Who's Beefin' In Birmingham ?
One of man’s most ingenious acts of simplicity was the placement of a chunk of meet between two slices of bread. What did Noah do while on the Ark? Apparently he ate a sandwich of some kind. What did David, Napolean, Eisenhower, and General Grant do after a successful battle? Probably ate a sandwich. Some are old enough to remember passing by McDonald’s and the Golden Arch marquee said, “1 Million Served”. At 15 cents a burger, that was a lot of burgers. A few years later, it read, “5 Millions Served”. A decade or so later, “25 Million Served”. Now, it merely reads, “Billions Served”. If the German guy, who’s forever lost to antiquity, had only copyrighted this grand delicacy, he would be one really rich dude.
Although they didn’t invent the hamburger, Ray Kroc and the McDonald’s Brothers did help to shape the American culinary landscape, as well as help from the likes of Burger King, Hardee’s/Carl Jr, Wendy’s, and a host of others. Although German in its origins, it basically became the American Burrito. People from abroad who
travel to the United States will more than likely eat one in order to have a “taste of America”. It’s an icon.
Take a sojourn through downtown Birmingham, the scenic Southside, and outlying Avondale, Homewood, Trussville, and Crestline communities, clearly this is not your father’s Birmingham. High rise condominiums and apartments are sprouting up like Martha White is baking biscuits. With the influx of out of state transplants moving to the Magic City, they’re bringing their cultural cuisines. Just a few years ago, the Pizitz Food Hall was unheard of and unthinkable. A successful Ethiopian restaurant in a city with very few Ethiopians in the city was inconceivable. But yet it is very popular. From Center Point to Bessemer, Green Springs to North Birmingham and every other 352-something zip code in between, Birmingham has some flavor.
The city forged from iron and steel has pleasure for the palate. We’ll take a look at the top ten choice with a focus on the top five burger establishments. For those that ever visit Birmingham or those that already reside in the city, Birmingham consists of four B’s: BBQ, beer, breweries, and burgers. Be mindful that in a region where football is virtually a religion, most residents in this area are well endowed on how to put meat on a grill and create memories. Welcome to the American south, where tailgating was born.
The best burgers are the ones you make for yourself, not mass produced chain burgers. As we have now entered into the football season and grills are blazing, what makes a great burger? First, you must use a choice high quality of beef. Its best to blend different grades of ground beef such as brisket, short rib, and ground chuck. It influences the burger’s texture. Second, you should have a fat to lean ratio of 80 to 20. Don’t pack the meat too tight. The grains of meat need air to breathe and retain flavor.
Only season the outside of the meat. Many tend to season the entire slab of meat. Another big no-no, is pressing down on the meat. Because of its flattened and seemingly fleshed equivalence to a pancake, some people inherently desire to continually press down on it with a spatula. Pressing down on the burger in fact presses out the natural juices, thus making them taste dry. An ideal burger is a delicious burger that does not require sauce. Sauce is the icing on the cake, but not the cake.
Different cooks or burger connoisseurs suggest that 130°F is an ideal temperature for a medium-rare burger and 150°F is good for medium-well. Some prefer frying whereas other prefer grilling. Either way, its best to flip the burger every 20-30 seconds so as to evenly distribute the temperature through the meat. Also a 5 pound burger is ideal, however other cooks use 6-7 ounces.
Considered to be one of the best burgers in Birmingham, the Paramount Bar’s, “El Capitan” is a favorite among patrons to this unique restaurant & bar in the heart of downtown. The El Captain like the rest of their burgers comes in the form of a 6 ounce Aspen Ridge beef. Complimenting the flavor, it houses bacon, avocado, Pico de Gallo, mayo, and pickled jalapenos. There are several other burgers on the menu that however, offer general burgers such as the signature Standard and the Southern. Also a fan favorite is the Forester and the uniquely “You’re My Boy, Blue”. This interestingly named burger is topped with argula, caramelized onions, and blue cheese dressing. The Forester suggests of a “garlicky mayo”.
Visiting the Paramount from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Samantha C stated, “I Got the burger with blue cheese with arugula and it was the best burger I've ever had! It gets pretty busy on the weekends so not the best place for just sitting around and talking but if you're up for moving around and playing arcade games it's a blast! Lisa G of Birmingham and a regular patron enjoys the gluten free buns. “We love Paramount and eat there about once a week. The staff is friendly. The food has a unique twist of originality, and burgers and dogs are offered on gluten-free buns!
French fries with special garlicky mayo are out of this world. Split a basket with a pal! And the bar is great, lots of artisan craft beers and a big ole' Maker's Mark sign that reveals Paramount's priority! Get a double in a big ole' mason jar. Galaga, pinball and other arcade games give the place a festive atmosphere. Lots of TV's are on showing a variety of sports. Hip vibe. I find myself craving the El Capitan burger with avo, salsa, and jalapenos at least once a week. The Fun Guy is a good vegetarian option, and the Up In Smoke is a favorite, too. Onion rings are light and crunchy with great flavor”, she says. On a national trek to find the best burgers in the nation, Justin P of Vestavia Hills stated, On my quest to find the best burger in Merica, The Paramount Burger is right there on top of my list.”
Paramount boasts of using Aspen Ridge Natural Angus Beef. Natural beef’s lower moisture content offers higher yields, faster cooking times, efficient preparation, and optimal food costs. Aspen Ridge is an Angus beef brand sourced by American family farms, and raised under Certified Humane conditions, without antibiotics or added hormones. The Certified Humane designation requires that animals have ample space, access to food, water, and shelter, and are handled gently to minimize stress. By and large, Paramount offers the healthiest burger in town as well as animal conscious.
To get a good burger and construct a good burger, you have to go to the heart and soul, Whistle Stop USA – Irondale, Alabama. Nestled next to Birmingham, this city is known for a hearty home cooked meal. One of its major attractions is the Irondale Café, as featured in the classic motion picture Fried Green Tomatoes. On the main strip sits Hamburger Heaven.
One step inside and you will see that college football is a religion in this bible belt of burgers. Clearly, it’s the brainchild of the blue-collar working-class man. After all the town evolves around trains. When your local chamber of commerce is a hollowed out old school train caboose, you know the food will stick to your stomach. On any given day you will find a host of persons inside from sophisticated suit wearing attorney’s, local politicians including Mayor Charles Moore, to orange high visibility safety vest clad railroad workers. When the menu is excellent and your belly gets more bang for the buck, classism is not an issue.
In 1982, when Jack Caddell first opened Hamburger Heaven, there weren’t that many food choices in the immediate area. However not even a quarter of a mile away across the city limit line into Birmingham’s Eastwood commercial district, were a host of restaurants in and around the former Eastwood and now defunct Century Plaza malls. Despite the selection of mainstream restaurants, very few felt “hometown.”
Most major chain burgers are mass produced. Often the product does not resemble what is promoted and advertised. As a matter of fact, if the soft drink costs almost as much as the burger if purchased separately is a clear indicator of the quality of burger. Hamburger Heaven’s burgers are made fresh by daily delivered beef. The burgers are not pre-made and left under a heat lamp.
Welcome to Hamburger Heaven. The southern drawl spoken inside speaks for itself. “We’ve had all types of famous people come here. Burt Reynolds, Bobby Bowden, and other famous football players”, says employee Shemekia Strozier. Hamburger Heaven isn’t cheap with their meat, and that’s what keeps people coming back for generations. “Our favorite burgers are the. The second most ordered is the Big Ted Combo, named after the owner’s father. It is a ½ pound burger with. The crown jewel of Hamburger Heaven is the “Holy Cow”. Consisting of 1 pound of pure beef, in order to eat it all, it boasts of needing to “use both hands”. It comes with with Hamburger Heaven sauce, pickle, onion, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and lettuce.
“Our burgers have their own style of taste. They’ve got flavor. Take a look on the walls and you see people who’ve come from miles away. They could’ve eaten anywhere close by, but they chose Hamburger Heaven”, says Strozier. Southern Hospitality is definitely on the menu and its shows with Ms. Strozier. Even behind the COVID mask, her smile and demeanor says, “Hey ya’ll come on in”. According to Strozier, “What many people like about our burgers is or in-house sauce". Although FDA mandates have the ingredients listed on the back of the bottle, that only speaks to why it tastes the way that it does. The real secret is, how it tastes the way that it does. According to Hamburger Heaven, ‘Hamburger Heaven Hamburger Sauce is a little bit like ketchup and a little bit like steak sauce, only better than both.” The signature secret sauce is what helped distinguish the restaurant’s burgers on a national level.
Visitors from out of town who stay at local Irondale hotels such as Holiday Inn and the Hampton Inn have sojourned to Hamburger Heaven because not just the convenient location to the hotels, but the mom and pop appeal speaks of heartiness and local flavor. These two factors tend to be major factors over national chain burger establishments. The local hot spot appeal and local demand is what enabled the owner to expand in 1992 when the original owner sold Hamburger Heaven, Mr. Pete Flach then opened the second location on Highway 280 in 1997. Since then Hamburger Heaven would expand with locations in Homewood and Gardendale.
Because of the uniquely prepared and flavor of its burgers, Hamburger Heaven was awarded #1 Hamburger by USA Today in 1992. Over the decades Hamburger Heaven has been awarded several titles as “Birmingham’s best burger”, including the Birmingham News’ Reader’s Choice Award. If visiting the city, or traveling through the city along I-20, stop in Hamburger Heaven and have a divinely edible experience. About a mile away in Irondale is yet another location for a uniquely flavored burger and experience.
Marty’s GM offers yet another delicious take on a slab of beef between buns. The tone? Burgers, beer, and best of buddies. Marty’s GM is the second Marty’s location in the Birmingham metro. The menu features their signature smash-style burgers, and vegetarian Beyond burger. Marty’s GM opened on May 17, 2018 and it has been a growing staple in Irondale ever since, albeit temporarily ceasing operations due to
COVID-19. Marty’s GM is the second location of Marty’s PM. The prime owners, Phill and Marsha Mims of Marty’s PM wanted to open a second bar but offer something unique. Homestyle burgers would be primarily the focus.
The Mims’ bought Kay Ferguson and Berkeley Seay on board to really make Marty’s GM a hit. At the time of Marty’s GM debut, the strip that currently houses Marty’s was more vibrant. A vintage hollowed out train was converted to a budding restaurant and adjacent to Marty’s and the train was a family fun park and water theme park that was home to a towering inflatable waterslide, the tallest in the state. Across the street was the former Sam’s Club. Then the establishments began to close. However, two years and a pandemic later, Marty’s GM is still here.
What distinguishes Marty’s from most other hamburger establishments is that they are made with two quarter pound patties. The namesake, Marty’s Burger is your basic burger that comes with two patties topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, mayo, and mustard. The Patty Melt, comes with two patties grilled with Marty’s original marinade, melted Swiss and American, and grilled onions. The Big Mick is made up of two patties, special sauce, shredded lettuce, American cheese, pickles, and onions on a non-seeded bun. Now the Dutch Boy is where the burgers begin to distinguish themselves from other restaurants.
The Dutch Boy comes with patties with smoked gouda, grilled onions, bacon, and mayo. Perhaps the most unique burger on the menu is the Breakfast Burger. wo maple glazed patties topped with bacon, American cheese, and an over-medium egg. two patties topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, and house-made BBQ sauce. The Beacon BBQ consists of two patties topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, and house-made BBQ sauce. For local vegetarians, The Beyond Burger, which is trademarked, is a plant-based burger that is seemingly real beef. The patty is vegan-soy and gluten free. It is served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles.
The most popular and demanded, particularly by out of town visitors are the Goat Popper, and Maui Burgers. The Goat Popper is made up of two patties covered in fresh jalapeños, house made pepper jelly and goat cheese. The Maui is comprised two patties topped with Swiss cheese, pineapple, teriyaki glaze, and sriracha mayo. According to
Lisa D, “This is the best burger in Birmingham. We were looking for someplace open late for dinner and saw this place had great reviews. When we were driving here in the dark I was convinced my maps had it wrong because it was so dark and looked like an empty strip mall but then we found Marty's! Oh my gosh the burger. I had the breakfast burger and it was hands down the best burger of my life. I love breakfast food so the egg and the maple glaze were amazing. The buttered bun was soft the perfect ratio to all the fillings. I really like the two thin burger patties rather than one big patty”
Jeffrey H, of Mountain Brook shared similar sentiments. “Ordered a burger to go, the Marty. It was by far and away the best in Irondale. It may have been the best I have had in Birmingham! Seriously I'll be back. This burger was just ridiculous... and I ate it at home and not there. Happy to have a place like this right around the corner!” Marty’s GM’s concept of a local burger bar complete with a diverse menu including wings and brews served up by the best bartenders in the city such as Larry, Jeremy, Jesse, Jordan, and J-Rob, is a winning recipe. If the surrounding elements would pick back up to the vibrant commercial tone of ten years ago, Marty’s would easily have longevity and become an Irondale and east Birmingham staple and tradition.
Heading slightly further west of Birmingham, and Irondale, we find the best lil kept secret in all of Moody, Alabama – Bluegrass BBQ, home of the burgers of the Blue
Devils. It was in a small café in Cullman, Alabama that a driver for Buchmann Taxi would patron one of the most popular restaurants in town called the Trolley Car Café. It was here that Doyle Crutchfield would meet the love of his life, Hazel Starnes, who was a waitress there. The Trolley Car Café, if akin to the present Trolley Car Café in New Orleans, specializes in southern cuisine and grilling. Years later the Trolley Car Café would be replaced as the go to restaurant by All Steak Restaurant, which was opened by Millard Buchmann in 1938. The connection between Millard Buchmann and Buchmann Taxi is yet to be known. It was at the Trolley Car Café that Hazel perhaps learned different recipes, while utilizing and perfecting her own. Doyle would eventually marry Hazel.
Striking out on their own in 1954, the couple moved to Moody, Alabama and began a family. In 2013, the children of Doyle and Hazel established The Bluegrass Barbeque. According to one of the wait staff, Kaitlin A, “Our burgers are the best burgers this side of the Talladega Raceway!”. Kaitlin, who’s also a current student at Jefferson State Community College, goes on to further promote that, “our burgers are a half pound patty of 100% ground chuck. Happiness between a bun” she says. One step inside and you can clearly see that Bluegrass is a regular home, partially remodeled to accommodate a restaurant. And that is exactly what you will experience there, homestyle soul and flavor.
The Bluegrass brand has really begun to pick up in recent years as the city of Moody is rapidly growing. With the Grand River Outlet at the next exit as well as the Bass and Pro Shop, not to mention Moody being a hub during events at the nearby Barber’s Motorsports and the Talladega 500, a lot of traffic comes through Moody and with an increase in travelers comes hungry bellies. There’s been such an increase in homes buyers in Moody, as well as the recent construction of major hotels, residents and visitors will have increased eating desires and variety is a plus. When in smaller towns, people desire hometown flavor over larger chains. Decades ago, to many in surrounding communities and counties, Moody was once considered a “cow town”. Central Alabama livestock owners took their cattle to Moody to local slaughterhouses. And for that matter, Moody, Alabama knows its beef.
“Our best burgers are our famous Bluegrass Burger and the Smokey Mountain
Hickory Burger”, says Kaitlin. The Smokey Mountain Hickory Burger comes seasoned with its hickory smoked bacon and Bluegrass’s home blend barbeque sauce, cheddar cheese, and topped with onion straws. Krystle D, a commuter from Birmingham who’s employed as a welder at Vulcan Industries in Moody says the Smokey Mountain is her favorite as well.
“Having to be at work at 4:30 AM, and drive all the way from Birmingham, I don’t have time for a real breakfast. So by lunch, I’m really hungry so I call ahead and order the Smokey Mountain Burger and it is good. I need something that is going to fill me up and carry me all the way to dinner time because of the nature of my work. Their burgers are the truth”, Krystle said. If the Moody High School mascot is true to its name, the Bluegrass is one blue devil of a burger.
Bluegrass’s namesake burger topped with blue cheese and the flavored with Bluegrass’s “Dadgum Hot Sauce”, that is hot as hell but lip smacking good. The sauce is a carryover from Bluegrass specializing in barbeque ribs. Its house blend signature sauces are Smok’in Sweet, Memphis White, and Carolina Gold. “Many of our sauces comes from the owner’s mother’s recipes that have been in the family for many years”, Kaitlin explains. Many of these sauces from the heritage of mother Hazel’s repertoire can be further sampled and enjoyed on 59 Cents Wing Wednesday. Blue Grass also grills up some powerhouse Bone-in Ribeye and Sirloin steaks on Friday and Saturday Steak Night.
To add more icing on the cake – literally, mama Hazel’s sweet treats are a local favorite as well. Pineapple coconut cake, strawberry shortcake, lemon ice box pie, banana pudding, are available. Named in honor of Moody resident, Markeeta Spur, the Markeeta Mudslide is on the menu along with orange rolls. The orange rolls perhaps came with Hazel from the Trolley Stop and later All Steak Café in Cullman. Doyle and Hazel bore and raised 6 children: Sue, Terry, Ronnie, Becky, Teresa, and Kenny. The legacy of their parents’ love for bluegrass music and good ol’ fashion southern cooking lives on at this family ran and family atmosphere. In just seven years, Bluegrass Barbeque has now become a local favorite. Hands down, they serve up the best burgers in St. Clair County, Moody, Alabama.
Going back to the far western corridor, Bessemer, a recent upstart that has taken the Marvel City Completely by storm is a new local hot spot for burgers, “Dat Burgerplase”. This past August Melanie Benjamin opened a new restaurant that is quickly becoming the talk of the town and growing like wild weeds. The Bible tells of the value of a good name. Mrs. Benjamin knew that the name would have to have some staying power, something unique. Her daughter suggested “that burger joint”. Seemingly having an epiphany, Mrs. Melanie came up with, “that burger place”. However, because Bessemer has somewhat of its own dialect and vernacular, she converted it to, “Dat Burgaplase”, ebonically speaking. Just the mere mentioning of the name and local Bessemer residents know exactly which restaurant you’re talking about.
In just two months, Dat Burgaplace has gone from a mom and pop upstart to a local phenomenon. Bessemer is home to some of the region’s best barbeque and southern cuisine as featured at local iconic restaurants such as Bright Star and Bob Sykes. However, Dat Burgerplase is seemingly here to stay and is a welcomed treat to food selections in the city. Mountain Brook Police Officer Large “In Charge” stopped by to taste for himself. “I saw ‘em on Facebook and I decided to come in and give ‘em a try. I think they’re on to something and gonna be here for a longtime”, Officer Large stated. But what makes their burgers all the rage?
First, all of their burgers are handcrafted. There are eleven different burgers on the menu, although not all of them are beef burgers. According to Katrina Franklin, “I've been here twice. Both times I was utterly amazed at how good these burgers are. Cooked fresh with real meat and is well worth the wait. Service is impeccable. Very welcoming friendly atmosphere. I doubt anyone will be disappointed. My #1 go to burger place from now on.” On National Hamburger Day, Smash Brothers Radio, a local internet radio station did a major promotion of Dat Burgerplase and it generated very positive results. “So for National Cheeseburger Day, I tired Dat Burgaplase. It was absolutely delicious”, says Tammy Jackson of Hoover.
According to Mrs. Melanie, the most ordered burger is the Jack Daniel’s Burger. The signature burger, or “burga” is “Dat GreatAmericanburga” which is comprised of lettuce, tomatoes, onions and American cheese. “Dat GreatAmericanClassicburga is the same except for being topped with caramelized onions and the house blend datburgaplase sauce. “Dat Bleu Cheese burga” comes topped with bleu cheese dressing. Another top ordered burger is the “Dat Spaniard Burga”. This uniquely flavored burger is seasoned with a house special Mexican sauce and topped with pepper jack cheese. Perhaps the second most ordered burger is “Dat Maplebaconbeerburga”.
This mouthwatering masterpiece comes with bacon flavored with maple honey and angry orchid sauce. There are dozens of different recipes on how to make delicious sauces using Angry Orchid beer. All contain various amounts of cayenne pepper, white onions, brown sugar, paprika, molasses, and Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Cider. Some recipes call for charred jalapeno relish, and lemon and lime juice. This very tasty gem to bless one’s palate is akin to its Jack Daniels’
sibling. There are a host of different flavors of Jack Daniels sauce. However, restaurants such as Dat Burgaplase put their own unique touch to it and it became a fan favorite. All Jack Daniels’ flavors contain olive oil, pineapple juice, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, crushed pineapple, cayenne pepper, and Jack Daniels Whiskey.
Datburgaplase is going to be around for quite sometime for they are the right burgers, at the right place at the right time. As the COVID-19 Pandemic has closed the casket on many restaurants and brought others to a slow crawl, Datburgaplase came in and set a new trend and is showing no signs of slowing down. I can only conclude that it is very realistic that in due time, a second location opening up.
Hands down, the best burger on four wheels in the Magic City, is Travis’ Chicago Style Burgers. The bright red truck can be seen around town in several key locations, the parking lot behind the Roebuck location Planet Fitness on Parkway East, the Plum Bar, and Saturn Bar in the Avondale entertainment district. Except for torrential downpour, no matter the weather, patrons can be found wrapped around the corner or largely assembled and crowded around one of the most recognizable food trucks in the city. The feature attraction? The Bear Burger.
Even before the COVID-19 Pandemic, after club patrons were leaving local nightclubs after midnight, with few food choices at that time of night, Travis was the perfect go to selection for a hearty meal before the sun came up. The basic classic Bear Burger consists of a homemade beef patty, cheese, sauteed onions and special sauce. The Travis Chicago style, which has Travis’ special touch to the basic Bear Burger, comes with sauteed onions, bell peppers, ground beef, special sauce and cheese mustard The Travis Chicago Style Polar Bear consists of a homemade beef patty, polish sausage, sauteed onions, bell peppers, ground beef, special sauce and three slices of cheese mustard. The Grizzly Bear Burger consists of two homemade patties, sauteed onions, two slices of cheese (mustard). The Grizzly Polar Bear consists of two homemade patties, one polish sausage, sauteed onions, bell peppers, ground beef, special sauce and four slices of cheese mustard.
One local Birmingham resident, Brittni A, described her experience, “Wow! Is really all I can say for this food truck. My friend took me to where they were parked on Saturday night and we walked up to order. I had the burger and he had the polish sausage. Watching him prepare our food, my mouth was watering and after a short wait, we got our greasy paper bag, piping hot. Well, I was too hungry to wait until we got to our destination, so I started into mine on the walk to the car.”. Due to the sauce, its not good to wait an extended period of time as the bun and bread will become soggy. To enjoy the uniqueness of the burger, its best to consume immediately. “It was amazing. Juicy, hot, delicious & covered in sauce. Slightly tangy, Perfectly seasoned. The sausage was even better. We sat in the car and devoured our food without anything to drink at that! I couldn't believe I ate the whole burger but I am also not surprised. It is really that good.”, Brittni further stated. Another Birmingham resident Gabe P. shares a similar experience.
“I was headed home and decided to stop immediately when I saw the food truck parked in the Roebuck Center parking lot. Such good flavor, the onions and peppers were grilled to perfection, the ground beef and the special sauce are outstanding! Travis has been serving up good food for years and I'm so glad to see them expanding their presence and brand. By doing so, it gives more people from near and far the opportunity to experience & fall in love with this Chicago style burger and sausage establishment! Travis is one of my favorite food trucks and I always enjoy the food!” she says. Rosa T, agrees as well.” On a shopping trip to Walmart, I saw the Travis Food truck and decided to stop by and try their famous Bear burger and Polish dog. Yes both for me!!! Which I ate half of each within two meals. The meat on the bear burger was seasoned and grilled to perfection. This is something I would not order on a regular basis but will indulge on them once in a while whenever I see their truck.”
Birmingham is home to some of the region's most delicious burgers this side of the Mason-Dixon Line as well as the Mississippi River. As we've seen in the afore mentioned restaurants Birmingham has much to offer in the way of burgers. As we will explore in next month's edition, a host of other burger establishments. Birmingham is one of the best things to happen to burgers since a nice pair of red checkerboard overall's. As we can clearly see, Birmingham is the Big Boy of burgers.