It's just before closing Friday night outside Funky Buddha Brewery when chef Adam Feigeles comes riding into view atop an antique fire truck like Santa Claus at the tail end of a Thanksgiving parade. But instead of tossing candy canes to bright-eyed children, he's pied-pipering glassy-eyed adults with calls of "Follow me to the Filling Station — I'll buy you a beer!"
The fire truck belongs to one of Feigeles' employees, a local firefighter who works part-time at the Filling Station and Garage Bar.
"One day he threw me the keys and said, 'Have fun with it,'?" says Feigeles, who relocated his burgercentric restaurant from Miami to Oakland Park in July. So although the ritual with the fire truck is new, "it's really built up, and they want a free beer, so they follow."
Feigeles might be new to Broward, but he's a native-born Miamian and a veteran of the local restaurant industry, where he's been opening, building up, and flipping restaurants like one of those home-makeover shows on HGTV since the late 1980s. He got an early start at the Beverly Hills Café in Hialeah after a fortuitous meeting with owner Mark Richman, who was catering an event thrown by Feigeles' uncle.
"I was there about four and half years," says Feigeles. "I became a managing partner with them when I was 22, and when I was 24, I went out on my own and opened my own restaurant."
That first eatery was Fatso's Fresh Pasta in North Miami. After about a year and a half, Feigeles revamped the placed and renamed it Gourmet Grill. He began grilling burgers along with the pasta.
A couple of years later, in 1990, Feigeles switched gears and bought a company called Claudia's Kitchen and Bakery, which made gift baskets. He continued with the baskets in 1994, when he opened the first Filling Station and Garage Bar in downtown Miami.
The Filling Station would have two more Miami locations before moving on to Broward, and Feigeles would open and sell other concepts along the way. One of these was Union Square Cafe and Catering Co., which opened in 1997 while Feigeles was waiting for the Filling Station's Flagler location to finish construction.
"Basically, this is like my 12th restaurant," says Feigeles. "But I've sold them all. I've never had to close them."
Along the way, he's stayed loyal to his first love. "The Filling Station has always been my dream restaurant, the kind of place I loved, with the funky burgers and the fried pickles and all that. That's always been my dream to have a restaurant that serves fun food."
He says that as a chef, he liked the idea of serving a lot of food, of filling people up. "And I love old cars, so it just kind of worked together."
From the auto-themed burger names to the highway signs plastered on the walls — not to mention the Velocity channel's high-end-car-centric programming playing on every television in the place — it's a motif Feigeles obviously has a lot of fun with.
These days, he is busy in the kitchen training new staff — because only a few wanted to make the move north. After the building on SE Second Street in Miami began to fall apart, Feigeles started scouting other locations.
"I looked everywhere — Miami Midtown, Wynwood, North Beach, Coconut Grove — and I couldn't find a place reasonable enough. So we came up to beautiful Oakland Park. I actually looked at about 75 restaurants, but this was one of the first I looked at. We liked the area, the 100 free parking spaces, and the demographic. The area is just swimming with people who love my kind of food."
Feigeles points out that he was serving burgers and beers in Miami long before spots like Rok:Brgr and BurgerFi made the food fashionable. The burgers here are made off-site by a local company and delivered preformed. Made from at least 75 percent ground chuck, they are seasoned and cooked to order.
"We are going through about a thousand burgers a week," says Feigeles. Customers are free to swap out toppings and even patties. "We make our own turkey burgers, grind our own turkey. We make a black-bean burger. We'll do anything for anybody. We want people to feel special."
The menu is extensive, almost intimidatingly so. There are 14 burgers, from the Respect Mobile — topped with cheddar, home-smoked pulled pork, and homemade jerk barbecue sauce — to the spicy New Hearse, which has Cry Baby sauce, ghost pepperjack cheese, and jalapeños. The plain Caddy, without distracting toppings, is solidly good. Because the patty is seasoned after it's formed, it isn't the most flavorful. But the quality of the meat is good, and it's a hefty burger even without all the toppings but not so overly large that one has to unhinge one's jaw to take a bite. Going on a first date with someone who refers to himself or herself as a burger lover? This would be a good place.
Instead of fries, tater tots are the star spud here. These are fried to extra crispness and generously seasoned. Eager diners will find themselves crunching through the outer shell and then sucking gasping breaths to cool the steaming interior. These cross the line from solidly good to favorite thing we ordered that day — in no small part because they serve as an excellent canvas for the wide selection of hot sauces on each table.
A close second are the sweet corn fritters, house-made with creamed corn and deep-fried. Feigeles refers to them as "little nuggets of awesomeness." Crispy on the outside and oozing on the inside, they're neither too bready nor too sweet. And the house-made horseradish remoulade is a nice counterpoint. If you like sweet, dipping it in honey makes it almost a dessert.
There's a selection of flatbread sandwiches, pulled chicken and pork from the smoker, and the usual salads like caesar, chopped, and cobb, as well as some meat-based choices like Sam's Spare Tire, which is basically a burger without the bun.
But if you ask the chef which item he'd recommend — other than the burgers, of course — it's the wings. "We marinade them, slow-roast them, then flash-fry them just to get them crispy. Last week, we sold about 500 pounds of wings. They're just really, really good. The only thing we don't make is the Frank's wing sauce, because that's the best out there. Why mess with that?"
There are eight other wing sauces to try, and if none of them is spicy enough for you, there are always the tableside hot sauces.
No burger spot these days can get away without an impressive beer selection — especially one hoping to please a Funky Buddha-loving clientele — and Filling Station's is respectable. "We have 32 craft beers on tap, and we have about 25 in bottles and cans," Feigeles says. "We have a lot of beer and a good wine selection and are planning on going into full liquor in a couple of months."
Florida breweries like Tampa's Coppertail and Cigar City, Miami's Concrete Beach and J. Wakefield, and Boca's Barrel of Monks are all served here — and you can get them in flights. The High Octane flight features the six highest alcohol-by-volume beers on tap, the Fuel Efficient has the lowest ABV beers on tap, and the Mechanic's Choice flight leaves beer selection up to the bartender.
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Feigeles and his Filling Station have found a warm welcome in Oakland Park, from the city itself to the "funky" neighbors, as well as the patrons both new and returning. Many have made the trek up from Miami, while others, he came to learn, were happy to have their favorite burger place move closer to home.
"Some live in Las Olas or Davie," Feigeles says. "I have a huge clientele from Weston that come here often — I had no idea."
- The Caddy $10.99
- The Respect Mobile $13.99
- Sweet corn fritters $5.99
- Wings: eight for $10.99, 16 for $19.99, and 24 for $29.99
The Filling Station and Garage Bar
3200 NE 12th Ave., Oakland Park. Call 954-908-5225, or visit tfsftl.com. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.