Whether from it being Mothers’ Day or it being Sunday, finding anything to eat in St. Louis in the late evening was extremely difficult. Almost every place I tried was either closed or had quit serving food even if the bar remained open. Fortunately, one place I called on my cell phone was still open, a burger place downtown called Bailey’s Range. It turned out that Bailey’s is a family of restaurant concepts in St. Louis, and Bailey’s Range is a burger place, with a unique difference. Sleek and modernistic in appearance, Bailey’s Range is also New American in its approach to this most American of dishes, the hamburger and french fries, with a menu consisting of unique gourmet hamburger varieties. Of course, using the “build your own” menu, it is possible to create your own more traditional offerings, but Bailey’s seems proud of their creations. I opted for a more prosaic bacon cheeseburger, and was not disappointed. The accompanying french fries were also really good. Bailey’s Range also has desserts, mainly based around their all-natural ice creams, which they also use to make milk shakes, but after my bacon cheeseburger and fries, I had no room for any dessert. Altogether I was fairly pleased with my experience, and was especially thankful for Bailey’s Range’s extended hours.
Trendy gourmet burger places are the latest thing at least in the bigger cities, and not surprisingly, they’re popping up all over the place. And despite a few bad apples, for the most part they’re all rather good, so standing out from the pack is difficult. Unless you’re Charlotte’s Cowbell Burgers and Bar, that is.
Located just off the busy corner of 5th and Tryon downtown, Cowbell has less of the feel of a burger place and more of the vibe of an ultra-lounge. The color scheme is black and white, and a music theme is found throughout the space. On one wall are album covers and flatscreens showing music videos, while on the other wall are art displays and lyric quotes from various popular songs. There is a DJ turntable set up in the corner.
Of course atmosphere is meaningless without the food, but fortunately, Cowbell did well in that department as well. They offer about 6 or so gourmet burger options, and the menu has a few other items as well. I won’t say my burger was the best I’ve ever had, but it was good, the french fries accompanying it were good, and I left satisfied. Apparently, after dinner hours, Cowbell becomes a nightclub, complete with DJ’s and sometimes live musicians. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Cowbell Burger and Bar
201 N Tryon St Suite 1010
Charlotte, NC 28202
I’ve discussed the fabulous, all-natural burgers at Atlanta’s Yeah Burger before. The customer has choices at every step of the order process, from different kinds of buns, to burgers made of beef, buffalo, turkey or vegetables, to toppings and premium toppings and sauces. While Atlanta has a number of good burger options, Yeah Burger has become just about my favorite, since I can get my burger medium rare, with cheddar, bacon, black peppercorn steak sauce and even a fried egg if I choose. Prices aren’t exactly cheap, but they’re not outrageous either, and service is usually quick and cheerful. Yeah Burger’s slogan is “Keeping It Real” and they definitely do.
1017 NORTH HIGHLAND AVENUE, ATLANTA, GA 30306
1168 HOWELL MILL ROAD, SUITE E, ATLANTA, GA 30318
I’ve been hearing about Blue Canoe for well over a year now, and I’ve been meaning to try it for some time. The live music schedule is great, and so I always figured that I would get down there to check out a band. Oddly, that still hasn’t happened, but since I had a jazz jam session in New Albany last week, I headed to Blue Canoe first to try a Smashburger (no relation to the Denver chain of the same name). Blue Canoe’s Smashburger is a thing of beauty, with Benton’s bacon crushed up into the patty itself. I opted to add cheese to it and avoid the vegetables, and it was truly amazing, easily rivaling Oxford’s Lamar Lounge for best burger in North Mississippi. The homemade french fries are long and thin, seasoned and fried to a golden brown, likely in peanut oil. I’m not a beer drinker, but the beer menu is loaded with regional craft beers from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee, and there is a large outdoor patio, and a stage for the live music. Some words of caution are in order, however. First, the inside seating area is fairly dark, and tends to be noisy. This is a bar atmosphere for sure, so this is not the place to bring your significant other for quiet drinks and conversation. Second, they’re not open on Sundays at all. But I will definitely be back to Blue Canoe, and I hope next time to hear a band.
Being the burger lover that I am, I love to try different local burger places when I’m in other cities, so when I saw a local chain called Home Run Burgers on my Yelp app while in Louisville, I made a point of trying it. As one might expect, Home Run Burgers has a baseball theme, perhaps reflecting on Louisville’s history of producing the Louisville Slugger baseball bats, but the menu greatly resembles Five Guys, both in offerings and in price. Burgers come with two patties standard, and the one-patty burgers are smaller “juniors”. But there are more menu options at Home Run, and I liked my burger better. The patties seemed thicker and juicier, and the prices weren’t bad either. Altogether satisfying.
Brickell is another trendy entertainment and dining district south of Miami’s downtown, and in the Mary Brickell Village is a place called Burger and Beer Joint which has burgers and beer of course. Actually, they have the best burger I had during my trip to Miami, and one of the best I’ve ever had. Burgers are cooked to your specification, which is sadly getting rarer these days, and all kinds of toppings are available. The gourmet fries are delicious too, and there are plenty of TV screens, so you won’t miss the big game. There are apparently a couple of other Burger and Beer Joints in the area, including one in Miami Beach.
Elsewhere in this blog I have discussed Mahalia Jackson’s Fried Chicken and its troubled parent company Performance Systems, owned by former Tennessee gubernatorial candidate John Jay Hooker, but one of the sadder stories is how Performance Systems brought down one of Miami’s most memorable fast food chains, Royal Castle. William Singer, a transplanted Ohioan, started the burger chain in Miami in 1938, seemingly patterning it after the Ohio-based White Castle chain, although anyone familiar with the two chains generally said that Royal Castle’s hand-pattied burgers were better. The company expanded throughout Florida, into Cleveland, Ohio and finally to New Orleans, Louisiana, where old-timers are just as nostalgic about it as Miamians.
Unfortunately, the spread of McDonalds, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food chains led to a waning of Royal Castle’s fortunes, and when John Jay Hooker and Performance Systems came along offering to buy Royal Castle, William Singer readily agreed. After all, Performance Systems seemed to be riding high with Minnie Pearl’s and Mahalia Jackson’s chicken restaurants, Minnie Pearl’s Roast Beef restaurants, and they were expanding into child care centers and automobile repair centers. What Singer didn’t know is that Performance Systems was rapidly unraveling, and desperately looking for new sources of revenue, such as a 63-store burger chain that might be the most popular in South Florida. The problem was that Hooker’s company was reporting one-time, non-recurring franchise fees as revenue, which led to massive increases in the stock price, but of course, once the franchise rights in all 50 states had been sold, there was little way to generate continuing income, except by starting a new chain (hence the child care centers and car repair shops). Worse, even though PSI had sold franchise rights to the entire country, most of those restaurants had not been built, much less opened or generating revenue. Of the ones that did open, customers seemed less than thrilled with Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken. Royal Castle was troubled when purchased by Performance Systems, but probably could have survived. As it was, the failure of the parent company led to the total collapse of Royal Castle…well, almost. Two locations have survived in Miami, under separate owners. The one I took a picture of at 79th and NW 27th Avenue is the most interesting, as it is owned by an African-American who was one of the first ever to be hired by Royal Castle in the mid-1960’s (one of the uglier parts of Royal Castle history is that Black patrons were not allowed inside, nor were Blacks hired to work there until the Civil Rights Movement). It is somehow fitting that he went from being one of the first Black employees to owning one of the only two remaining Royal Castles in the world. Although I wanted to go inside and eat a breakfast (they’re open 24 hours a day), I had already had plenty to eat, so I headed back to my hotel instead.
The good folks at End of All Music recommended I try the new Lamar Lounge when I told them I was looking for a good hamburger. The lounge is owned by the same owners as the record store, and the food is simply amazing. My hamburger was patted thick, cooked to my preference, mushrooms were chopped especially for it (they were much thicker than the usual), and there was plenty of cheddar cheese and bacon. The Lamar Lounge gives you a choice of baked potatoes or french fries. I opted for the latter, which were fried to a crunchy golden brown and seemed to have been rolled in sea salt. I was thoroughly satisfied, and my waitress told me that the Travel Channel is about to come through next week to highlight the burgers. Although they didn’t have any live music on the Tuesday night I was there, I am told that the Lamar Lounge does feature live music on certain nights, particularly Fridays. And they truly have the best burgers in Oxford.
I decided to eat my final SXSW dinner in a place I had long noticed but never eaten in, the Snack Bar directly beside the Austin Motel. What has always stood out to me about the Snack Bar is its 50’s space age retro elegance, as if the Rat Pack could be expected to walk in at any moment. The look befits the SoCo neighborhood, in which clubs, restaurants and motels often rely on a vintage look and feel. But the purpose of any restaurant is the food, and the grass-fed organic burger I had at the Snack Bar was very good indeed. The beef, bacon and cheese were all locally sourced, as local organics are the rule of thumb at the Snack Bar. Equally delicious were the freshly cut french fries. The Snack Bar is not necessarily quick (I had to wait about 45 minutes to be seated), nor is it inexpensive. But the food and ambiance are one-of-a-kind.
The serious, severe pain in my left foot on Friday morning made me believe that it was possibly broken, so after breakfast at the Frisco, I had gone to a minor medical clinic to get it looked at. Several hours and $227 later I learned that it wasn’t broken, just overworked from so much walking and standing. A shot of cortisone and some naprocin proved to be enough to get me back on my feet, and by the time I left the clinic, it was lunchtime. I had tried to eat at Hat Creek Burger Company on a previous evening, but found them closed (they close at 8 PM). Located in a former Arby’s on Burnet Road, Hat Creek Burgers features all-natural organic beef and freshly-cut fries, and is a delicious and reasonably-priced option. Of course the dilemma in Austin is wading through all the burger choices in a town that has a burger restaurant every other block, but I found Hat Creek to be good food and a good value.