August sure came out of nowhere, didn’t it? It seems like just last week I was writing about settling down after all the travel, looking forward to lazy hours of reading, hammocks, kayaks and golf. Now August is here, hurricanes are announcing the beginning of summer’s end, we’re diving into preparations for our October issue, and I still feel like I’m catching my breath—those golf clubs remain hidden in the closet, building up an impressive display of dust.
That’s not to say the past few weeks haven’t had their moments. I finished a couple books, took a kayak under and around the Green Bridge in Bradenton and even finished the third season of Friday Night Lights. Perhaps most importantly, earlier this week I performed my duty as a foot soldier in the Great Anna Maria Island Burger War.
This is a very specific war, so let me explain. If you don’t know what you’re hungry for and want a menu that might include burgers, the island has plenty of options—Ed Chiles’s restaurants (the Beach House, Sandbar and Mar Vista) have decent offerings in perfect settings, and the convenient Café on the Beach is literally that—on the beach.
But if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are craving a burger, we’ve entered an entirely different discussion. In that case there are only two names you need to know: Duffy’s and Skinny’s.
Really, in my opinion, there’s only one name you need to know: Duffy’s.
Duffy’s Tavern (Photo courtesy of SteamDesigns.com.)
You can see I’m not exactly neutral here, and once you join the debate you might understand why. This is a line-in-the-sand kind of conflict—relatives stop speaking over lesser matters. Both restaurants have been around since the 50s, so it’s not unusual for a family to pick a preference and pass it down through generations. Every once in a while you might even hear a sneer like “Oh, they’re a Skinny’s family”—AMI’s version of class-based condescension. Think Hatfields-McCoys and you might get an idea of the scale.
Things got especially heated about nine years ago when Duffy’s lost its lease across from the Manatee Public Beach, and Skinny’s chose that spot for relocation. Now Duffy’s is farther north, across from the Holmes Beach City Hall, where the regulars tend to speak of the competitors to the south as meddlers and supplanters—when they speak of them at all.
I’ll put aside my bias, though, long enough to say that both are worth frequenting. Competition breeds quality and loyalty, meaning at either one you’re guaranteed hearty, greasy goodness surrounded by people who quickly feel like family. The atmosphere is relaxed, with a locals-only vibe you won’t find at the beachfront tourist havens.
The iconic license plate décor carried over to Duffy’s new location. (Photo courtesy of SteamDesigns.com.)
They share certain strengths, like wide, juicy patties on toasted buns with plenty of optional toppings and an impressive variety of beer for accompaniment. Skinny’s stands out for its one-of-a-kind onion rings, while Duffy’s has received national attention for its seasoned grill and its role in the island’s history. (Long-time proprietress Pat Geyer, who died last year, was the mayor of Holmes Beach from 1990-1994. “Good burger, Ma” was a standard farewell under her watch, and her daughters, always ready to share stories with their visitors, are carrying on her legacy.) But remember: If you’re at Duffy’s, don’t even bother asking for fries—you’ll probably get silence in reply, or a few regulars might lean over and remind you that "The burger’s enough."
So next time you’re on the island and craving a burger—not to mention cold beer—you know where to go. And they’re both just a quick walk from the sand, which means you can catch the sunset over the Gulf and head back just in time for seconds.
5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
Cash only; closed Tuesdays.
3901 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
Cash only; closed Mondays.