- PHOTOS BY ROB BARTLETT
In the food-obsessed climate in which we currently find ourselves – a climate that’s spawned countless food blogs, ubiquitous food photos on social media, rising levels of food snobbery and, naturally, higher food quality – it appears that the iconic burger is still king. No longer the sole domain of greasy spoons and fast-food joints, this most all-American of sandwiches (sorry, Germany) has experienced a resurgence in the past decade, having been swept up, restyled and reinvigorated in this wave of food fascination. High-end restaurants serve up black-tie versions; food trucks employ a multicultural spin; celeb chefs have added their high-profile fingerprints; and farm-to-table and meatless versions keep the eco- and veg-conscious appeased. There are more stand-alone burger joints specializing in “craft,” “gourmet” and “better” burgers than ever before, and all appear to be battling it out in a patty scrap that shows no sign of relenting. So allow us to offer a little clarity in the fog of (burger) war. After all, the spoils are
ours to enjoy.
Beth’s Burger Bar
24 E. Washington St., 407-650-4950
Being pigeonholed as a late-night pit stop for hungry tosspots is inevitable when you’re situated in the downtown core and stay open until 3 a.m. on weekends, but Beth’s Burger Bar is worth a visit even during sober daylight hours. While the raging garage-punk resounding from the jukebox may be hard to swallow for some, the burgers sure as hell aren’t. Owner Beth Steele takes a decidedly less poncey approach to patty-stacking by eschewing the trend for designer burgers with a thousand toppings in favor of a straight-up, old-school approach with old-school pricing. A mere $3.49 will get you a single patty; a double costs $2 more. Cheese, certain toppings and special sauces are extra.
We ordered, paid up, then took a seat in a booth, but not before quelling the bloody racket by dropping four bits into the jukebox and cueing up one of our favorite bands. Rush’s “Overture” from 2112 was far more to our taste, and it made the double black-and-bleu burger ($7.99) with blue cheese, grilled mushrooms, grilled onions and pineapple-jalapeño sauce even better. If it’s well past the witching hour, consider the morning burger ($5.99) with fried egg, bacon and cheddar cheese, accompanied by “The Temples of Syrinx” from the same album. The burger may be light on bacon, but the egg is properly runny and the bun soft and sturdy. The patties here are more along the likes of Five Guys or In-N-Out Burger – that is, on the thinner side, making the sandwich easier to handle.
If you really need to soak up the booze, munch on some frickles ($3.49) then take the Double D Challenge ($12.99) – down a 1-pound double-double with eight slices of bacon, five cheeses, grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, pickles and all the condiments. Vanquish that beastly burger and you’ll get a T-shirt and your photo on the wall, though most succumb to its enormity. Like Geddy Lee says, “The meat shall inherit the earth.”
4192 Conroy Road,
407-203-2848; also 11551 University Blvd., 407-985-3541
So what’s the answer to “life, the universe and everything” in the hamburger galaxy? The folks behind this burgeoning regional chain figure it’s “21” and, hey, maybe they’re right. When I crave a burger, I really don’t want to be boggled by a mind-blasting array of options, and Burger 21 keeps it manageable with a semi-prime number of selections. A kindly staffer may assist you if you seem overwhelmed by the fast-casual ordering process, but once you get your number and take a seat, the only thing left to do is head to the sauce bar, then take in the faintly antiseptic, modern-retro (or is it retro-modern?) decor while awaiting delivery of your burger.
There are a couple of notable features: 1) the inviting milkshake bar and 2) the convenient hand-wash sink next to the exit (and next to the sauce bar). The latter came in particularly handy on completion of the super-drippy OMG! burger ($10.50), a vertically impressive stack of two thick and flavorful patties, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar and all requisite veggies. Unfortunately, the brioche bun couldn’t handle the juice and quickly disintegrated to a bready pulp. The shroom burger ($7.29) held up, but the burger would’ve benefited from a few more cremini mushrooms. Burgers, by the by, are cooked to medium-well, unless you inform the staff otherwise.
There’s also a gluten-free menu – my dining partner felt the French Meadow Bakery bun was “above average” as far as gluten-free buns go, and that his black & bleu burger ($8.09) was one he’d happily order again. We went gluten-free with the one-pound basket ($6.49) of stringy and satisfying sweet-potato fries and the regular fries, neither of which required saucing. A sweet milkshake fashioned from Blue Bell ice cream is no bad ending.
That One Spot
10968 W. Colonial Drive, Ocoee
There appears to be a food renaissance of sorts going on in Ocoee, and Maguire Road is the strip du jour. In recent months, we’ve lauded RusTeak and the Red Eye Grill, and now we can add the drolly named That One Spot, at the corner of Colonial and Maguire, to the list. It’s a hipster-oriented burger joint right down to the graffiti hamburger mural, but that hasn’t scared off the suburbanites. The sizable crowd occupying the dining room, and the one forming behind us in line, was an encouraging sign, though it prompted a hurried order and a quick dash to an empty table outside (and the watchful, envious gaze of those in line).
Of the 11 non-vegetarian burgers on the menu (there are also two veggie options), we chose a representative sampling: the turkey club burger ($7.50), the curry chicken burger ($6.99) and the crunch burger ($7.50). Along with an admirable side of mac & cheese ($3.50) baked with diced onions, and worthy hand-cut french fries ($1.99), we set our sights on the burgers. Turkey burgers don’t really do it for me, but both my companions felt this one, with sprouts, avocado, cucumber, American cheese and pecan-smoked bacon, was better than others they’d sampled. The curry chicken burger, at first glance, was a sad and pathetic-looking one, its bun all but flattened, but the surprising flavor burst from the grilled chicken and basil garnered praise from all parties at the table. But the crunch burger was an absolute beauty, and it’s the one I’ll be hankering for until my eventual return. The crackle of potato chips and onion rings, the tang of blue cheese, the hint of horseradish, and the added comfort of brisket ($1 extra) is everything a burger should be. This one burger hit that one spot.