Burger Crawl: Mobile, AL

Mobile, AL is known for some of the best seafood in the entire world.  It also comes as little surprise that Alabama’s port city is a haven for great soul food as well.  When it comes to BBQ Mobile is closing in on cities like Memphis and Kansas City.  But Mobile is no slouch when it comes to the great American burger either.

A PRIMER:

  1. A burger crawl is when you try a burger from several different places in the space of a few days or even all in one day.
  2. I break burgers down into these categories –
    • classic diner style – a 5 oz or larger patty with typical bun and condiments
    • fast food style sliders – pattys that are less than 5 oz on normal buns
    • fantsy-pants burgers – not a derogatory term at all, these burgers feature premium ingredients, innovative toppings and creative buns.

Recently I went on a burger crawl in Los Angeles, a town with a reputation as a burger Mecca.  It just seems fair that I’d make a burger crawl in my own hometown as well.  Check this out.

The Burger Master in Eight Mile has been kicking out the Mobile area’s best burger for nearly half a century and has done so by enduring Hurricanes Camile, Frederick, Georges, Ivan and Katrina plus a grease fire that gutted the original building just a few years ago.  But they are still going strong and they still make one of the best burgers you will ever eat.  The Master Burger is not a fantsy-pants burger but rather a stellar example of the classic diner burger – 8 ounces of 80/20 ground beef perfectly cooked on a griddle with ample cheese, fresh toppings and a well toasted bun.  The onion rings are also unbelievable.

 

Callahan’s Irish Social Club in the historic Oakleigh District has a burger reputation that is second to none.  But for Senior Bowl Week this year they unleashed a special fantsy-pants burger just for visitors in town for the game.  They called it the LA (Lower Alabama) Burger – served on a terrifically toasty bun, it was topped with spicy mustard, slaw, pepper Jack cheese and pickles but the patty was the heart of this beast.  Ground into the beef was smoked sausage from an artisan smoke house in Conecuh County.  In Mobile this sausage is referred to simply as Conecuh and is held in as high a regard in the South as Scharfenberger chocolate or Allen Brothers steaks. The aura of the Conecuh reached my table a few seconds before the burger actually did.  Such an intoxicating aroma and what an incredible flavor.  I’m not a fan of Cole slaw on a sandwich or even within walking distance of one but on this burger it made for a perfect condiment.  Callahan’s regular burgers are top notch but this LA Burger was epic.

 

 

Rochelle’s in Creighton is another old school diner with a classic diner style burger.  8 ounces of ground Angus beef greets the diner who chooses to order the cheese burger or in my case the garlic cheese (a dash of garlic powder gives this its name).  At Rochelle’s you won’t have to choose between cheddar or Swiss because they just go right ahead and give you both.  The bun is a standard seeded bun but at some point they smash it.  I don’t know why.  It looks weird but rest assured this is a fantastic burger.  Great crust on the patty with a tender center.  Also, the onion rings are quite good as well.

 

 

One of the great anomalies in Mobile County is that one of the most sophisticated menus is in the tiny Crawford community, a village so small that it is jokingly referred to as a suburb of Semmes.  Never heard of Semmes?  That should tell you how small Crawford is.  But it is there you will find the Little House Bistro with a menu straight off the Food Network.  Chef Marc Walden brings the years of his cross country culinary trek to bare on a very innovative menu which features two excellent fantsy-pants burgers, the Bistro Burger and my favorite the Deep South Burger with pimento cheese, lettuce, tomato and “comeback” aioli.  I of course added both bacon and caramelized onions.  The pimento cheese is Chef Marc’s grandmother’s recipe and it is one of the best I’ve ever had.  I love good pimento cheese but good pimento cheese is hard to find.  Somewhere along the line the cheese becomes an after thought but not at Little House.  With them the cheese is front and center.  This place is definitely worth the trip out Hwy. 98.

 

 

The Big Time Diner at Cottage Hill Rd. and Demotropolis is a throw back to another era.  The decor looks like something from the set of American Graffiti but the food is hardly outdated.  Rather they feature a menu steeped in traditional diner food like a classic diner cheese burger with toasted bun, gooey cheese and a large juicy patty.  This is a very good burger but I have to admit the black pepper heavy onion rings kind of steal the show.  BTD has long been the benchmark restaurant in this part of town and the busy parking lot is a testament to food done right.

 

 

An English tea room is not where one would normally look for a great burger but the Shamrock, Rose & Thistle Tea Room in Springhill is also channeling that gastro-pub vibe thanks to Chef Corky Sullivan’s exciting approach to flavors.  For his signature burger Chef Sullivan relies on an old chef’s secret – if you use really good ingredients the rest will take care of itself.  Corky uses a Keiser roll that is well toasted and fills it with an 8 ounce Wagyu beef patty.  That right there makes it an amazing burger but he’s not done.  The caramelized onions bring a nice dark-sweetness to the burger and the seriously crispy apple wood smoked bacon is a revelation. The burger is finished off with high quality cheddar cheese and an herbed mayo.  Without a doubt the best burger I’ve ever had in this city.  Hats off to the young chef with the amazing palate.

These are not the only great burgers in the area.  I just simply ran out of time.  Others I’ve had in the past and highly recommend include Heroe’s Sports Bar downtown, Butch Cassidy’s on Florida Street, Dick Russell’s BBQ in Tillman’s Corner and Time 2 Eat Cafe in Theodore.  There are a few national chains that do pretty good burgers as well like Cheeburger, Cheebruger, Five Guys and Hardee’s Thickburger is still a game changer.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
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