Now joining the lineup of fast-casual restaurants specializing in midlevel burgers is Shula Burger, one of the newer concepts that have grown out of the Shula’s Steak House empire.
The Shula’s inside the Dolphin hotel (which is easy to remember since figurehead Don Shula coached the Miami Dolphins through legendary seasons) has been one of the area’s perennial favorites for expensive cuts of beef. The family of Shula restaurants now include the Shula’s 347 Grill (the number reflects the coach’s career wins), with a location in Lake Mary, Shula’s 2 Steak and Sports (not sure what the number signifies there), Shula’s on the Beach, and Shula’s Bar & Grill.
The burger concept joins other burgeries, such as Burger 21, BurgerFi and, to some extent, Five Guys Burgers and Fries. These are the places that attempt to offer a product that is somewhat better than a McDonald’s or Wendy’s but not something so fancy that it requires full table service.
The craze was started, arguably, by the success of Shake Shack in Manhattan, where New Yorkers who despise the thought of eating at a chain restaurant stand in line for hours to eat at one of the city’s eight locations. (Central Florida will get its own Shake Shack in 2014. And if you have any doubts about the profitability of these concepts, read Frank Bruni’s column in today’s New York Times about Umami Burger in California, soon the world.)
Shula Burgers are expected to dot the Central Florida landscape. As I reported a few months ago, one is rumored to take over a vacated space in the SoDo complex on South Orange Avenue.
But right now, the only local franchise is on U.S. Highway 192 south of the Disney campus. It’s a small storefront with a counter for ordering and seating that would not look out of place in a fast food restaurant, although this place has better lighting.
I was warmly greeted when I walked in, and a fellow behind the counter asked if it was my first time there. I said that it was and he went over the basics: order here and then have a seat and we’ll bring the food to your table; all the burgers are made with black angus beef, just like at our steakhouses; and so on.
Most of the menu is -- this won’t surprise you -- burgers, from basic to fancy. There are a couple of other options, most notably the Shula Steak Sandwich, but when the name of the place is Shula Burger, you're best to stick with that.
And in fact I chose the one called the Shula Burger, a very basic patty with a slice of American cheese (a substance that always makes me swell with patriotic pride -- at least I think that’s what causes the swelling), lettuce and tomato. I requested, without being asked, that the burger be cooked medium-rare. The fellow taking the order winced a bit and said he could only do medium or medium-well. I asked why, preparing myself for the “it’s a state law” boondoggle, but the man answered quite honestly -- the patties are too thin to cook medium-rare.
Still, he said he would personally ask the cook to give it a try, and I appreciated the effort.
The burger was delivered with little wait time. The bun sported a branded logo of Shula burned into it. You know, in case there are any problems with burger rustlers you’ll be able to identify your property.
I did appreciate the toasted bun, but I appreciated even more that the cook actually did cook it to medium-rare. And it was a good and tasty burger, with a lot of steakiness in the flavor. The patties are actually a blend of the angus beef, short ribs and brisket, so there’s a lot to like there. Juices dribbled freely when I took a bite, and I liked the crispness of the lettuce and the freshness of the tomato.
I had also ordered a side of the sea salt fries, which I did not find all that impressive (or sea salty, for that matter). The fries were cut too thinly and, though crispy and properly fried, were a bit wimpy. I have a hard time picturing Coach Shula eating one of those dainty fries.
Service continued to be attentive throughout my stay, something that isn’t expected at a fast-casual restaurant. One of the two staffers in the dining area was always offering to fetch more ketchup or help out in another way. That’s a nice touch.
The place is decorated with red tiles and posterized pictures of Shula placed all about. It's not fancy, but then neither is the coach.
Shula Burger is at Rolling Oaks Plaza, 8124 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (near the State Road 429 exit), Kissimmee. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The website does not include prices on the menu. I paid $6.49 for my Shula Burger and $2.49 for the fries. Beer and wine are also available. The phone number is 407-238-1999.