For every person claiming Milo’s is the king there is a separate coterie who would not so much as step foot in the place.
When I attended culinary school in Birmingham we used to take the short drive out to Trussville to eat at Velma’s where a group of graying pensioners sat around nursing Coors longnecks, chain-smoking Salem cigarettes and eating one of the best burgers I ever had the pleasure of knowing.R3 Lounge in the West End of Bham was another favorite.
Sadly, both are now shuttered.
At the intersection of Dickey Springs and Pocahontas down near Bessemer, Alabama a little weathered, brick front building has been serving hand-patted cheeseburgers since Bear Bryant barked orders to half-grown men thirty minutes down the road in Tuscaloosa.J&J Grocery is still rolling a few thousand pounds of meat per week off their old flat-top griddle.
A recent visit found three gals working their hind-ends off to keep pace with a big volume of orders pouring in. A room full of blue collar cats have taken a quick lunch break before they have to get back to the factories that keep their mortgages and car notes paid off.
The perfume of Marlboro cigarettes is mingling with the aroma of frying beef meat. Griddled onions add a sweet after-note to the affair. The black coffee is served at a near boil and the tea is good, cold, and sweet enough to give you the dread diabetes.All is well and good at J&J on a rainy afternoon.
The burger? Did you have a grandma named Nellie or Ruth or Margie? Then it may remind you of hers. A hard-living country woman may have a secret or two up her sleeve when it’s time to feed the family or earn a paycheck. It might be a few dashes of Accent or the fact that she keeps a coffee can-stash filled with leftover grease drippings from that morning’s bacon fry-up.
I don’t know what J&J’s secret is but it’s a terrific burger. Not too lean; a craggy griddled crust on the surface of the patty and a blitz of plain-jane toppings complete the sandwich. There will be no port wine simmered mushrooms at this little curb store but there will be good tomatoes, sweet onions and cold pickles.Make sure you say no ketchup as that is a standard garnish in this part of Alabama.
French fries are the freezer bag-style but come hot, plentiful and salty. Conversation is free as nearly every worker I came across had something to say to this stranger in their midst.
When they found out I was from New Orleans every one of them had a tale to tell of their youthful debauches spent in my city. Rum and reefer may or may not have played a role.J&J is the kind of easy-going, rough around the edges quick mart that every rural community needs. I can only imagine the lies that get told amongst the regulars as they solve the world’s problems before they have to hurry home down I-59, a blacktop ribbon so long it feels like you can never see the end of it.
J&J Grocery and Deli
8169 Dickey Springs Rd
Enjoy the article? I’ve worked on this site 7 days a week for the past 10 years
My Venmo is @Russell-Reeves-6 if you’d like to make a small contribution