Tommy's Burger Stop is the opposite of a fast-food joint. This refers not just to the quality of the ingredients -- 5½-ounce Australian beef patties on potato buns, for heaven's sake -- but also to the speed of service. The grill is small and demand is huge, so if you want to eat at Tommy's, be prepared for a wait.
Which is worth it. Although we cooled our heels for 20 minutes during a particularly busy lunchtime visit, the sandwiches made us happy we hadn't gone elsewhere.
About those burgers: They're Cajun-seasoned, as are the french fries. An employee explained that the restaurant owner's parents own the Double Musky in Girdwood. That would also explain the Mardi Gras beads and the holy trinity of desserts in the cooler: Double Musky pie, Cajun Delight and Double Musky carrot cake (each $5). According to a handwritten sign, the desserts are made in-house and with love.
The vibe is also a bit nerdy (tin robots are on display, and a Mr. Spock cutout models the TBS hoodie) and definitely cozy (only a few tables, and precious little room for folks waiting on to-go orders). It's definitely a Spenardian kind of place, abutting a trailer park and drawing a mixed bag of clientele, from teenagers to construction types to guys who look hungover but cheerful.
Everyone seemed to be a regular, either ordering in shorthand ("Papa D, rings") or having their orders guessed at by the superbly cheerful cashiers who, though young, made you think of middle-aged diner waitresses who call you "hon" and say "thanks for coming in" as though they really mean it. It's a friendly place.
The Burger Stop Bacon Cheeseburger ($7.50) was nicely seared and the Cajun seasoning provided a pleasant zing but no lasting harm. "This lettuce is fresh," my dining companion said with a slight degree of wonderment. The tomato slices were decent, too; not stop-sign red, but not orange-yellow, either. Given how sad wintertime produce can be, this is an achievement.
Speaking of vegetables: Tommy's isn't only about the meat. The menu includes a California Stop Veggie Burger and a Southwestern Veggie Burger, a garden burger and a black bean patty, both served with grilled onions and Haas avocado. Each is $11. But some of the other specialty burgers let you get down and dirty:
- Papa D Burger ($11), with grilled jalapenos, sweet peppers, pepperoncinis and pepper jack cheese
- Stella Bleu Burger ($12), a burger topped with a patty made from blue cheese crumbles and mozzarella
- Sweet Charlotte ($12), with grilled mushrooms, avocado and Jarlsberg
?- R.L.E. Hello Burger ($13.75), two 5½-ounce patties with bacon, grilled mushrooms, onions, jalapeno and American cheese
As a former Philadelphia resident, I've always winced at the idea of a chicken cheesesteak. Now I'm glad I got over it and ordered a Chicken Philly ($10). Rather than being thinly sliced, the way beef-based cheesesteaks are, the bird in question was diced and cooked with sautéed onions and sweet peppers, then topped with American cheese.
The locally sourced 8-inch baguettes (French Oven Bakery, right up the street) are split and flattened on the grill. The bread is chewy and saturated with the caramelized veggies and liquefied cheese that drips with every bite. Delectable, but definitely a four-napkin lunch.
An order of beer-battered onion rings ($6) had a coating that crunched deliciously on the outside and revealed soft, sweet weepers within. The basket also contained a pleasant little lagniappe: a fried shrimp that somehow got stuck to one of the rings.
The only off note of the visit was the side of Cajun seasoned fries ($2 small, $4 large). They were cold and tasted undercooked, almost chalky.
On the next trip I opted for a Hotwing Philly ($11), which contained more of that diced and grilled chicken doused liberally with Tommy's hot wing sauce, blue cheese crumbles and American cheese. The sting of the sauce and the semi-stinky tang of the blue cheese were reminiscent of Buffalo chicken wings, but the American cheese and baguette turned it into one of the oddest and most satisfying sandwiches I've had in ages.
Sips from a housemade vanilla milkshake ($4.50) were a sweet antidote to the sauce. And this time around the Cajun fries were a treat: crispy outside and tender inside, with a bit of bite from the Cajun spices (although the seasoning wasn't applied evenly to all the fries).
Regular beef Philly sandwiches are also available, as are items like the Teriyaki Aloha Beef Philly (pineapple, onions, peppers and teriyaki sauce), the 29th Street Philly (sautéed onions, marinara sauce and cheese) and the R.L.E. Hello Philly (sautéed onions, mushrooms, jalapeno peppers, bacon and cheese).
Perhaps remembering the bonus crustacean from the previous visit, my dining companion ordered a Fried Shrimp Po'Boy ($13.75), a 14-inch baguette filled with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, homemade remoulade and shrimp rolled in beaten egg and Cajun-seasoned flour. The sandwich could have used a bit more fish (and in fact you can order extra shrimp or double shrimp for $3 or $6) but the ones we had tasted mighty fine.
Five other po'boys are listed: fried halibut (also served with remoulade), fried chicken (served with housemade Creole mustard), hamburger, cheeseburger and Black Forest Ham (also served with Creole mustard).
Too much? Opt for a grilled cheese on sourdough bread ($6) or chicken nuggets ($5). Or salads: a basic garden variety ($7.50), a cold chef with ham, turkey and two kinds of cheese ($10.25), or a "hot chef" ($12.25) with chicken and beef done in a teriyaki glaze.
Incidentally, that Double Musky pie tastes as good in Spenard as in Girdwood. It's a double-fudge brownie atop a meringue made with crushed saltines and topped with whipped cream. If you're eating a sandwich, you might want to get this to eat later. Much later.
Tommy's has been highlighted in "best burgers in each state" lists on Thrillist.com and Business Insider. Maybe you have your own favorite burger joint and your own favorite burger. But if you're a fan of the beef and bun, you owe it to your taste buds to drop in at Tommy's.
Donna Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and reviewer, is a staff writer at Money Talks News and blogs at DonnaFreedman.com.
Tommy's Burger Stop
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Location: 1106 W. 29th Place (Spenard Road and Benson Boulevard)
Contact: 907-561-5696 or tommysburgerstop.com
Cost rating: $$
Star rating: ***