect every potato?

In a word, no. But when you eat a burger there, you won’t care, either. It is just – hands down – one of the best you’ll find in the area. The whole experience is one of the best. I’m also throwing a shameless plug for a good dog here. That aside, man I love me some Tony’s Jumbo Cheeseburger.

Tony's CheeseburgerAt Tony’s, you can watch them put your massive burger together. The meat is fresh, thrown on a grill, seasoned appropriately. The Jumbo Cheeseburger is straightforward – lettuce, pickles, tomato, onions on a sesame seed bun. He goes heavier on the mayo.

And the first taste is just divine. It’s a guilty pleasure of life. It’s one of those places where the burger is so good, so deliciously decadent in its simplicity that I look past possible shortcomings of the place.

And that’s where I understand it also. The burger is terrific. I’d put Tony’s burger up against Chez Fonfon, Stadium Grill and Green Valley Drugs. But I go back because eating there and being a part of the life of the owners and the people you meet there is like going home.

And that’s part of the allure of a burger to me. It’s not completely about going out and finding the greatest pieces and assembling the Yankees of the burger world (the best team you could buy). Sometimes, instead of a white table cloth and a polite waiter, I want an owner who comes over to my table to see how my kids are doing and pulls out a photo of her baby to show. It more than welcoming; it’s feeling like you are a part of the place.

You see, we can’t always put into words why some place makes us feel at home, but we know that comfort when we feel it. And that, my fellow burger lovers, is as organic an experience as you’ll likely ever have.

Meat – 9.25 … Hand-made patties, cooked on a grill to just the right amount of greasy goodness. The meat has a good, garlic/onion-salt flavor. I don’t know how they do it so consistently, but the mix of the burger, the seasonings on it and just a touch of mayo is burger magic. This place gets the Samuel L. Jackson “Tasty Burger” seal of approval.

Bun and fixins’ 8.5 – Nothing fancy here, but if you do it right, it doesn’t need to be fancy. They also serve a tasty bacon cheeseburger here.

Sides – 7.5 … Huh??? When I was a kid, sometimes when I had to mow the grass before my favorite shows came on, I’d run out and literally run behind the push mower to get through quickly (which leaves a really bad mowing job). I usually eat my crinkle fries first, here … for similar reasons.

Service & Presentation – 8.5 … You might think that they wouldn’t get a lot of points for presentation, but to me, if you run a short-order grill and you serve things on throw-away plates and paper, that’s fine. And the people are the nicest.

Ambiance – 9 … Did you just read the review?

Bonus X – +1 … “Bless me, father … I confess that some of my children visit Tony’s and don’t eat a burger. They eat the hot dog. But I can’t make myself order a burger and dog at the same time for myself – though I REALLY WANT TO — it seems too sinful.”

Rating — AA-

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