College-dorm bathrooms, walk-in closets, and even prison cells are bigger than the kitchen Steve Sidle walks into on a daily basis at work.
His "work" is as general manager and executive kitchen manager at Le Tub -- one of Hollywood Beach's most prized and oldest restaurants. Sidle has been in South Florida 33 years; 32 of them have been spent in front of a 24- by 36-inch grill, which cooks up to 28 of Le Tub's world-famous 13-ounce sirloin burgers at a time.
Even though it's smaller than his grill at home, Sidle isn't upset. He gets a window view of the Intracoastal while using two hands to flip burgers that were made internationally famous in 2006 when featured as the number-one burger in America by GQ magazine as well as a follow-up segment on Oprah. While old-fashioned bathtubs, toilets, and kitchen sinks are placed throughout the restaurant that sits on the water, it doesn't resemble a dump. I like to think of it as a delicious, artistic junkyard.
Although Sidle is in the restaurant daily, he cooks only three days a week. In fact, he has only three or four cooks, including himself. Despite the walls throughout the restaurant showing off their 36 years' worth of achievements, Sidle spent a Sunday afternoon
behind the line talking boating and burgers and even turning down an invite for the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
Clean Plate Charlie: You've been here 32 years. How often does the menu change?
Steve Sidle: Last time we changed the menu was from chowder to the [seafood] gumbo. And that was 20 years ago. When we opened, we were just a raw bar; then we added chili. Somewhere in the mid-'80s is when the grill came in. It was actually half the size it is now. The burger recipe is mine. It's how I envisioned a burger should be, and so that's how I made it. Been that way ever since.
The kitchen is insanely small. You can expand your kitchen, can't you?
Expanding would be too much work. Hire more employees, train more people, spend more money. I'm happy with what we have now. It's worked for a long time.
You guys serve canned sodas, orders are put on handwritten tickets, and you still accept only cash. Why haven't you caved yet?
We got an ATM not too long ago -- that was an improvement! Accepting credit cards are too much money. This is what works for us. People know that coming in.
What chef do you look up to and model your style after?
I really like Emeril [Lagasse] and Guy Fieri. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives approached us about doing an episode for them, but we wouldn't let them come in because we didn't want to share the recipes, and it was required.
If you weren't a cook, what would you be doing?
If I wasn't cooking, I'd be sailing in the ocean.
So the burger is your thing. How much meat do you go through?
Today [a Sunday], we will probably go through about 100 pounds of meat while [prep cook] Scott Talmadge makes the burgers, brings them in, and then I throw them on the grill.
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What's your war story? What's been the biggest challenge so far?
My first day, I was back here on a Sunday by myself because my trainer never showed up. They just threw me right in! I learned quick!
What's one thing people misconstrue about your restaurant?
It upsets me when I hear that people think the staff is really rude. We don't mean to come off that way, but some people don't understand our limitations. You either love us or hate us. We've talked [to the staff] about explaining to people that it takes 40 minutes for a burger to cook and if the grill is filled, it could take upwards of 90 minutes. People don't understand our limitations. A guy walked in today and said "Can you sit me?" to one of the waitresses. I told the guy that there are signs all over that say "Seat yourself," and he was upset no one sat him. Sometimes they don't get it, so we don't really mean to come off that way, but it happens.