Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pop's Grill

There is a new player in town. Pop's is located on 20th street just south of five points in the same storefront that old guys like me will remember as the location of Mancha's many years ago. I still miss Mancha's after all these years, but now we are talking about hot dogs, not tamales. Here's a link to their web site: Pop's.

Those close to me will immediately see a connection in the name. A few years ago when my first grandson was born my wife and I announced our "grandparent names". These both were inspired by names from my own family. I had a grand mother that I never knew. Her passing at a relatively young age was before any of her grandchildren could know her but her nieces and nephews knew her as "Aunt Bunny". Bunny became the name our grandchildren would call my wife. My grandfather was always known to me and all of his grandchildren as "Pop". That became my grandfather name. Of course I kind of liked "Kingfish" but what do I know?

So here we were at a sandwich shop named after my grandfather and myself. I was hoping it would be good.

They offer much more than hot dogs at Pop's. In fact their menu made it particularly hard to stick to our usual order. The usual order was originally conceived to aid comparisons as we visited numerous hot dog servers. We have tried to always order a hot dog and a chili dog, both all the way. Today Robert gave in to temptation and ordered a hot dog and a junk yard dog. A junk yard dog is a hot dog with all available toppings. This one came with chili, hot beef, cheese, slaw, and hot dog sauce. Aaron, who was with us for his last time before starting a new teaching job on Monday, ordered a chili dog and a Chicago dog. We did share samples between us as we went through lunch.

OK, one might ask: "How was it?" I'll sum it up as good. Pop's cooks your food after you order so there is a little wait. That was fine with us, and is better than some of the instant presentations we have been given. They seem to really be concerned about the customer's experience.

So, who is Pop? The guy who started this place is Sammy Guarino, a long time player in the hot dog business in Birmingham. He started Pop's to help set up his daughter Heather in business.

Heather graduated from Birmingham's Culinard culinary school and has decided to go into her father's chosen segment of the food industry. We came to find out that everyone working at Pop's today (there were five of 'em) are family members. One has to admire a family with that level of commitment to each other and helping get a new business off the ground.

We also found out that contrary to the posted hours Pop's is open for a "second shift" very late at night. They are doing a brisk business in the late (and early?) hours each night. This is unusual for a hot dog stand, but not for a "grill". These folks are go getters trying to optimize their return on their investment. I say; "Go for it", this is true entrepreneurship.

Give this place a try. It's not Mancha's, but it's a good sandwich shop/grill/hot dog place.

One final note, take a look at the picture below. This is not a large place, but they have two mirrored walls facing each other. You can see "forever" if your eyes are that good.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tip Top Grill - Hot Dogs with a VIEW!!

This week we decided to visit the Tip Top Grill in Bluff Park. Tip Top is located about a mile further out Shades Crest Road from Mr. P's. This is a truly unique hot dog place being in a converted filling station perched on the edge of the bluff tight beside "Lover's Leap". This place is a little off the beaten path for most of us but is worth the trip.

Somehow I have lived all of my life in Birmingham and totally missed this particular little spot on the edge of Shades Mountain. Tip Top Grill has one of the most beautiful mountain views in this area. With abundant outdoor seating it is the perfect place for lunch in pleasant weather. By using just a little imagination you can experience a short vacation in your visit to Tip Top.

They are open from early in the morning until mid afternoon six days a week and serve a good choice of breakfasts as well as sandwiches at lunch.

So, how's the food? We each had our usual order of a hot dog and a chili dog with a side of chips (fries for Robert) and a drink.
The dogs are good. The hot dogs are much like hot dogs one would get at most of the hot dog stands in Birmingham. The chili dog is good also. The chili is a little different, having a sweet taste, but has a very good flavor. If there is any thing to criticize it would be that they seem to skimp on the chili a little. This makes for a neat civilized hot dog that doesn't drip or overflow but just seems a little too civilized. I would encourage the customer to request extra chili; then if more is needed ask if they are running out.

Don't leap Robert; we can come back!

Did I mention the view? There is not only a view complete with a mountain top breeze, but a short little trail down the rocks to visit the inscription on one of the boulders hanging high above the slope to Shades Valley.

P.S. - the second visit:

I liked this place so much I wanted to return a few days later on Saturday and take my wife, youngest daughter and her husband. They were VERY busy on this beautiful Fall Saturday which indicates that I am far from the first to discover this place. I have found the way to get more chili on the chili dogs. After I was served I took my tray and filled my drink cup, then returned to the counter and asked for some more chili on my chili dog. Rather than taking my dog back they gave me a cup with more chili in it which worked out just right.

One more thought... Here's the story regarding the poetic carving in the rocks just below Tip Top:

One of Alabama's first legislators, Thomas W. Farrar came to the site and camped for several days with his new bride on what he then called Sunset Rock. The Farrar's were on their way from their New Orleans' wedding to their new home in Elyton in 1827. It is here where he carved the first four lines of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage", a poem by Lord Byron.

"To sit on rock, to muse o'er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,
Where things that own not man's dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been,"

Friday, October 15, 2010

"It's Just Sonic"

Yes, we visited Sonic to try their hot dogs. I have watched their commercials featuring their foot-long chili cheese dogs many times and always thought they looked good. We made the choice due to our desire to make this a shorter time away from work. We had talked about this for quite a while and decided that the cool days we had last week would be a good time to sit outside and eat at Sonic. So here we went, Robert, Aaron and I. I'll jump to the end and tell you; we all agreed that by far the best part of this visit was eating outside on this beautiful fall day.

We had to make some changes from our usual order at a traditional hot dog stand. We all ended up with a foot-long chili dog. Some with cheese and onions, some without. Our sides included tater tots, fried pickles, and onion rings. I also ordered a corn dog giving me way too much to eat. I didn't try to eat it all but had plenty. We all shared our sides with each other so we were able to sample everything on the table.

Notice above... the container that says "Random Tots" contains fried pickles. I'm not a lover of pickles and would never have ordered these. I tried 'em and didn't find anything I would be wanting again.The final assessment for our visit can be summed up with the phrase; "It's just Sonic." Nobody thought this was a wonderful meal. The price was low, but compared to most places we have visited, so was the quality. We agreed we wouldn't go out of our way to go there for hot dogs again. I could continue this post with many observations but don't think Sonic is worth the trouble. My advice; if you want a hot dog keep driving, you can do much better than Sonic. They do have some pretty good options on their menu but hot dogs are not among them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mrs. Storey's Dairy Bar

This entry is a guest post written by my brother, Robert. He and I have visited over twenty hot dog servers together over the past few months. Here he is writing about a visit to Mrs. Storey's Dairy Bar in Opelika Alabama. I have heard several reports about this place and look forward to visiting it myself the next time I am in the area of the educational center of the universe, Auburn Alabama.

I was in a hurry to get back to the office after my meeting in Opelika, and had little time. But, I took a few minutes to stop at Mrs. Storey’s for the footlong Chili-cheese dog that had been promoted. Since you don’t do FaceBook, I have clipped and pasted below the postings surrounding that. The top part of it is just the end of the posting. It wouldn’t all fit on the screen at once, and I was most interested in your seeing the comments.

As I was about to leave my client’s office in Opelika – at the next exit up I-85 from where 280 runs into it, I mentioned that I was going to Mrs. Storey’s and all three of the local guys that were standing there when I said it all gave hearty endorsements. When I got there, the building has two order windows facing the front and it looked as though the man at the window on the left was busy doing something, I don’t recall what now, but as I approached that window, a lady’s voice came from the window on the right, cheerfully saying, “ I can take you over here!”. So as I started to head that direction, the man in the window on the left finished what he had been doing and said (with cheer in his voice as well), “I can take you right here, too”. So with my being closer to the window on the left, the man won-out. As I was ordering, I told him I wanted a chili-cheese dog. He asked if I wanted footlong or regular length. I hesitated for a split second, and he said “footlong”. I told him that I was from Birmingham and told him about the Great Bhm Hot Dog Tour and gave him a card. I said that someone had commented on one of the postings and said we needed to go there and try out the chili-cheese dog, so there I was, 90 miles from Birmingham, to try his chili-cheese dog. He said, “I think you’ll be glad you did”.

The service was fast and was provided with an above-average attitude. My footlong chili-cheese dog was not a disappointment at all. It was served hot and had lots of chili and cheese sauce on it. After our footlong at Sonic the day before, I have to admit, I wasn’t really expecting anything this good. The bun was fresh and soft, the coney itself did not appear to have been grilled. I don’t know how they cook them, but I suspect they are just cooked in water. Even with that, the coney was not as fatty-tasting as the Sonic one. The overall flavor of this c-c dog was outstanding. Each bite exploded with tasty flavor. I’m not sure what else was on there aside from chili and cheese sauce I may be wrong, but I think there was at least some other type of sauce as well. The chili was only meat and sauce, no beans, but it had a lot of flavor. . . a lot of good flavor. I got the dog and a coke and sat at a table outside to enjoy them in almost-perfect weather. I opted not to get chips as I had enjoyed a late breakfast and snacks during my meeting with my client in Opelika. It was plenty of food. As I ate, I noticed that there was a constant flow of traffic, and it appeared that all orders were quickly filled.

When I finished my dog, I wanted to go back and talk to the proprietor(s), but they had customers standing at both windows, so I just headed for the car. As I was about to get in the car, one of the customers in line hollered at me and indicated that the man inside wanted to talk to me. I walked over to the window, and he (while he worked) leaned over so he could get a good look at my face and asked, “How did we rate?”. I gave him a smile and thumbs up and assured him he got a top rating.

So, my assessment is. . . if you are ever in the Opelika area, or within an hour of there come lunch-time, you need to go to 1900 Pepperell Pkwy and visit Mrs. Storey’s Dairy Bar. If you turn off 280 onto Pepperell Pkwy, it’s just a little past the hospital on the same side of the road (left).