Visiting an old favorite that has died and been resuscitated can be nerve-wracking, which is why I drove toward Seabrook, and Tookie’s, with some trepidation.
Hurricane Ike had flooded and closed the legendary place I had loved for its big, ingeniously trimmed burgers and colossal onion rings. The owner of T-Bone Tom's, another Seabrook institution, had stepped in to buy out the owners and rehab the rambling building, reopening last August after a three-year hiatus.
The plot was complicated in the meantime by the emergence of Stomp's, a burger joint further down Highway 146 in Bacliff, where former Tookie's employees were producing excellent replicas of the original's burgers and o-rings. How would it all shake out? Come along on my 50-odd-mile round trip to Tookie's and see.
*PRICE:,/strong> $5.99 for the storied #99 burger marinated in wine, cheddar and onions; $3.99 for an order of Mama Ethel's onion rings; $3.50 for a Blue Moon Belgian witbier on tap.
*ORDERING: Table service all the way. A host or hostess will show you to a seat in one of the wood-clad dining rooms, or you can find a seat in the bar at the back of the house.
*ARCHITECTURE: Salad stuff on the bottom. On a toasted sesame-seeded bun goes a prodigious swipe of mayo, a handful of shredded lettuce, some tomato slices and a paving of corrugated pickles slices. Then comes a half-inch thick, irregularly shaped half-pound Angus patty, capped by a mantle of melted cheddar.
*QUALITY: The well-doneness of the beef patty and the lack of a bite-you-back char interfered with my enjoyment of the #99, which came off more like a meatloaf sandwich. A perfectly nice meatloaf sandwich, mind you, with a full beefy flavor, but I missed the vigorous textural interplay I seek in a burger. I found myself wishing, too, for a twinge of onion in the mix: any onion that had figured into the wine marinade was all but undetectable. The sandwich simply failed to hold my interest, and I ended up doing something that rarely happens on my Burger Friday expeditions: I left some of the burger on the plate.
*OOZE RATING: Only fair. All drippage was condiment-based; the patty, while moist, dripped not at all.
*GRADE: B MINUS. The ingredients were good, but the thrills of a top-ranking burger were absent. (My Stomp's burger some months back, by way of comparison, earned an enthusiastic A grade.
*BONUS POINTS:Tookie's still offers the old-fashioned option of cherry or vanilla Cokes; and its new liquor license means that you can get a respectable Blue Moon wittier on tap. I'm not sure why they crown the mug with a big fat orange slice, but there you go. Of course, the glaring omission in my bonus points section is the celebrated Tookie's onion rings. Please see below.
*MINUS POINTS: The huge onion rings have lost their place in my pantheon, unfortunately. I have a feeling that Mama Ethel might be annoyed that her recipe was executed better down the road at Stomp's, where the sweet, comically high rings have crackle and lift. The specimens I was served at Tookie's had that initial crackle to their batter sheaths, but the crust quickly stiffened and turned chewy. Even ketchup didn't help much, and (unusually for me) I ended up leaving half of the rings on my plate. So Stomp's wins the o-ring category, too. I'd happily drive those 50-plus miles round trip for a Stomp's feed. Tookies? Alas, not so much.
*LOCAL COLOR: It's nice to see the Tookie's building all spiffed up with pretty green paint on the outside, and to see that the quirky interior remains much the same, all wood paneling and vintage signage and the odd bit of stained glass. The locals were out in force on a school night in the front rooms, which are family territory. A younger set came and went in the back bar, scarfing onion rings and chugging shots of Jagermeister with their beers. It's all glossed with more spit and polish than in days of yore, and up front, at the host stand, there's a boatload of Tookiebilia on sale. In the entryway, be sure to check out the high-floodwater marks from Hurricane Ike.
Tookie's: 1202 Bay Port Blvd. (Hwy. 146 @ NASA Pkwy.) in Seabrook, 281-942-9334.