You can thank Duffy’s Tavern on Anna Maria for this week’s blog topic. Duffy’s burgers got some ink in the New York Times a while back, and since then the place has been in CCB’s crosshairs. Saturday we finally got out there, and the burger doesn’t disappoint: Sort of a cross between restaurant hamburger and fast food classic—a smaller-size patty (quarter pound?), cooked the same for every customer and served on a poppy seed bun in a paper tray sans side dishes. Lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo. Juicy, flavorful, and down in about four bites. Make it a double if you’ve got any kind of appetite. Definitely one of those places that benefits from sticking to a bare-bones menu: They do one thing, and they do it really, really well.
So that got me thinking about the wonders of a good burger. At home, CCB’s found a reliably tasty blend of cayenne, Worcestershire and some other flavors that he mixes with the meat, then, after cooking, tops with bleu cheese, gorgonzola or stilton, depending on what’s handy. When I go out, I’m drawn to the burgers that have onion rings or crispy fried onions on top. And if I have real confidence in the place, I’ll double the beef with a chili burger.
But when it comes to the basics, I want it on the medium rare side of medium, with onion and a crisp piece of iceberg or no lettuce at all, hold the tomatoes, cheddar rather than American, and if you serve it with Hellman’s I’ll be your best friend for life, K?
As usual, I ultimately feel inadequate on this topic because there are still too many burgers that I want to try but haven’t gotten around to yet (off the top of my head, folks have strongly recommended Café Americano and Libby’s, to name but two). Of course, I’m hoping that you, dear reader, will only add to my “must try” list with recommendations of your own.
Applebee’s Steakhouse Burger gets an honorable mention.
Let me just get Applebee’s and WingHouse out of the way first: No, these are not the tops, but given the general quality of the food here (ie fair to middling), these burgers are pleasant surprises. With the ‘Bee’s, I’m talking specifically about their Steakhouse Burger, a newer menu addition. Nice tang from the A-1, I surprise myself every time I take this thing down in one sitting (at which point I realize it’s a bit too greasy and wish I hadn’t done that). Winghouse gets a mention for the heaping pile of blue cheese they put on their blue cheese burger (also, crispy bacon is a plus). When you’ve been burned a few too many times by blue cheese burgers topped with salad dressing, you’ll thank the heavens for the real stuff.
While I’m at it, let me admit to loving Checkers Champ burger: The peppery patty and that crispy red onion get me every time–and this is after spending six months working at the 15th Street Checkers in high school.
Patrick’s has been voted “best burger” many times—a controversial pick among burger lovers, if for no other reason than picking one “best burger” means ignoring the dozens of other horses in that race. (Heh, sorry, bad metaphor in a meat context—especially a week before the Kentucky Derby.) But even approaching Patrick’s burgers with some skepticism, they hold their own. I usually can’t resist the Kress Burger, named for the building in which Patrick’s resides. It’s served with a side of chili—I like to scoop a forkful onto the burger before each bite.
The cheesy, chili Gecko burger.
The cheesy, chili Gecko burger.
Gecko’s meat strikes me as very fresh. Usually when I’m confronted by the restaurant-style half-pounders, I throw in the towel about halfway through—because patties that size are often scorched on the outside and wind up being about as tender as packing peanuts (and just as tasty). But at Gecko’s, I consistently find myself with a clean plate—especially impressive when you look at their chilli-and-cheese-smothered Gecko Burger. Very yum—and, surprisingly, the fresh meat holds its own with all those ingredients: nice and juicy.
Same goes for Cody’s Roadhouse. You can actually see the individual pieces of ground beef, as though they just held the grinder over the grill, patted it the meat with a spatula, and then scooped it onto a bun.
CCB wants me to mention Joey Ds. We disagree a little here, because CCB tried to argue that the Joey D’s burger was better than Gecko’s, which didn’t really fly with me, so my mind was not in a welcoming place when I tried Joey D’s. Still, I trust him that it’s a quality burger—and he’s especially enamored of the bacon, which sits in a crispy pile of pieces instead of rubbery strips.
As with everything else, Stairway to Belgium is winning our praise with its burgers. CCB threatened to hug the owner the other day for “hiring people who know how to cook a damn burger”—that is, when you order it medium-rare, you will indeed have some red juices to mop up with the pommes frites. On top of that, Big J—not your typical salad-eating kind of guy—has gone nutso for Stairway’s veggie patty. We don’t have confirmation (…yet), but Big J swears it’s homemade. “It’s not a Boca Burger, that’s for sure.”
I wanted to include Hob Nob on my list, but it’s been too long since I’ve been there. I will, however, consider this blog a mandate to revisit and reassess sometime soon. Where else should I go? I’m seeing “Meat Week 2010” in my future…