Burgers of distinction

The Surf 'n' Turf Burger from Sweet Mel's is a half-pound patty of Angus beef, topped with 10 sauteed shrimp, a zesty Alfredo sauce and shredded parmesan cheese.

Matt Stamey/Staff Photographer
Published: Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 8, 2013 at 9:46 a.m.

Is it any wonder it took only a few decades for the burger to jump from new food to America's meal?

Think about it: a fistful of ground meat, generally grilled “just right,” positioned between easy-to-hold slices of carbohydrates.

Add cheese, maybe a dribble of mustard and a couple slices of dill pickles, and you've got heaven on a bun, a comestible suitable for savoring as a sit-down meal or easy to eat on the go — though really we shouldn't if we're driving.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, few are the hamlets without a hamburger place. And some burgers are truly memorable.

THAT's what we've been looking for in Alachua County of late. And we think we've found a few pounds worth.

Some may be hard to forget, like the Perfect 10 at the long-closed Café Gardens in Gainesville. According to Sean Garrity, who heads up the Gainesville Burger Club, the Perfect 10 “was memorable … [but] from a line-cook's perspective, the Perfect 10 was a waking nightmare.

“I think it was close to a one-pound burger stuffed with cheese, onions, mushrooms and peppers. It took forever to grill that sucker because of its size and all the stuff in the patty. It was pretty tasty.”

With the help of Alachua County readers, The Gainesville Sun recently went in search of future-legendary burgers, today's burgers of distinction. Many readers offered suggestions with what they considered “the best burger,” and all were duly considered.

But we were on a quest for those meals on a bun that linger in the memory long after the final bite. Often unusual creations. And we think we found some:

The Stogie Burger

Conestogas, Main Street, Alachua

This is probably the granddaddy of all bigger burgers in the area. Conestogas owner Rick Robertson said he's been offering this full-pound patty of double-ground bits from his hand-cut steaks for a quarter of a century, “ever since we opened,” he said.

“When I was a kid playing football in Port St. Joe, we used to go to this drive-in that had humongous burgers,” Robertson said. “I told myself then if I ever got into this business, I would do the same thing.”

It also comes in a half-size Stogie Jr. As big as it is, the Stogie is actually only a third of his Monster Burger challenge — three Stogie patties.

“If you eat it all, you get a T-shirt and free slice of key lime pie,” which, he added, you CAN take home.

The Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger

Blue Gill, 1310 SW 13th St., Gainesville

This burger is a favorite of the Gainesville Burger Club; at one gathering, it won a cumulative 8.5 out of 10 score. At its core, this is a half-pound patty of organic beef raised locally and ground at the University of Florida.

“That's kind of hard to come by, and we're pretty proud of it,” said Bert Gill, the executive chef who also runs the award-winning Mildred's and the New Deal Cafe on West University Avenue, where this burger has been a staple for a decade.

This burger also features a generous portion of crumbled and melting bleu cheese and bacon on a special bun. It's one of a dozen specialty burgers on the menu at Gill's cafes.

Surf 'n' Turf Burger

Sweet Mel's, 1 W. University Ave., Gainesville

For the seafood lover in the meataholic, the Surf 'n' Turf is just the thing. This is a half-pound patty of Angus beef grilled the way you want it, topped with 10 sauteed shrimp, a zesty Alfredo sauce and a handful of shredded parmesan cheese. You're going to need extra napkins. Mel Crawford, the owner, said her son, Lance, developed this burger a year ago for his sister's birthday.

“People loved it so we put it on the permanent menu,” she said.

But it's only one of 18 specialty burgers at Sweet Mel's, which marks its second year in Gainesville this month. Turkey, vegetable or grilled chicken can be substituted for the beef patty.

The Burger

Loosey's, 120 SW First Ave., Gainesville

A current favorite of the Gainesville Burger Club, this is a half-pound patty of grass-fed Harris Ranch beef topped with choices of veggies (vine-ripe tomato, grilled jalapeno), cheeses (Havarti, cheddar, queso fresco), sauces (creamy horseradish, spicy beer mustard) and protein (Nueske bacon, andouille sausage, fried egg).

“We treat the burger like a steak,” said proprietor Danny Hughes, “seasoned well, super hot grill, open flame, salt and pepper and that's it.”

Since first offering the burger in January, 2011, “we have served over 6,500 burgers out of Loosey's kitchen. It's a popular plate for us for sure,” said Hughes.

Pictured on Page 1D is the Cheddar Bacon Burger with spicy beer mustard and a thick slice of sweet onion. The bun, which manages to stand up to this concoction, is specially baked in Long Island, N.Y.

“Best burger in town, hands down,” said burger club member Danielle Sessions. “I recommend it with Havarti and pickles, no condiments necessary. It's that good.”

Other contenders

Mushroom Frizzle Burger, ground beef patty topped with sauteed mushrooms, smoked bacon, Swiss cheese and frizzled onions on a sesame seed bun; 43rd Street Deli & Breakfast House, 4401 NW 25th Place and 3483 SW Williston Road, Gainesville.

Tropi-Q Bacon Cheeseburger, grilled ground beef patty layered with bacon, Tropi-Q sauce, dutty onions on a Kaiser bun; Reggae Shack Café, 619 W. University Ave., Gainesville.

Readers pick their favorite burgers

“The very best ham/cheeseburger in Gainesville, the ‘gold standard' for burgers, is Mac's Drive Thru at 129 NW 10th Ave. They don't toot their own horn so I will.” — Barbara Elliott, Cross Creek

“The burgers at Gail's (in Old Town) are fresh meat handmade daily. There are no special condiments, seasonings or anything else, just a great burger cooked on a cast-iron cook top.” — Richard Marble, Old Town

“Kids know the best burger! The best burger I've ever had is at the Island Room Restaurant in Cedar Key. It is hot, spicy and full of gooey burger and cheese goodness.” — Gavin Pine, 8, Gainesville

“The burger is called Blackened Bacon Gorgonzola Burger. The burger has great blackening seasoning on it and is grilled, then topped with crumbled real bacon and gorgonzola cheese. The restaurant is Piesano's, two locations in Gainesville.” — Linda M. Nolen, Archer

“I have eaten many burgers in all of the places that sell them in G'ville and the best one currently available is served at the Copper Monkey. Of all the specialty burgers they offer, my two favorites are the ‘Say Cheese' burger with hefty slices of chedder, Swiss and provolone. Alongside that one is the ‘Orange & Bleu' burger that has lightly grilled slices of sweet orange bell pepper and bleu cheese.” — Sam Harris, Gainesville

“In Newberry at a little diner called Country Kitchen. They are only open until 2 p.m., but if you can sneak out of town for lunch and are looking for a good burger, this is the place to go. There is nothing overly special about the preparation; it is just a great burger. I teach at the high school in Newberry, and my love of Country Kitchen is well known. This year for Teacher Appreciation Week, my students gave me a Country Kitchen gift card.” — Mark Burford, Gainesville

“It's called the Classic Burger. The burger consists of top-grade beef, lettuce, tomato and thinly sliced onions with mouth-watering sauce. The restaurant is The Red Onion.” — Michael W. Robinson, Gainesville

“Springs Diner in High Springs. Juicy and fresh; eight choices of Angus beef burgers. The best in town.” — Arnold Willis, Worthington Springs

“Annie's (Café in Cedar Key) cooks one heck of a hand-patted burger that comes in two sizes. Their burgers come out on a fresh toasted bun and served with a host of trimmings and sides. Annie's burgers are consistently over the top.” — Mike Smith, Williston

“When my wife wants to go out for a burger, which is about once a month, the only place she will consider is the 110th Street Grill in Belleview. Nothing fancy, just seven ounces of great quality beef grilled to perfection with melted American cheese. Divine!” — Jim Prentice, Ocala

“My wife and I recently lunched at the Ivy House and I decided to try their version (of what we used to call a hamburger ‘all the way'). It was, in a word, excellent. The three-quarter pound patty was cooked to perfection — medium rare. The veggies were fresh and crisp, and the potato-flour roll, slathered with mayonnaise, just melted in my mouth.” — Luther Deese, Ocala

“The best burger I've had is the Portabella Mushroom Steak Burger at Steak & Shake. I had to talk my son into eating one, and now, it's all he talks about.” — Beverly Byrne, Ocala

“Without a doubt, the best burger in town is at Samantha's Café (State Road 200, just beyond the Withlacoochee River). I had a Mushroom Provolone Burger last night that was scrumptious. Many Ocalans may remember Sammy from the Tailwinds Café in the Ocala Airport.” — Marion and Walter Wise, Flanders, N.J.

“The best burger I ever ate was just a couple of weeks ago at the [Muse Café] in Tres Chic in Ocala. This burger had Kobe beef and had me dreaming of another for days.” — June Wright, Ocala

(Note: Tres Chic is currently closed until the end of summer)

“Nancy's Breakfast & Lunch — so delicious! As I was eating my burger I was trying to figure out why it tastes so good, but I couldn't put my finger on any one thing. It is just everything together.” — Eddie Robb, Ocala

“The best down-to-earth tastiest burger I have had is at Darrel's Diner on East Silver Springs Boulevard. When I was a young lad, we raised and butchered our own beef, pork, chicken and any other meat we ate. Darrell makes his own breads, grinds his burger and cooks to order. Nothing but the freshest vegetables and always Vidalia onion. All this together just tastes like burgers back home.” — Gary Hotalen, Anthony

“My favorite Ocala hamburger is from the Artisinal Dish. True beef flavor satisfies one's desire for the forbidden red meat. But being Wagyu beef, you can delight in this rich quality. No need for condiments or cheese.” — Susan Street Peterson, Ocala

“My burger of distinction is the regular hamburger at Nelson's Fish Camp (State Road 42 at the Ocklawaha River). The secret in my opinion is the right amount of fresh ingredients, not low-quality meat and produce that's been sitting around all day or more, served hot with pride and attention to consistent quality. It's not the classiest place, but the scenery and wildlife are fantastic.” — Doren Claire, Ocala

“Any burger cooked on my grill. I pick out a really nice steak at Publix and have it ground. I like them rare and by buying a steak and having it ground up for you in front of your very eyes, I feel safer about a rare hamburger.” — Peters Clark, Ocala

Rick Allen can be reached at rick.allen@starbanner.com or 867-4154.

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