Shake Shack, the ridiculously popular burger chain out of New York, announced recently that it would open its first Central Florida restaurant in Winter Park in summer of 2014. That sent local burger fans into paroxysms of glee.
For the uninitiated, Shake Shack, from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, started as a hot dog cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park, which, in a strange twist of geographical happenstance, is nowhere near Madison Square Garden. But that’s not important right now. After a few years, in 2004, the group got permission to construct a permanent kiosk for Shake Shack in the square. It now boasts locations throughout the city, some with quite large spaces, and others throughout the world. One recently opened in Istanbul. And all along the way, people have been standing in line, sometimes for hours, to have one of the burgers, a hot dog, a shake or any of the other items, none of which, it must be mentioned, have psychotropic capabilities. (When I first announced that Shake Shack would be coming to Central Florida, a reader commented that while he was standing in line at a Shake Shack in New York a woman in front of him said she had been waiting for so long that she was going to miss the start of “The Book of Mormon” and wondered if he would like to buy her tickets at half price. She took a financial hit on one of the hottest tickets in town just so she could have a Shake Shack burger, the eating of which will not reverse aging or cure psoriasis.)
We’ve seen this phenomenon from New Yorkers before, most notably with Magnolia Bakery, wherein people stood in obscenely long lines for what turned out to be (trust me on this) a very ordinary cupcake.
My point in all this is that Central Floridians don’t have to wait until Shake Shack opens to find a good burger. We’ve got several restaurants that do burgers well. To me, that means a thick patty that oozes with meat juices, usually is topped with a melted slice of cheese (cheddar, swiss, provolone -- depends on the mood), has an optional slice of fresh, firm tomato and crispy lettuce (iceberg is fine in this setting; the important thing is the crispness) and maybe onions, raw if you like or grilled or caramelized. And the bun must be fresh.
Here are some of my favorites. Most can be had without a long wait, but if you’re into the Shake Shack sort of experience you can just show up an hour or so before the restaurant opens and stand outside.
Pine 22 -- I find the ordering process to be a bit annoying -- there are supposedly 322,000 combination possibilities, but the quality of final produce can’t be denied.
Tap Room at Dubsdread -- Hands down one of the best burgers in town. And it has maintained its quality over the years, even as some other rise and fall.
Johnny’s Fillin’ Station -- This would be one of the places that rises and falls that I mentioned above. When it’s good, it’s very good, but sometimes they don’t even seem to try.
Nona Tap Room -- A newcomer to the Lake Nona scene, which has been devoid of good restaurants. I like the Loaded Burger here, with onions, bacon, mushrooms and lots of cheese, none to the detriment of the beef patty.
Hamburger Mary’s -- A popular place for the working class at lunch time, but in the evenings the crowd at this Church Streeter can get a bit eclectic, especially on the nights with entertainment. Let’s put it this way: That woman on the stage probably isn’t really a woman.
Find more burger listings at Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide.