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

A few years ago, I wrote about an affinity I have for a small mom/pop burger place south of Birmingham – Tony’s. It’s homey, with a line stretching nearly out the door most days. The food is good, better than good. But even then, I wasn’t really sure why I liked it so much, until recently, it all came together.

I still really like the place, and I like that it seems to have a following of everyday, regular people – business people, parents, grandparents, etc. Tony was there slinging burgers and dogs that day.

But the why … let me set the way-back machine for the late 1970s or even early 1980s.

Wayback

Tony’s takes me back … to how I remember homemade burgers tasting as a kid. Cooked on a stovetop, in a skillet, smashed down to brown, with the ever-present smell of seared meat and fat wafting around … then the patty was topped with garlic salt, maybe pepper and seasoned salt. The smell is unique. And it’s the way I remember a burger when my mom (and on a rare occasion, dad) and my grandmother cooked them.

  • We didn’t just dash off to fire up an outdoor grill.
  • No premade patties
  • God help you, no broiler…
  • You can try and remove some of the grease with a paper towel, but it’s kind of like trying to keep toddlers clean at the table

A trip to Tony’s reminds me of those times. It’s not just homey, but the smells, the spices and flavors remind me of home, family.

I realized as I ate my burger – it’s served on a giant sesame seed bun, with lots of mayo to give it that rich flavor that mixes so well with seared meat – that over the time I’ve been reviewing burgers, I’ve probably had several that are better made, better all around. Tony’s fries are good, always crispy. But they are from a bag …

No, what I like most about eating a burger at Tony’s – and what is most difficult to explain to people when they ask why I like this or that burger – is that eating a burger at a place like Tony’s make you FEEL GOOD. It makes me feel good:

  • It reminds me of being a kid and home
  • It tastes good
  • You know it’s not good for you (and that’s part of the allure, for sure).
  • It’s also stripped of pretention. It isn’t trying to be a burger place; it isn’t trying to be hip; it isn’t trying to have a burger that could be served at a five-star place … it’s just a place that makes burgers and dogs. It’s an honest burger, from an honest place.

So, enjoy your burger, wherever it may come. Enjoy it cause you paid too much from it; enjoy it because it’s one of the best; enjoy it because it reminds you/comforts you … but most of all Enjoy It, and the slice of the good life that it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating – BBB+

Hooters on Urbanspoon

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

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-

Tony's Hot Dog's on Urbanspoon

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