I used to love riding my skateboard around downtown Birmingham when I was a teenager.
It was abandoned.
Sure there was a handful of businesses like Newberry, Pizitz, Brown Marks Tower Deli, and La Paree that saw enough customers to keep them afloat but you could take a boombox, load it up with Bad Brains and Minutemen cassette tapes and skate all day with impunity.
Even the cops wouldn’t fuck with you.
Those were the days when the city was seeing nearly 200 homicides per year, and the fuzz had bigger fish to fry than a bunch of skinny longhairs riding around on skateboards, and drinking Killian’s Irish Red out of paper bag-bound tall cans.
You could ollie to handrail right in front of the central library all day long.
It was glorious.
Those days are long gone. Nowadays the downtown portion of Birmingham is abuzz with dozens of chi chi salons, cocktail bars, Israeli food stalls, Ethiopian chow hawkers, Nepalese dumpling joints, and enough craft beer to forge a river all the way to Birmingport.
Enter Craft Burger.
In keeping with the modern restaurant movement where all the goods and provisions are carefully sourced and prepared Craft Burger is concentrating on filling that consumer niche for folks who actually care about the foods they’re consuming.
It needs to be ethical, it needs to be made from scratch, and it needs to have a connection to the community where it’s being purveyed.
A recent visit to Birmingham found the restaurant firing on all cylinders.
After a lifetime spent in Texas where chili is the state dish I’ve nearly had to swear off other region’s poor imitations but the chili on the cheese dog here could be served in Amarillo and nobody would blush. It’s meaty, loaded with chile powder, and has enough heat to startle an Oklahoma wildcatter.
French fries at Craft Burger are cut in-house from real potatoes. This bears mentioning due to 90 percent of most cafes serving weird, frozen french fry simulacrum that they source from whatever nearby freezer trucks happens to be passing by.
If they could save a buck they’d buy ’em off a hobo who kept them stored in his drawers.
Moving further afield in the potato category there is a subtlety to the tater tots that is nearly lyrical.
However, the cornerstone of this operation is the humble cheeseburger. Like whiskey when it’s on offer I’ll take a double.
At first glance I have serious doubts about this burger’s ability to satisfy me. I’m a trencherman who’s been to war at countless sandwich joints, and I like them big, bloody, and beefy.
This cheeseburger appears quite dainty until I try to leverage my jaws around it. It’s deceptively plump, and the two patties combine to make a formidable combination. There’s a special sauce afoot that uses delicious, life-giving mayo as a base. I can’t quite put my finger on its provenance but it is absolutely rife with umami.
The restaurant is quiet. I’m here in mid-afternoon, and the lunch rush is long over. One bored worker contents himself with his phone at the counter while another makes repeated amends for clobbering me with the door as I made my entrance earlier.
Stepping outside on to 20th Street makes me wish I had my old Mustang skateboard to roll around on for a couple hours.
I mentally hit a Coffin Grind on the sidewalk, and for just a moment I can practically hear D. Boon singing off in the distance.
321 20th Street North
Birmingham, AL 35203
Hours of operation
always call ahead