101 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, AL 36542 (map); 501-251-948-3030, thehangoutal.com
Cooking Method: Chargrilled
Short Order: Beach food, but good beach food in an atmosphere designed for a nice, long visit.
Want Fries with That? They don't serve fries, but the Hangout Spuds (thick fried potato chips) are a suitable substitute
Price: Hang-10 Burger, $9.50; Wipeout Burger, $13.50; cheese or other add-ons, + $1
Have we talked about destination restaurants lately? No? Okay. For the uninitiated, a destination restaurant is a restaurant that you go to with the intention of spending a few hours there for entertainment as well as a good meal.
The Hangout is such a restaurant. The parking lot is large, and the ocean view is unparalleled. Pull up, head out to the beach* with your beach towel and ball, or even your surfboard (and if you're missing something, there's a beach attire shop). If you want to hear a local musician or two, The Hangout features a large courtyard with a few intimate stages here and there for some mildly acoustic ramblings. The courtyard also includes a foam fountain for the kids, and you might encounter a hacky-sack game while walking around. All sorts of things happen around you to encourage you to take your shoes off and dig your toes in the sand.
* All beaches on Alabama's coast are open, by the way. In a recent press release, Governor Bob Riley said, "Our beaches remain as open and beautiful today as they were a month ago." Don't let the oil spill deter you.
Oh, and there's a burger, too. A large, house special burger geared for burger lovers like you and me.
The Hangout itself is an open air temple to beachside enjoyment, with glass-fronted garage doors to pull down in case of a storm. The center of the restaurant is an airy wide playground of tables and chairs, great for a group who's not concerned with a lot of noise around them. There's a well stocked bar here, too, and in the evenings there are periodic trivia games hosted by the staff. Off the beach side there's a nice step-down section full of more tables, high-stepped on one side so more people can take in the view.
Their drinks menu includes the Hangout Hangover ($7), a combination of Bacardi 151, blackberry brandy, raspberry liqueur, cranberry juice, pineapple, and sours that has the cumulative effect of giving you the sensation of being slapped with a blackberry. I was also talked into trying a Bushwacker ($7), the equivalent of an adult milkshake. Vanilla ice cream is blended with Kamora, rum and cocoa liqueur for something similar to, but at the same time entirely unlike, a concrete. It's thick enough to pass the straw test, yet strong enough to cause blurred vision.
Our group passed around a number of appetizers, giving me the chance to check out the Shaka Shaka Shrimp ($13), deep fried battered shrimp dipped in a spicy sauce. The shrimp are a little salty. The glaze is sweet, and the spice hits you late. The Tuna Dip ($9.50) contains smoked tuna. It's heavy on the pickles, but smoking the tuna gives the dip a bacon-y sort of flavor. It's a real hit, especially served on those nicely roasted pita chips.
Then there was the burger. They offer two: the half-pound Hang-10 Burger and the Wipeout Burger, a two-patty version of the Hang-10. Both of them come with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion on the side, with the meat served up on a toasted yellow sesame seed bun (think the old Wendy's buns). Ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles are already on the table; mayo or any other dressing comes by request. You can also get your burger with one of five cheeses (American, Swiss, spicy jack, cheddar, or bleu cheese crumbles), mushrooms, fried jalapenos, applewood smoked bacon, or onion straws for a dollar more. They're served with Hangout Spuds, house-made thick sliced potato chips with a sweet-salty spice.
The burger is char grilled and comes cooked medium well. The meat is lightly seasoned with a house hamburger spice that leans towards black ground pepper. It's a thick, juicy patty, on the ovoid side, with a deep brown crust. It would probably have caramelized more, had it not been for the cheese.
I got cheddar on my Wipeout Burger, and it was obvious that the cheese was added while the meat was still on the grill. The cheese was melted all over the tops and sides of both patties, and it had those lovely crispy bits off the sides that had struck the grill and started to burn. I like those bits. The Vlassic-style pickle gives the assembled product a nice crunch, but since the patties are so thick, like those in pub burgers, it's hard to smush the sandwich down to mouth size. It can be done, it's just not easy.
The bun really does surprise, though. The yellow bread manages to maintain consistency through most of the consumption without being tough. It's a tiny bit on the dry side, though, and condiments are a welcome addition. Because the burger comes unassembled, there's no cheese gluing involved. Overall, the burger is tasty and well-balanced between savory and salty (from the cheese), but its sheer size does mean that consumption in a single sitting is difficult. I was only able to eat half—I saved the rest for the next morning's breakfast.
Then there was dessert. I couldn't order one myself after all that food, but some of my tablemates did. One of which was the somewhat scary Fried Honeybun, a dessert that doesn't even appear on the menu. I've only encountered one other, at The Old South in Russellville, Arkansas. This one's quite clearly fried in butter, then drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with a scoop of ice cream. You could likely replicate the experience at home, but high-fat concentration desserts like this should be served with plenty of spoons and plenty of friends to share with—a true "dare ya" sort of dessert.
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