There are no adjectives to describe the hamburger at Grandpa Mischeaux's Real Deal Barbecue & Grill. There are only facts: 1.2 pounds of ground beef before cooking. After cooking, 1.15 pounds. Six inches in diameter, outsizing the Texas toast it sits upon, which is practically as big as proprietor Byron Mischeaux's storefront shack itself. Cost: $2.50, or $3.50 with fries.
Mischeaux makes his burger patties -- patties, no; footballs, maybe -- by hand, like your mother makes meatballs. He cooks them on a regular old grill, though they taste like they've been browned in a broiler. Actually, he started off barbecuing them on the pit he had built out back (big enough to fit fifteen whole slabs of ribs and five cases of rib tips all at once) but couldn't figure out how to keep the burgers so big without getting too dry. Mischeaux believes in a moist, juice-running-down-your-arm kind of burger, which is why he uses Texas toast to anchor the patties instead of regular hamburger buns. Texas toast, he says, can handle the juice better -- "Plus it just looks good."
He gets his beef from, get this, a Safeway supermarket up on the north side, and occasionally he has to lock the door in the middle of the day to make a run for more (or for chicken -- he'll sell you a whole, half, quarter or just the wings). There seem to be hints of paprika and onion in the finished product, but Mischeaux won't say what spices or seasonings he uses to give his carnal, savory burgers their taste. He just laughs and calls it "a Mischeaux secret."
How Mischeaux makes even a dime off his restaurant is just as big a mystery. His prices are so low that he may as well call the place "Crazy Mischeaux's." All he'll say is that he "pays the bills," which must come by the boatload, considering he cares for his eleven kids and thirteen grandkids ("Can't forget the grandbabies," he'll say proudly), some of whom work for him.
"A lot of people in this neighborhood, they've got a lot of kids and they don't have a lot of money," Mischeaux explains. "McDonald's is expensive, especially if you're trying to buy meals for three or four kids. So I wanted to make one burger that could feed three or four kids." And he has.
Mischeaux's north-side neighborhood, a couple blocks down from St. Louis Avenue, is important to him. On July 19, 2000, five years after he originally opened shop a few blocks north, Mischeaux was at work when a wanted murderer walked into his store and shot him -- three times in the head, once in the shoulder. After he recovered thirteen months later, he reopened Grandpa Mischeaux's a mere five blocks south, where it stands today.
Shutting down for good was never an option. "I influence a lot of kids in the neighborhood," Mischeaux says. "I didn't want to go away." (The man who shot him, by the way, was eventually caught. Mischeaux read about him in the Sunday paper and recognized him. He is now serving life in prison.)
Although cooking was never on Mischeaux's résumé before opening Grandpa Mischeaux's, it was in his blood. Back when Byron was growing up, his father and grandfather (the latter is Grandpa Mischeaux's namesake) ran C&K Barbecue on the north side. Byron worked for Purex in the 1990s before he decided to open up a little beauty shop. He ran that shop in the back of a commercial space, and once in a while he'd whip up some barbecue for the neighborhood kids. Pretty soon, people started hovering around the storefront, asking when he was going to make some more.
The beauty shop didn't last once Grandpa Mischeaux's was born, but the swarms of people coming in for food remain. When Mischeaux does lock up the store in the middle of the day, people will wait at the picnic tables out front, asking the kids playing on the stoop next door when Byron said he'd be back.
Unlike the burgers, the barbecued items (all the classic stuff, including brisket, tripe, snoot, ribs and rib tips) aren't always available, because they take a long time to make. And since the shooting, Mischeaux's eyes don't stand up to the smoke very well. Plus, he says, he's never found a cook as good as himself who he'd trust to make the stuff.
Needless to say, then, hamburgers and cheeseburgers are the most popular items on the menu -- both by default and by taste.