Meaty Juicy Goodness. God help us, we love them.
In his book The Hamburger: A History, James Beard award-winning food writer Josh Ozersky asserts that the hamburger is a strictly American invention. It may have
distant cousins in the annals of history, such as English salt beef, raw meat that Russian Tatar warriors consumed between battles, or the Hamburg steak that often takes credit as the burger’s predecessor. But, he says, it was an American who first placed a grilled beef patty between two buns. Do we rock, or what?
Claims of creating the first hamburger in America have been made in Oklahoma, Connecticut, New York and Wisconsin. Jacksonville can lay claim to being the site
of the first Burger King restaurant—though some, namely the fast food corporation itself, say the facts are a little hazy on that. But that certainly hasn’t deterred grill masters around town from putting their own signature spin on the world’s favorite sandwich.
We set out on a monthlong quest to find the best burgers in Jacksonville. Along the way, we encountered small sliders, three-pound patties, secret sauces, toasted buns, and many, many slices of cheese. Plus, of course, several side orders of fries.
Vegetarians, look away. Now.
|Six-banger, 3-lb. burger from Col. Mustard’s in Jacksonville Beach
Yes, you may order this. In fact, it’s free if you eat the whole thing in 15 minutes or less. It can be done. See Jacksonville’s own
Jon Bello eat one in just over seven minutes. Watch the video here.
|Building the Perfect Burger
In theory, composing a burger is a simple undertaking. The ingredient list is well known. A bun, burger patty, a few sliced veggies, condiments and perhaps a slice of cheese. Maybe a few strips of bacon to top it all off. Nothing to it, right? Not quite, according to a few local burger-making pros.
A truly memorable burger takes thought. “Without a doubt, what makes a good burger is great ingredients,” says Matthew Medure, chef and owner of M Shack, a new restaurant set to open this month in Atlantic Beach. “My ingredients are very traditional, very old school; but they’re traditional for a reason. They taste good together. The trick is to execute it well using high-quality everything.”
The M Burger (pictured right) will be the main attraction on M Shack’s menu, bearing a four-ounce Black Angus beef patty, American cheese, Roma tomato, bibb lettuce, pickle and “shack sauce” on a potato bun.
What’s in the sauce, you ask? That’s a secret. And Medure is not alone in keeping his lips sealed about flavor preferences. T-Ray Mullis, owner of T-Ray’s Burger Station in Fernandina Beach, refuses to reveal the mix of herbs and spices that goes into his signature Black Angus patties. “If I told you that, everybody would be making them,” he laughs.
To keep customers coming back for the burgers he’s grilled since the station opened 14 years ago, Mullis tops each patty with all the basics. But he takes special requests, too. Coleslaw? Sure. Chili? Why not. If it’s in the kitchen, he’ll gladly put it on a burger. “Someone asked for an over-medium egg once. We did that, too,” he says.
Fresh ingredients and a little mystery are all fine things to throw on the grill, but Genie Kepner, owner and head chef of The Floridian in St. Augustine, puts sustainability at the top of her burger priorities.
“We’re a farm-to-table restaurant, so we use as much as we can from farms within 100 miles,” says Kepner. “We use all-natural, hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef from Cartwheel Ranch. The big selling point for us was the beef. Almost as important as the beef is the bun, though. We use Dave’s Breads; he purveys a lot of restaurants and works with the farmers markets.”Sounds delicious. We’ll take two, please.
No two burgers are the same. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for consistency. From one visit to the next, customers expect to know exactly what their taste buds are in for when they walk up to the counter and place an order. Such is the case with the following six local burger faves.
|Full Bubba, $4.89
Bubba Burgers are freezer mainstays for home grillers, and the Jax-based company recently expanded its business to include three full-service Bubba Burger Grills. The signature Bubba is topped with all the regular add-ons, but creative options like chipotle ranch, jalapeños and balsamic vinaigrette keep things interesting between the buns.
|Loop n’ Cheddar, $6.99
Hometown classics don’t get better than a good ol’ Loop n’ Cheddar. Mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion come standard, though the burger itself is juicy enough to enjoy plain. Opt for an order of seasoned chips and a milkshake, and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine all-American meal, prepared at The Loop.
A distinct char-grilled flavor sets a burger from Sneakers Sports Grille apart from other contenders. Feeling adventurous? Add on unusual toppings, from blackening spice to bell peppers, for $1 a pop. It’s a little pricier than some burgers, but beer specials help soften the blow. Throw in a fried pickle spear on the side for a buck to add a touch of Southern goodness to your plate.
|Classic with Cheese, $5.99
French fries and soft drinks come in different sizes, so why shouldn’t burgers? Herein lies the genius of Smashburger, an Atlantic Beach burger joint that offers its patties in “Smash” and “Big Smash” (pictured) varieties. The Denver-born franchise puts forth an impressive patty, topped with American cheese, ketchup, leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles and ”Smash sauce” (no, they wouldn’t tell us what’s in it) on an egg bun.
|Original Krystal Burger, 2 for $1.55
Krystal popped up on the burger market in 1932, long before sliders became the trendiest way to serve ground beef on a bun. Today, the iconic hot, small, square staple of fast food eats doles out its signature burger with mustard, chopped onions and a dill pickle. Great for small appetites, hangovers and competitive food eaters.
|Cruiser Burger with Cheese, $6.75
With four locations in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, you’re never too far from a Cruiser’s Grill. Each Cruiser Burger comes with a ½-pound patty, mustard, lettuce, pickle, red onion and tomato, and you make the call on the cheese. Two slices of American, two slices of swiss, or just a slice of aged cheddar? It’s a question with no wrong answer.
|Other Burgers we Love
The Green and Hot Bison Burger at Ted’s Montana Grill • The Grinder Burger at Grinders Café • The Annabel Lee Burger at Poe’s Tavern • The Veggie Burger at J. Alexander’s • The Turkey Burger at Metro Diner • Da Boom Shaka Burga at Boom Shaka Laka’s Food Shack • The BBQ Blues Burger at Mojo Smokehouse • The Backyard Burger at Harpoon Louie’s • The Sun Dog Classic Burger at Sun Dog Steak & Seafood
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