Burger Master

Review: Burger Master in Eight Mile, AL

Most of us who have been walking this planet for more than a few decades have had one of “those” phone calls.  You know the ones – an old school mate calls you up to tell about the loss of a dear friend.  For most people those seconds before during and after one of those calls will be with them forever; psychologists call it a flash bulb memory.  They are formed when someone witnesses something so astonishing that the brain records everything about the moment.

One shared example is the 9/11 attacks – if you remember watching the news that day then chances are you can recall the minutest details like where you were, who was in the room with you and maybe even what you were wearing.

A little over two years ago I got one of “those” calls.  A guy I had known since I was 11 years old called me and said, “Did you hear the news?”

Fearful that yet another friend had failed to reach the age of 50 I braced myself, perhaps it was just someone getting a divorce.  There was even the off chance that the news was good like Uncle Roy hit the Power Ball for $18 mil, “What news?”
“The Burger Master caught fire yesterday and burned slap up.  Gutted it.”

Anyone who has ever eaten at the classic American diner on Hwy. 45 understands how devastated I was.  Though I didn’t try Burger Master until I was in my thirties most of my family and friends had been eating there since they first opened the doors back in 1965.  And it seems everyone has their favorite menu item.  My sister loved the Nanner Puddin’ while my brother and father were burger men.  My neighbor, a former Chickasaw police officer, vehemently proclaims that the fried seafood there was, “as good if not better than any of the big restaurants on the Causeway.”  His wife was a sucker for the onion rings.

I was heartbroken but no longer.  Burger Master has reopened and is putting out the great American food that made it a legend.  I have made a few visits since the reopening and things are a little different now.  Gone is the stark interior with the quaint handmade signs plugging fruit pies and reminding customers that profanity would not be tolerated.  The new digs are esthetically superior to the old with a multi-color tile floor, dark wood paneling and nifty black leather and walnut tables.

It really is a very attractive décor that brushes right up against fancy without crossing over into it.  Just as the old building was a classic example of the American diner of the 60’s the new one is an example of what a modern American diner should look like.  But all of that isn’t worth much if the food isn’t good.

Sure there are some people who’ll grumble that it isn’t as good now but they are usually those people who balk at even the slightest alteration in their regimen.  In my visits to the New Burger Master I have experienced food that is as good as ever.  The fried shrimp, the onion rings, the French fries with gravy and of course the namesake burgers remain to this day, “as good if not better than any of the big restaurants on the Causeway.”

The Burger Master is located at 4616 Saint Stephens Rd. in Eight Mile.  (251) 457-1472

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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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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