The Whiskey

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Whiskey Burger

The space that held Cricketers Arms didn’t sit empty too long after that British pub closed. It’s now called The Whiskey, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that any place with such a name is more about the drink than about the food. But based on my recent visit, that isn’t the case at all.

Oh, it’s very serious about the drink part, especially with cocktails featuring the eponymous liquid. There is an interesting craft cocktail menu with some intriguing entries. I chose the one called the Devereaux, which had Woodford Reserve bourbon, elderflower, fresh lemon juice and a splash of sparkling wine. Sort of like a French 75 but with bourbon instead of gin (a Kentucky 75?) The sparkling wine and elderflower took some of the edginess off of the bourbon, which usually is not one of my call liquors.

Smashburger

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Smashburger

I'm calling mine a saltburger.

The latest entry into the Central Florida burger wars is Smashburger, the Denver based company with more than 275 of the fast-casual burgeries in operation either as company owned or franchise operations.

The conceit here — the gimmick that is meant to make it stand apart from a BurgerFi, or Burger 21, or Five Guys, or Shake Shack, or... — is that, as the name suggests, the meat patties are flattened as they are griddled. Not too flatly so as to remove all the juices, but just enough to remove the roundness of the meat ball and form a bunable patty. This is not a new concept, in fact, this is often referred to as the diner style of burger. It's favored among some burger circles because of the crispy edges that the flattening allows. It's anathema to those who insist on a rare or even medium rare burger because the short distance between the top and the bottom of the patty makes anything but a medium to medium well temperature all but impossible.

Spice Burgr

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Spice burger burger

Burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers.

Tired of hearing about burgers yet? (Just wait.) Smashburger, which I first told you was coming to town in august, has opened in the former Boardwalk Fresh Burger space on Colonial Drive across from Fashion Square Mall.

But before we visit Smashburger, let's take a look at another new pattie pusher, this one a nonchain (so far) and from a local restaurateur, Manny Tato, owner of Spice Modern.

That restaurant lends its name, if not all of its vowels, to Spice Burgr, which has opened in the ground level of the Plaza highrise in downtown Orlando. It's similar to a number of other burgeries that dot the landscape these days, from Five Guys to BurgerFi to Burger 21. It's a fast casual concept: place your order at the counter then take a seat (or standby for takeout) and your food will be delivered when ready. (If you take a seat, avoid the booths, which for some reason were designed to prevent diners' feet from touching the floor.)

East Coast Wings & Grill

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East Coast Wings exterior

Do you remember the Taqueria del Sol, the quick serve sort-of-Mexican restaurant that opened on south Orange Avenue right about this time in 2012? You'll be forgiven if you don't because it closed less than four months after that opening.

It was a new franchise to the area, owned by a veteran franchisee, Les Hatter, who had better success with his Five Guys burgeries.

The the space has been taken over by another franchise operation that is new to the area, East Coast Wings & Grill. It's a business that was started in Winston-Salem in 1995 and started franchising about 10 years ago. As the name would suggest, wings are the main focus of the menu, or at least they were when the restaurant was started. The & Grill were added to the name to widen the menu options. Smart move, if my experience is any indication.

I stopped in for a lunch visit a couple of weeks ago. I knew that I wanted to try the wings — had to try them, actually, because one wouldn't go to a place named House o' Beef and order a fish sandwich. Or chicken wings, for that matter.

Shake Shack

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Shake shack ext

I always have to smile whenever I'm walking around Manhattan and come across a Shake Shack. It doesn't seem to matter what time of day or night it is, the line snakes out of the restaurant and down whatever avenue the chain occupies. And yes, it is a chain, something else that always makes me laugh because, you know, New Yorkers look upon cities with chain restaurants with a certain distain. I remember one story, perhaps apocryphal, that a woman who had stood in line for so long decided to give up her tickets to "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway rather than leave. In June, for the company's 10th anniversary, the wildly popular chef David Chang was asked to create a special burger for the occasion. The lines were three-hours long.

Are the burgers that good?

The Porch

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porch sliders

The first time I stopped in to the Porch it was in full Friday Night mode. That is, it was packed with young revelers relieved that they had made it through another week. There was something in the air that screamed T.G.I.F. — Thanks Guinness It's Friday!

Just getting a drink from one of the harried bartenders proved to be an ordeal. And when I attempted to order some food, the young woman acted as though she was practically unaware the place had a menu. She certainly didn't seem familiar with it. When I ordered the item called Speeders — Porch's version of sliders — she looked at me as though I was speaking a different language. Another bartender overheard and translated the order for her. But a half hour later, there was no food. So much for Speed. We figured that the order had never been placed, so my friend and I left.

A couple of weeks later we returned. It was another Friday, but towards the end of the happy hour hours, so it was a somewhat calmer atmosphere (although it had an inordinate amount of toddlers and even infants in attendance — not the sort of place I would want to bring my kids to, but then I don't have any kids, so I have to make do with criticizing other parents' choices).

Bleu 42

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Bleu42 burger

I found myself up Oviedo way the other day and stopped in at Bleu 42, a curiously named sports bar and restaurant.

I say curiously because, well, bleu — American sports bars rarely embrace French spellings. Or anything French, for that matter.

And I can't find any explanation as to the 42. It doesn't have anything to do with the address, which is on State Road 426, as far as I can tell. Or maybe the 6 just fell off and someone liked the rhyming of 2 with bleu.

Whatever.

Cafe Red Downtown

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CafeRed burger

I finally got to eat a meal at Cafe Red Downtown. It's not like I hadn't tried before.

Cafe Red is the new restaurant on Church Street from the folks who own Graffiti Junktion, the boisterous burger joints. The Junktion burgeries seem to do very well — they've become a homegrown mini chain of six locations now, all in a fairly short time frame. So why is this place not a Graffiti Junktion?

I suppose the owners had a desire to start a new brand, to do a different cuisine. But what does it say that the best of what they offer — and what my server touted as the restaurant's specialty — is a line of burgers?

Burger U

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burgeru interior

Hey, Burger U. That sounds kind of rude when you say it like that. But if you think of it more as a suggestion, or perhaps a recommendation on a place for a good bite to eat, it isn’t so crass. Especially if you don’t use hand signals when you say it.

It also helps to know that the U in Burger U is for University, as in Central Florida, of. Burger U sits across from the UCF Arena, which is actually the CFE Arena, just to make things a bit more alphabet soupy. It was for many years a popular sports bar called Tailgaters Smokehouse & Spirts. 

But that place closed, and it is now a footnote in an ongoing investigation of murder and intrigue that has made international headlines. (In 2012, Gregory Faull, the former owner of Tailgaters, was found murdered in Belize, where he was living. What made the crime particularly newsworthy was that Faull’s Belizean neighbor, John McAfee, the man who developed McAfee antivirus software, was questioned about the killing after it became known that Faull had confronted McAfee about the latter’s “vicious” dogs. McAfee has since moved back to the U.S. and the murder remains unsolved.)

So then, Burger U.

Shula Burger

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Shula burger

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.)