Over the last several years, a growing trend toward gourmet hamburgers has spread from America’s largest metropolitan areas to smaller cities and towns nationwide, but the trend largely missed Birmingham, Alabama, with just one gourmet burger bar opening over the last few years. But this summer has seen the opening of a new place in the Lakeview neighborhood called Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, the first foray out of Virginia for the Harrisonburg-based chain. I had occasion to try it on my way through Birmingham last week en route to the A3C Hip-Hop Conference in Atlanta, and I was quite impressed. The menu is rather simple, actually, a number of designer hamburgers, french fries, and beers. The burgers are made with wagyu beef, and I chose one with barbecue sauce, bacon and cheese, that was absolutely delicious, if a little small. The french fries were golden brown, crispy and plentiful. And there was a very unusual and tempting dessert- a fried oreo cookie, which proved to be something like a beignet with an oreo cookie inside. Prices were reasonable, and the atmosphere cheerful, in a dive bar sort of way. Jack Brown’s will definitely be my go-to on future trips to Birmingham, and they’re on their way to Nashville as well.
After the late afternoon listening session at Cutting Edge NOLA, I was in the mood for a burger, and after looking at all the various burger options, I decided to try Charcoal’s Gourmet Burger Bar uptown on Magazine Street. Charcoal’s is a large two-story restaurant on Magazine at Jackson, with a downstairs that seems to be a to-go location, and an upstairs bar for the dine-in customers. The upstairs bar also has balconies on its Magazine and Jackson Street sides, but the late afternoon had seen a line of thunderstorms, so everything was wet outside. The menu at Charcoal’s is interesting, and offers a choice between a number of predesigned specialty burgers, or the option to build your own . Meat choices include elk, antelope, turkey, bison, akaushi, shrimp, and even a vegetable burger for those who don’t want meat. There are also choices of cheeses, other toppings, Benton’s bacon, and freshly cut french fries. Prices are not cheap, but the charming space, attentive service and unparalleled burger options make Charcoal’s worth the price.
Tupelo, Mississippi has always had a big-city ambiance that belies its relatively small size. It has a large regional mall, its own TV station, a zoo, a large convention center and arena and a fairly big downtown, complete with tall buildings. Now, Tupelo also has a big-city steakhouse called Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen on Main Street downtown, opened by the same people who run the Neon Pig in North Tupelo. KOK is not just a great steakhouse with great food and an attractive ambiance, but it is also a burgeoning part of the locavore movement, a trend toward restaurants locally sourcing almost everything. A wood-burning pit downstairs fills the restaurant with an inviting aroma, and this is where steaks are grilled and shucks of corn are roasted. My expertly-cooked filet mignon was accompanied by fingerling potatoes, which were delicious, and I had substituted a husk of roasted corn (also amazing) for the vegetables. The large upstairs dining room is bright and cheerful, with local art works on the walls and plenty of windows, but there is also seating around a downstairs bar near the pit. Although I’m not a beer drinker, there is a decent selection of craft beers, many of them regional, for those who like that sort of thing. Altogether, I had a great meal and good fun at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, and will certainly be back.
On the way from my hotel to downtown Columbia, South Carolina, I had noticed an intriguing burger bar called Burger Tavern 77, and after the final session of the Vocalis Music Industry Conference on Saturday June 28, I decided to try it. As the name suggests, Burger Tavern 77 has the atmosphere of a bar, but seems to welcome guests of all ages, and the centerpiece of the menu is burgers, particularly the ones you design yourself with all the various choices of meats, cheeses, toppings and sauces. The menu points out that all sandwiches are made with fresh ingredients and cooked to order. I chose my all-time favorite burger, one with bacon and cheese added, and I was pleased with the result. The fries, which were crispy and golden brown, came in a metal cup, which is becoming more common these days at gourmet burger places. If a burger is not your thing, Burger Tavern 77 also has salads and chicken, and the prices for everything are fairly reasonable. There is also an extensive amount of outdoor seating, but on the evening I was there, it was just too hot to enjoy it.
Our hotel was about 18 miles from downtown Baltimore, but fortunately, there was a large shopping mall across the street called Hunt Valley Town Center. There were quite a few restaurants, a coffee bar, an Italian dessert cafe, a specialty book and gift shop where I found a Ray Lewis shirt for my best friend who’s a Ravens fan, and a cool burger joint called Boardwalk Burgers and Fries, where I grabbed a late lunch before the restaurant closed early due to the Ravens/Patriots playoff game. Actually, all around the shopping center were evidences of Ravens mania. Not only were many of the customers wearing Ravens shirts, but the shopping center had placed Ravens gear on the two decorative statues of horses in the central park of the center.
The Whataburger chain has an intense fan loyalty and for good reason, if you’ve ever tried one. Even cooler is running into the occasional classic Whataburger location, like this one in Chickasaw, Alabama near Mobile, which would seem to date from the 1950’s.
Yeah Burger is one of several gourmet-burger chains popping up around the Atlanta Metro area. All of them offer a rather gourmet twist on the standard American fare of burgers and fries. Yeah Burger is geared to customized burgers, letting you choose between beef, bison, turkey, chicken or veggie, then choosing a cheese, toppings such as bacon or an egg, sauces, and whole wheat or white buns. I created a cheddar-feta-bacon-A1-peppercorn burger, and it was truly awesome. Asking for it medium rare didn’t frighten the servers one bit, and my burger was cooked exactly to order. I must add that the french fries come in a cup, and are plentiful and delicious. Unfortunately, Yeah Burger is currently only in Atlanta, but you can also pay them a visit at http://www.yeahburger.com/.
After the Men of Class second-line, I grabbed a dinner at Tru Burger on Oak Street, and then headed down to Frenchmen Street to catch my homeboys in the TBC Brass Band at their Blue Nile gig. I was somewhat torn, as Victor Goines was performing at Snug Harbor several doors down from the Nile, but I always support To Be Continued whenever I’m in New Orleans, 10/21/12