Boisterous sports bar out of South Florida with good food, especially the burger. Vibrant happy hour.
7335 W. Sand Lake Road
4205 Curry Ford Road
John Collazo, the chef and owner of the Foodster Award-winning Bad As’s Sandwich shop in the Milk District, has opened a burger version called Bad As’s Burgers in Curry Ford West District. Yes, you could make the argument that a burger is also a sandwich but let’s not niggle.
24 E. Washington St.
A humorless young woman took my order: single patty, swiss cheese, classic fries. To my request to have the burger prepared medium-rare, she responded, “They come out medium anyway,” as if that were the same thing. It’s not, of course.
The same unsmiling woman was assigned to deliver my order, and she did so by walking through the dining area auctioning it off to the first person who would answer to my name, this even though all previous orders had already been delivered, only two other orders were placed after mine, and I was the only single diner among them, sitting alone in a restaurant that was largely empty.
The burger was largely forgettable, though I liked the toastiness of the bun. The meat, however, was dry, as overcooked meat tends to be. The fries were above average.
4233 E. Plaza Drive
This is the place that was formerly Tailgater’s. It’s still primarily a sports bar mien, but one with a focus on burgers rather than barbecue. The burgers are more of the midlevel quality — better than fast food, but not exactly gourmet quality. But a good burger nonetheless. Don’t waste the extra $2.99 on the fries.
538 Park Ave. S.
BurgerFi joins other mid-level burger joints such as Five Guys and Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries. I call them mid-level because they rise above the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, but they aren’t in the upscale category, such as you’d find at Fleming’s or Morton’s.
BurgerFi is certainly closer to the fast-fooders in its operation. It’s actually a fast-casual restaurant, one where you order at a counter and then take a seat to have your food delivered when ready. My burger was not very satisfying, and I had issues with the service. BurgerFi needs work.
200 Citrus Tower Blvd
Chef/owner Steve Saelg was one of the pioneers of Orlando’s food truck boom, and his Crooked Spoon truck was one of the more popular ones at area food truck rallies. But Saelg, who started out as a Wall Street financier before turning to a life in the culinary arts, longed to stop roaming. So he parked the truck and opened a gastropub with the same name.
In this case, gastropub probably means something closer to a sports bar. The atmosphere is casual, the bar is visible from most corners of the dining areas, and the requisite televisions hang all about.
I loved the pork belly BLT, a thick and delightfully fatty belly section with a crispy exterior, served on fresh brioche bread with spicy arugula, marinated tomato and remoulade. And as a wonderful surprise, an egg, sunny-side up, on top. It’s called a sandwich, but just try to eat it with anything but a knife and fork.
I also enjoyed the lobster grilled cheese, which was sort of like a lobster roll with a bit of melted cheeses, including brie, swiss and cheddar, on top. The sweet lobster meat was served with tomatoes on the buttery toasted bread.
1524 E. Buena Vista Drive
The burgers here are impressively big, about seven ounces, though honestly they looked bigger. I was annoyed before ordering when I was told by the venue’s chef, Bill Brown, that the burgers could not be cooked at a temperature below medium. Even more annoying was the reason. Instead of saying that the company was concerned about the possibility of bacteria in ground beef not being killed if undercooked — which I would have taken as a more honest answer — Brown said that they just feel the burgers are at their juiciest when cooked to medium, which I consider hooey.
8201 Vineland Ave.
Ford’s Garage is a burger and beer brand born out of Ft. Myers and now headquartered in Tampa. You’d think Michigan, right? But there is a natural connection to the Sunshine State over the Great Lakes State: Henry Ford had a Winter home in Ft. Myers, less than a mile from where the first Ford’s Garage restaurant opened in 2012 (Henry did not attend).
700 E. Washington St.
The original Graffiti Junktion has moved a couple of blocks east to the corner of Summerlin Avenue. Graffiti Junktion, if the name doesn’t already give it away, goes more for a grunge aura, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it seems kind of appropriate. The decor relies heavily on the graffiti part (must have been easy to decorate — just leave a few cans of spray paint out overnight and when you come back in the morning, voila!). Its subname is an American Burger Bar, so red, white and blue figure into the scheme. I had the burger called the Lone Star, a big thick patty, cooked close to the requested medium-rare, topped with thick rashers of bacon and cheddar cheese and slathered with barbecue sauce. It had crispy lettuce, tomato and pickles on a fresh bun. And it was accompanied by a generous portion of slender, spiced fries. Good burger.
110 W. Church St.
A nice family restaurant, but we’re talking more of the Sister Sledge “We Are Family” kind. Fun spot on Church Street with an eclectic crowd and big sloppy burgers.It’s the first national chain to market specifically to the gay community. You might have figured it out if you had wandered in on a Tuesday for Bingo Night, hosted by local celebrity Miss Sammy (hint: it’s not short for Samantha) or for the Maryoke sing-alongs on Wednesdays. At other times, you might not have noticed anything different about the place at all. Indeed, on one of my lunch visits, there was a family at the next table, a father, mother and baby in a stroller. Everyone is welcome at Mary’s — she does not discriminate. She is a terrific hostess, but I don’t think anyone would call her the best cook in town, especially if you should wander away from the list of burgers. Suffice to say the place will never be called Meatloaf Mary’s. Stick with the burgers, and you’ll be fine. The hard part is deciding on which burger to have. There are 11 variations, with names such as Queen Mary, Sloppy Mary, Spicy Mary and Blue Boy burger. And if you missed the Sister Sledge reference, I doubt you’d understand Blue Boy. (No, it’s not served raw. The blue refers to the cheese.) Most of the burgers are made with a half-pound of certified Angus beef, although one is bigger, made with a full pound of meat. That one is called the Proud Mary, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.