When Tucker Duke's Lunchbox chef-owner Brian Cartenuto opened his first South Florida location at 32 he was already approaching a near 20-year career that had brought him from Anthony Bourdain's Brasserie Les Halles in Miami to the French bistro Lavandou in Washington, D.C. Now a two-time winner of Cutthroat Kitchen, the Florida native is best known for his family of burger-centric establishments, named for his Great Dane/lab mix. The original restaurant began as an eight-seat Southern-style lunch counter with an opening menu that offered a short list of blue-plate specials. But it was the burger that won him the most praise. Disgusted with the perpetual line at a nearby McDonald's drive-through, one day Cartenuto decided to put his own on the menu, everything he thought a Big Mac should be. He designed one ascribing to the same tenets his menu reflects, with a focus on only local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. Within a week, it had earned him a cultish following, people waiting five-deep for the signature Tucker Duke. Today, Cartenuto's master creation remains the same: a half-pound beef patty arranged in a multilayered Jenga pile of fried onion rings, melted American cheese, mixed baby greens, and celery-salted tomato layered between a toasted, onion-encrusted bun. Pink Tucker sauce -- Cartenuto's insanely addictive version of a Louisiana remoulade, AKA Comeback dressing -- is the glue that attempts to hold it all together. If you order it, remember the house rules: you can't change the Tucker Duke. According to Cartenuto, it's as close to burger perfection as you'll get -- and we'll venture to say you haven't truly lived until you've had one.
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