There's nothing wrong with a messy, multilayered burger — those overflowing constructions that aim for something higher than just meat, cheese, and bun. But bringing a change of clothes wouldn't be a bad idea if you order a burger "cowboy style" at Charm City Burgers in Deerfield. The name isn't just indicative of the wrangler-sized hunger it takes to finish it; managing to eat the falling-apart burger without losing half of it is akin to lasting eight seconds on top of a rodeo bull.
The standard logic here would be to cut the packed burger in half and approach it a little at a time. But that only goes so far. The best tactic is to position your hands opposite your mouth so that when you bite one side of the bun, the fresh-ground patty doesn't go squirting out the back. But that just leads to gobs of freshly sautéed onions and mushrooms running out of the sides. As I bite into mine, the top part of the bun slides off along a thick wedge of tomato lubricated by "Charm sauce" (a sort of spicy Thousand Island that is hardly charming when it's splotched all over your face). When I shove it back in place, a slice of thick-cut, black pepper-studded bacon tumbles out of one side. I know better than to commit the foolish act of setting this hunk of steer down to readjust; getting it back up again in one piece would be futile. Instead, I attack the weak points strategically, spotting bits of fried egg about to spill out or points where the bun is about to collapse. By the time I finish, bits of burger shrapnel and soaked paper napkins litter the table.
God, this is satisfying.
Getting elbow deep in a cowboy-style burger can be pretty damned enjoyable, especially when the individual ingredients are this good. But if the bursting sandwiches at Charm City do have a fault, it's that the quantity of said ingredients create some serious structural integrity problems. Mainly, it's difficult to taste a little bit of everything in each bite (especially when you do what I did and add a fried egg for $1). The sheer messiness of Charm City's burgers is both their greatest strength and biggest weakness.
The fact that this sloppy burger is served in a restaurant called Charm City feels strangely appropriate in a town like Deerfield Beach. The bohemian beach town stuck on the border of Broward and Palm Beach counties is a ragtag collection of sleepy bars and restaurants — places like the Whale's Rib, Big Kahuna, and Rattlesnake Jake's — that each share a sort of slacker savant.
That same ethos is well-represented in Charm City's motto, "Five star chefs, five dollar burgers." The place is the brainchild of local boys Michael Saperstein and Evan David, and the guy behind the griddle is Paul McCabe, a chef Saperstein trained alongside at Oliver Saucy's Café Maxx. The team took over the ailing burger joint last September and literally gutted the place, replacing the dusty, wood-paneled interior with colorful walls and a cartoon mural of smiling burger people. From there, they focused on the good stuff: They hooked up with the duo's other venture, K&G Meats, to provide the blend of fresh-ground brisket and chuck that makes its way into the burgers each day. They also brought in artisan bread from Old School Bakery in Delray Beach. Nearly all the ingredients are sourced locally and prepared to order, such as the just-fried bacon and vegetables cut fresh every hour.
The messy cowboy burger ($6.25) is Charm City's biggest seller, but there are plenty of other creative options. A BBQ burger ($6.95) with bacon and cole slaw conjures the Deep South in the same way the mobster ($6) channels New York (the latter by way of an Italian sausage patty smothered in peppers and onions). These days, people are asking even more quality of their meat, and fittingly, you can substitute an eight-ounce American Kobe beef patty on any burger for $4.50. There's even a fancified burger with truffled mushrooms, aged Gruyère and foie gras for $25. My favorite, though, is the hillbilly ($6.95), another overstuffed sandwich that plunks a fried green tomato atop smoked Gouda and Cajun tasso ham. As good as the burgers are, the sides are even better — hand-cut fries are seasoned perfectly, onion rings look as plump as fat doughnuts, and marinated grilled wings act like Texas barbecue in that the smoky meat surrenders to your teeth willingly. Charm City also has a great selection of microbrews from Lefthand and Dogfish Head ($3.50 each), and some tasty Blue Bell milk shakes ($4.50) you can suck through fat straws.
And if you're hoping to get through all that deliciously greasy stuff with pride intact, know this: There are no bystanders at Charm City. Getting messy is all part of the experience.