For a region that sits so close to the amazing bounties of one of the most generous fisheries on this planet, we Gulf Coasters sure do love our burgers.
We love them squared, rounded, hand-molded; made of top-quality beef or some cut that becomes greasy with fat when cooked; thick, thin, doubled-up, small, overlapping the boundaries of a bun; and we love them often.
Lately, we have seen almost an explosion of new burger places yet we have not abandoned our life-long favorites. In many parts of the country, flashback burger joints have popped up to capture something lost in the fast-food rush, but our flashback places never really went away. Is something flashback when it is still the way it always was?
Like the rest of the country, the Gulf Coast has our share of fast-food burgers. If McDonald’s or Wendy’s is your deal, we have you covered. And lately, new upscale chains like Five Guys have expanded to likely the last place in America not covered with their competitors.
But the real deal for the Gulf Coast is not contained in a product, which is the same from Oakland, Calif., to Bangor, Maine. This region has a food culture, learned at the feet of our mothers, and we like what we like. I'm not saying that any chain is bad, just that we, at the local level, can do better.
New Orleans Burger Joints
Hamburgers are one of those dishes where everyone has an opinion, and while there are points of agreement, there are also points of great differences. Take a look at the example of New Orleans and hamburgers. The city is renowned for grand dining and creative dishes, but hamburgers are not on that New Orleans radar. However, after a night strolling Bourbon Street or listening to the great music along Frenchmen Street, nothing hits the spot like a great burger.
It is here that a lot of the division of opinion starts to be defined with different yardsticks. A burger at 2 a.m. is quite different from what the diner is seeking for lunch. Early in the morning after a night all over New Orleans calls for Buffa’s on Esplanade or the Clover Grill on Bourbon Street. They’re open late and serving folks just like you, alongside a bunch of local characters. If Damon Runyon were alive today….
An old stand-by at other times is Port of Call, with their thick burgers and baked potato accompaniment. Here are some other New Orleans spots that attract a big audience and a lot of attention:
600 Freret St.
8801 Oak St.
748 Camp St.
8115 Oak St.
727 St. Peter St.
(which I prefer over Port of Call as long as you are going to a dive bar to get a burger)
133 N. Carrollton Ave.
Beachcorner Bar & Grill
4905 Canal St.
Gulf Coast Burger Spots
Let’s look around a bit and see what other towns on the Gulf Coast can offer with the great American hamburger. (If you have any favorites, I would love to hear from you.)
Rebel Dip Drive-In
12387 Hwy 49
Return to the 1960s, which is when this place opened. It has solid American food with burgers, onion rings, fries and milk shakes being the stars of the show. It’s a walk-up with outdoor picnic tables. No pretensions, just honest food cooked to order. No heat lamps. No hurry.
Dew Drop Inn
1808 Old Shell Road
Every town had a Dew Drop. Mobile still does. One of the keys to this place is the history. Plaques from a lot of Mobile High classes are all over the joint. Fine dining it is not, but it is sturdy and a bit of Americana missing in many parts of the country. Burgers with steak fries are an excellent idea.
Blue Dot Barbecue
310 N. De Villiers St.
This place is the antithesis of fast food, and they are darn proud of it. It’s pretty much a make-it-up-as-you-go-along operation. Not the food. Good burgers and the accompaniments are okay. But this piece of Americana should never die. The barbecue here is not the best in town, but the burgers are worth the trip. The only other choice of food here is the rib sandwich. Either way, you are chomping into old-style cuisine. Approach it like that and enjoy your lunch the way your parents did when they were dating.
4629 Opa Locka Lane
Actually, Tops is a local chain and has locations all over Destin and east to Navarre. It’s all pretty low-key. The menu is good. The burgers are like you remember sitting at a drug store luncheon counter, if you are old enough to remember that. This is really honest food. It's nothing fancy and I don’t recommend staying here to eat. Judging from the several I have been in, it’s best to eat in the car. This spot is cheap, too.
Gulf Shores, AL
Big O's Grille
2200 E. 2nd St.
Here's a bit of a departure from the topic, but burger folks usually enjoy hot dogs, too. At the beach, dogs are the greatest. Not on the beach, of course, and not those kinds of dogs. Anyway, this place does offer burgers but they are made with mild sausage. They're delicious, unless you have your taste buds set for something else. The hot dogs, however, are as you like them and a good value. The poppy seed bun is a bonus. Tell Big O, the owner, I sent you.
555 Jefferson St
Down in the older part of Lafayette, this place does one heck of a lunch business. And the hamburger and hamburger steak are a few of the reasons. The place is a very old-style restaurant, sort of like eating at an old aunt’s house. Get here early, or don’t be in a hurry. There's good cold beer and decent drinks as long as you keep it simple.