By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Other folks judge burgers by their size. And you can consume a dependable, reasonably priced half-pounder at places like Jack's Old Fashion Hamburger House (4201 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-9960, and 591 S. Cypress Rd., Pompano Beach, 954-942-2844) for $3.45 and at Stevie B's Rib Cafe (2725 N. Hiatus Rd., Cooper City, 954-432-3322, and 288 Indian Trace Rd., Weston, 954-349-6636) for $4.49.
But be forewarned: Burger places sometimes judge you. For example, at Cheeburger Cheeburger (11531 SW 88th St., Kendall, 305-596-1211, and 708 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-524-8824), if you can't finish the enormous 20-ounce burger for $9.95, you don't get your name and picture thumbtacked to the wall of gluttons. Smaller appetites -- and those not seeking 15 seconds of fame -- can choose from four other burgers, which range from five-and-a-half to fourteen ounces, cost between $3.95 and $7.95, and have appellations like "The Delirious" and "The Semi-Serious." I find Cheeburger Cheeburger both consistently good and ultracasual, with burgers served solo with salad garnishes and a choice of cheese, including provolone or jalapeno, in baskets. (Sides of fresh-cut French fries and hand-dipped onion rings cost extra.)
I'm personally interested in how a burger is cooked. It simply must be charbroiled or grilled, not fried or, God forbid, microwaved. (I'm therefore more partial to Burger King than McDonald's or White Castle, if truth be told.) I also like it, well, bloody. I know, I know, E. coli and all that. But in my opinion, you might as well play hockey with a well-done hamburger. I particularly dislike an overly charred flavor.
Holleman's, a low-key steak house near the Miami International Airport (1 Curtiss Pkwy., Miami Springs, 305-888-8097), does a terrific job of charbroiling a burger for $4.95, and for an extra buck tops them with rich, homemade chili. Like at Morton's, the hamburger is only on the lunch menu, but the cooks are glad to make it for dinner if you request it. I also find that Max's Beach Place (17 S. Atlantic Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-5022) makes a mean char-grilled burger at any time of the day for $8.95 and melts Vermont white cheddar over it for an extra dollar.
When it comes to burgers, many restaurants stick to the standard sesame-seed bun. Others, like O'Casey's (11415 S. Dixie Hwy., Pinecrest, 305-256-2667), an upscale Irish pub, improve upon it. The bun on the $5.95, half-pound O'Casey burger is homemade, fluffy but firm, encasing the meat and challenging the mouth -- with more success than a dentist -- to open wide. At Bistro Zenith (3011 Yamato Rd., Boca Raton, 561-997-2570), a toasted focaccia roll improves the $9, ten-ounce bistro burger, which was overcooked the night I tried it.
Some people never notice the bun and care less about the burger itself than about the stuff that comes on it. The cheeseburger, obviously, is an everlastingly popular item. James Beard even dignified his burgers with blue cheese, which may be why so many updated diners and bistros have followed this custom. The pungency of crumbled blue cheese does complement rather than overwhelm the meat at Himmarshee Bar & Grille (210 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-524-1818), which stuffs a grilled sirloin burger with basil and crowns it with creamy Gorgonzola for $7.50. The sides of zucchini pickle and warm potato salad are nice gourmet touches as well. For $8.95 Big City Tavern (5250 Town Center Cir., Boca Raton, 561-361-4551, and 224 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, 561-659-1853) also offers a grilled and seasoned ten-ounce sirloin burger, served open-faced on toasted country bread and sealed with broiled Gorgonzola.
Visser writes in The Rituals of Dinner that the burger is "unmistakably a child of the modern imagination." Big Pink (157 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-532-4700, and 300 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-7465) takes the blue ribbon for the kind of creativity she means. The verde burger is doused with a delicious spinach-and-cheese dip for $8.50. Talk about your multicourse meal -- this is appetizer and entree in one. Big Pink also gets kudos for noticing that not everyone eats beef and for offering substitutes: a juicy turkey burger for $9.25, a veggie burger (comprising brown rice, lentils, and tofu) for $8.55, and a salmon burger (ground salmon mixed with basil) for $9.55.
One of the best "substitute" burgers I sampled was at the brand-new restaurant It's New York (1850 SE 17th Street Cswy., Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-7878), which grills a savory half-pound ground chicken burger with cheddar cheese and sun-dried tomato mayonnaise for $8.50. As far as vegetarian burgers go, they've become more and more common lately, but the only place you can get one topped with vegetarian bacon and soy cheese is Sara's (3944 46th Ave., Hollywood, 954-986-1770). At this kosher dairy restaurant-franchise (the original is in North Miami), the $4.95 veggie burger is slid between a "chalee" (or challah) roll of chewy, braided egg bread. If you'd rather forgo the faux pig strips, check out the $3.95 falafel (ground chickpea) burger at Burgerito instead. But forget about washing it down with a beer -- unlike all the other eateries I've mentioned, this restaurant doesn't have a liquor license.
Of course all this talk about hamburgers has naturally made me hungry -- for hot dogs. The frankfurter is as capable of innovation and variation as the hamburger. Surely it, too, can cross international borders and jump class barriers. In fact I'm particularly intrigued by Steven Raichlen's description of "samba dogs," a Brazilian recipe that tops wieners with a relish comprising corn, tomatoes, peas, olives, and hard-boiled eggs, and by the Home on the Range Buffalo Company, which makes hot dogs out of -- you guessed it -- buffalo meat. But first we'll have to rename the hot dog. Because according to the anonymous author of the Illustrated Manners Book, "you will do well not to be talking of dogs when people are eating sausages.