When I get a craving for a sizzlin’, juicy burger, there are two main roads on which I can begin my quest. Should I have my “laziness quotient” in-check at that particular moment, the road I’ll embark upon will lead me directly to the market, where I’ll pick up my good friend Chuck (ground Chuck, that is) and a selection of my favorite cheeses and toppers to make the magic happen myself. But, if it’s like most days, I’ll take a break from being a stove jockey and let some other fine culinary craftsman do the job.
This homemade burger took effort, and often its deliciousness is still not worth the energy-expending it requires
It may seem like the latter road is the one that presents less of a challenge to me, the Hungry Eater, and perhaps it would be if I didn’t live in Fort Lauderdale, which has evolved into a Burger Mecca in its own right. With a plethora of places to patronize for perfectly cooked patties, my pilgrimage to find the perfect specimen has led me all across Broward County. The following spots are all great places to check out the next time you get hit with a sudden case of extreme Burgeritis…
1. Hot Dog Heaven - 101 E. Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
You gotta love the haloed hot dog with angel wings!
You’re probably thinking I’m nuts for listing a place called Hot Dog Heaven as the first awesome burger spot on my list, but once you try their brilliantly-simple char-grilled cheeseburgers, you’ll get it. Topped with a choice of American, Cheddar or Swiss cheese, these burgers also come loaded with your choice of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and their bright-green Emerald relish and house-made special sauce.
Sure, they probably make the best hot dogs in Fort Lauderdale (Chicago-style, with everything from the zingy hot peppers to the celery salt), but these burgers soothe my soul whenever I get a craving for a great, basic burger. Sure, there’s a McDonald’s right across the street, but I personally feel a whole lot better about getting my burger fix at a local, family-owned establishment like Hot Dog Heaven. Its owner, Barry Star (how great of a name is that?), selects only the finest meats, cheeses and vegetables to use in his products, and after getting the grand tour of his kitchen and walk-in refrigerator and freezer, I can attest that the place is kept in immaculate condition.
Cheeseburger, Chicago-style Hot Dog and Fries from Hot Dog Heaven (after being transported for ten minutes back to my house in a paper bag, it still looks yummy)
It may be small in size, but Hot Dog Heaven’s burgers and dogs pack a whole lot in taste. After a couple of visits, you’ll understand why I keep coming back. Each time I go, I get to listen to Grandpa as he works the cash register, wearing his silly hat, cracking jokes to all the customers. As I stare at the freshly-made brownies and the enormous pickle jar on the counter, I can only wonder why a place like this doesn’t stay open past 4:30. One thing to remember before you go to Hot Dog Heaven is that it’s CASH ONLY, so don’t forget to carry some or stop at the ATM beforehand, or else you’ll have to deal with delayed gratification (and who wants that?).
2. Bill’s Filling Station - 2209 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, FL
When I first read on a local review site that Bill’s was the “best place in Fort Lauderdale for burgers,” I thought to myself, “you’ve got to be $#!^^ing me!”
It wasn’t that I’d been there before and had a bad burger, no, not at all. It’s just that I knew Bill’s to be a bar in Wilton Manors, and I had absolutely no reason to ever expect that they’d serve food, let alone the best of anything. So, naturally, I was compelled to check it out after I came across a second, totally unrelated local review site that claimed the same thing about their burgers. After one burger from Bill’s, I was convinced: Word had to be spread about these delectable munchies!
Bill’s burgers are freaking huge, for starters, and there are plenty of toppings to add on, most free of charge (including their yummy chipotle mayo). Their buttermilk onion rings are amazing and always battered by hand (sorry if you like yours out of a box from the freezer…), something you realize as soon as you lay your eyes on ‘em. I usually team up with my girlfriend and order her burger with fries on the side and get mine with onion rings, then we share both. One suggestion I also need to make is to put one or two onion rings on your burger - it adds a whole new level of texture to an already-excellent eating experience.
After you eat at Bill’s, don’t miss out on To The Moon, an absolute must-go-to candy store/memorabilia shop that is located right around the corner. I know that I always crave sweets after a nice, savory meal, and To The Moon always has something new for me to try. They even carry candies that are now only produced in very small batches that you may not have seen around since you were a little kid, which further adds to the novelty of this one-of-a-kind shop.
If you’re still craving something else sweet after all that, you can find solace at Gelato Station, located at the South end of Wilton Drive, next to Sidelines bar and across from the Dairy Queen. This place makes the freshest gelato around, which makes for the perfect palate cleanser after a big, greasy burger!
The gelato showcase at Gelato Station in Wilton Manors
3. STOP Burgers - 1793 Bell Tower Lane, Weston, FL (Weston Town Center)
If you love burgers that have a true seared-in, grill flavor, you need to head over to the Weston Town Center to sample STOP’s gourmet fare. I always opt for the “Original” size (1/2 pound) burger, while my lady gets the baby version that’s only (only!) a 1/4 pounder. I’ve done it with bacon, bleu cheese and pineapple sauce mixed with BBQ sauce, and I’ve also done it in more traditional fashion, opting for American cheese, lettuce, tomato and both grilled and raw onion. Any way you go, though, you’re in for a real treat.
One of STOP’s Celebrity Burgers, a portion of the proceeds go to charity
If you need something to do this Independence Day, look no further than STOP Burgers. This 4th of July, they’ll be hosting the first annual “STOP Burger Eating Contest,” in which the Grand Prize winner will receive $2500 (!!!) and a lifetime’s worth of glory and memories on which to fuel stories to everyone they ever encounter. If ever there were a food I’d like to eat in a competition, it would be burgers from STOP.
4. ROK : BRGR - 208 SW 2nd Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Taken from the official ROK:BRGR website
This place takes the “gourmet burger” thing to a whole new dimension. With all sorts of glamorous selections to choose from, you’ll absolutely have to come back multiple times. I opted to be brave and try something totally new to my palate on my first visit - a hamburger topped with beets! Not just beets, either; there was also grilled pineapple, arugula, and a fried egg! If you think that sounds bizarre, apparently it’s not over in Australia, as this crazy creation is known as the “Australian” in the Specialty Burgers section.
My mammoth Australian Burger from ROK:BRGR, served with crispy fries and two dips… I wish you could see the beets better!
My lovely lady, per usual, opted to keep things a bit simpler, ordering the restaurant’s namesake, the “ROK:BRGR.” Topped with Vermont cheddar, hickory-smoked bacon and bourbon BBQ sauce, it’s perfect if you like things extra-smoky.
Another recommendation I must make is the Short Rib Grilled Cheese. (I know this column is all about burgers, but I’ve already put a hot dog place first on the list, so I’m obviously not shy about breaking the rules…). This sandwich is pure bliss, and, since it was brunch time, I added on bacon and a fried egg to the already-amazing combo of fontina cheese, pulled short-rib and caramelized onions.
Are you freaking kidding me?!?
This was my at-home attempt at recreating the magic of ROK:BRGR’s short-rib grilled cheese, only slightly different — I used Swiss cheese and tomatoes with my homemade chipotle-braised short-ribs, and it was AWESOME!!
This sandwich was pretty much knife-and-fork-worthy from the start, and it took a lot of guts (both literally and figuratively) to actually finish this beast, as I needed to enlist the help of all three other members of my hungry party. Just writing about it makes me want to go get one right now…
Actually, I think I will.
(to be continued…)
P.S. ~ You’ve just witnessed the dangers of being a food writer firsthand!