Tower Groove South

How can you tell when a neighborhood has "arrived"?

In my brief and unheralded career as a deli clerk and short-order cook in Ocean City, Maryland, I learned two things. One: Never pour grease down the drain. Two: There's one — and only one — way to brick a flattop grill.

You wait until the end of a shift, when the flattop is scorching hot. Turn off the grill, then immediately dump a bucket of ice cubes over it. Not cold water. Not ice water. Ice cubes. When the cubes start to melt, put your brick at the upper-left corner of the flattop and, with both hands, drag it straight toward you. Step a brick-length to the right and repeat until you've covered the entire surface. Use a metal scraper to channel all the nasty bits into the drain. If necessary, add more ice cubes and start again, until the flattop gleams as brightly as the day it was installed.

Thankfully, the discussion at the Courtesy is Socratic. The staff seems to be leading a new hire to something like the correct technique. (And there are probably as many "one and only one" ways to brick a grill as there are short-order cooks.) Better yet, the discussion has given my waitress a chance to sneak my breakfast onto the grill before the cleaning.

City boys: Mike Russo (left) and Chris Von Hoogstraat at their new place, Stella Blues.
Jennifer Silverberg
City boys: Mike Russo (left) and Chris Von Hoogstraat at their new place, Stella Blues.

Location Info


Stella Blues

3269 Morgan Ford Rd
St. Louis, MO 63116

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Louis - Tower Grove


Stella Blues Restaurant & Bar
3269 Morganford Road, 314-772-3533. Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 3 p.m.-12 a.m. Sunday.

"Ball Park Nachos $2.99

"Stella's BBQ Pork Sandwich $6.99

Courtesy Diner
3153 South Kingshighway, 314-776-9059.
Open 24 hours.

Double Cheeseburger $3.25
Two eggs, sausage, hash browns $4.50

"This job's going to drive me to drink," she mutters as she hands me my plate. A comedian's perfect beat, then: "Oh, wait, it already has."

The Kingshighway Courtesy Diner is yellowed and tattered around the edges now, like the signs that hang on its walls. One reads, "Prices subject to change... according to customer's attitude." That's why I don't complain when my over-easy eggs come back over-hard. Besides, as long as the hash browns are crisp and golden on top and a bit mushy below, I'm happy.

This is my second visit in three days. Last time I had a double cheeseburger, plain. This double cheeseburger made me more than happy. This double cheeseburger took me back to my childhood, when I was still able to enjoy a McDonald's or Burger King hamburger without guilt. There's something about the combination of the thin patty, the slice of American cheese and the enriched-white-flour bun — some kind of alchemy that fuses it into one flavor that isn't ground beef with cheese on bread, but Cheeseburger. A little beefy, a little cheesy, a little sweet, a lot salty.

You can't get that flavor rush many places nowadays. Fast-food burgers are precooked or flame-broiled into briquettes. Most places that tout their burgers are touting the meat, thick and juicy. This is something else entirely. The key, I think, is that grill, the flattop. Restaurant fashions have come and gone, but nothing cooks better on that grill than a thin hamburger patty with a slice of cheese on top.

If you drop by when the grill is being bricked — three times every twenty-four hours at the Courtesy Diner, every day for decades — you'll have to wait. Don't even think about complaining. Remember the sign. I don't doubt the waitresses will double or triple the cost of your burger.

(It would still be worth it, though.)

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