Chef Allen Susser has been a fixture on the South Florida dining scene for over a quarter of a century. Part of the original "Mango Gang," the group of chefs in the '90s who put Florida cuisine on the map, Susser has published three books, including the 326-page cookbook New World Cuisine, and has won just about every award a chef could win, including a James Beard award for Best Chef in the Southeast.
Recently, Allen closed his flagship Chef Allen's Modern Seafood Grill after 25 years to focus on other ventures, including Chef Allen 2 Go and Burger Bar by Chef Allen, a 78-seat casual restaurant at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Since Burger Bar by Chef Allen is entering a burger in Friday's Riverwalk Trust Burger Battle, we wanted to get a preview of his burger entry and see what else is new in his life.
Clean Plate Charlie: Chef, first and foremost -- what burger are you entering in the Burger Battle?
Chef Allen Susser: We're entering the Beach Burger. Our burgers are a blend of quality beef. We do a combination of flank steak, brisket, and short rib. We're going to grill the burger and serve it with Applewood-smoked bacon, pickle, Swiss cheese, and mustard.
Sounds like a take on a Cuban sandwich.
Kind of fun -- you've got it! You win the jackpot. It's a really good burger, and I love that flavor of the Cuban sandwich. A great beef version nicely grilled works tremendously with that flavor combination.
Do you think you're going to claim the Burger title?
We're going to win. That's the way it works.
You sound really confident...
You know what? There's a lot of great talent in this competition, and that's wonderful. It's wonderful to see that type of community connection, but overall, we're still going to win.
How did you think of the Burger Bar concept for the airport?
It started off that I was working with the airport and making my chef-made sandwiches and salads. I then thought it would be a great place for a burger restaurant. People want that comfort food at the airport. They want to eat something well prepared quickly. They know they're going to have a great burger at Burger Bar, and the comfort level when traveling is important.
Are you growing the Burger Bar? Will there be more?
I'm going to have several Burger Bars in South Florida as well as in several airports.
What's on the menu, and how do you "stamp" the burgers with your signature style?
I kept the burger list direct and simple, offering a couple of great beef burgers. We also serve a turkey burger, a buffalo burger, a tuna burger, and a portobello burger as a vegetarian option. But I always want people to think they're eating in South Florida. That's why I created the Beach Burger. We also have the Coastal Turkey Burger with Key lime mayo. My barbecue sauce is a papaya barbecue sauce. I always sneak in some Florida flavors. Why change what I do?
You mentioned expanding into other South Florida locations? Any specific locations in the works?
I'm looking at some locations in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and then into Miami.
A lot of high-end fast-casual burger restaurants are opening up. Is this a trend that we're going to see more of?
You have to look at the last 20 years. People grew up with Burger King and McDonalds but now have a level of sophistication. They want a burger, but they're not going back to fast food. Remember, burgers are in my past. I had a job flipping burgers for three summers through high school at Rockaway Playland. I loved it. That's what turned me on to food. I loved the energy of it. With Burger Bar, I've obviously taken it to another level, but the love of the burger is still there. We're doing organic, humanely raised beef. We're focusing on the quality of the ingredients and the service, and that's why I feel we're going to be very successful.
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Look out for part two of our interview with chef Allen Susser, coming soon.