burger crawl

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.

Burger Crawl: LA

I have both read and seen on TV that Los Angeles is having a burger renaissance.  I believe it is because the town is starting to emerge from the dark ages of Veganism.  Just think, that crap almost caught on.

Father’s Office is the reining “best burger” in the LA area but alas Culver City wasn’t really within walking distance of my hotel (15 miles).  Too bad because with two types of cheese (Gruyere & Maytag Bleu), bacon, caramelized onions and arugula served on a soft baguette it sounds like a great bite.  Ketchup is not only frowned upon at Father’s Office, it’s forbidden.  Here’s what evolved.

I relied on three things to put together my Burger Crawl:

  1. Luck – I ate at the first place I stumbled on
  2. Reputation
  3. Advice from a local, Average Betty

Now clearly this is but a brief sampling and for sure more study is necessary.  I guess I’ll have to come back.  Here’s who I tried: In-N-Out, Umami Burger, Molly’s, Five Guys, Stout and Juicy Burger.

In-N-Out BurgerIn-N-Out Burger – a legend in LA.  This is a classic fast food style slider (patty weight under 5 oz.).  Their special sauce is what McDonald’s wishes it was.  I had, at Average Betty’s insistence, the Double, double with onions.  A good fast food burger loaded with fresh toppings.  In fact, a little too loaded for my tastes.  Despite getting the double patty the meat’s flavor got lost in the over abundance of lettuce and tomato.  All in all, a really good slider and a steal for the price.

Umami BurgerUmami Burger – Average Betty described this place as trendy.  They feature beef that is ground on site and cooked medium rare (as God intended) unless otherwise requested.  They have fancy-pants burgers like the Truffle (truffle cheese and truffle glaze) and the Hatch (four kinds of chilies) but I opted for the signature Umami Burger with grilled mushrooms, roasted tomato, melted onion and frico (a cheese crisp).  The bun is exquisite with a very crusty toast on the inside and buttery on the outside.  The frico is a nice textural addition and the roasted tomato tasted like a really, really good ketchup.  However, the burger itself was lacking.  Little or no seasoning (salt and pepper are absolutely essential for burgers) and the patty was mushy with no crispy outer crust.  The best way to describe this burger is underwhelming.  I expected much more from a $10 burger (without a side).  The price could have been reasonable for the quality of the ingredients but the execution missed badly making it over priced.

Molly's BurgerMolly’s was this little roadside stand on the side of a parking lot just south of Hollywood and Vine.  It looks like the kind of place where you’d find the heroes in a classic 70’s cop show eating.  It wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if Starsky & Hutch had pulled up in their pinstriped tomato on their way to visit Huggie Bear.  They charbroil their razor thin burgers.  Molly’s burgers are reminiscent of the sliders you get at a concession stand only better.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to try Molly’s but if your hungry and you happen on it like I did go for it.  The price is right.

Five GuysFive Guys Burgers and Fries – actually headquartered back east, Five Guys fulfills the promise that In-N-Out just missed on.  The burger meat is front and center with a perfect cheese to patty ratio.  The fries are awsome and they let you know where they got ’em.  Not just whether they’re from the US or which state but which farm in which state.  That’s taking it seriously.  It’s no wonder Five Guy’s keeps getting voted best fast food burger by Zagat’s.

Stout is a gastropub and gastropubs tend to have fancy-pants burgers, Stout delivers.  The bun has that same toasty interior and buttery exterior as the pretentious Umami Burger.  This burger was seasoned perfectly and the outer crust of the in-house ground beef patty Stoutwas crunchy protecting a juicy center.  The toppings included blue cheese, emi gruyere, rosemary bacon, caramelized onion and horseradish cream.  This burger was letter perfect.  I can find nothing wrong with it.  Simply one of the best burgers I’ve ever had and well worth the $10 price tag.  The price included a side so I opted for the onion rings which were good but the very horseradishy horseradish dipping sauce is addictive.  The atmosphere is working class chic which is a pleasant change from the snotty Umami next door.  The music complemented the food well – I Touch Myself followed by Suspicious Minds then Bobby Darrin’s original Mac the Knife.  Are you kidding me?  If I lived in LA I’d be a regular at Stout without a doubt.

Juicy Burger describes itself as a purveyor of premium burgers.  They do not lie.  The patty was well cooked with a crusty exterior and juicy Juicy Burgerinterior.  The bun was nice and airy; at first it looked too big for the patty but it collapsed upon biting for a balanced bun-to-patty ratio.  The toppings were good as well.  Again that amazing bun like Umami and Stout – it must be an LA thing.  I’ve never had buns like these.  Their fries rock out hard.  Like Five Guys they are fresh-cut with the skin on but they’re even crispier.  The Tabasco-ketchup dipping sauce was fly!  While I was there they had a large order being picked-up for the iCarly gang; apparently the cast of iCarly know their burgers.  This was my vote for best burger before I found Stout.  It is a great burger for the price (burger, fries and drink for less than the $10 for just Umami‘s burger).

Be sure to check out the Burger Crawl I did in Alabama’s port city of Mobile HERE.

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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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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
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
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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