A loyal reader, who goes by the nom de plume of “fat man from space” (FMFS) wrote to inform me that he appreciates my critique on some of the island’s better places to grab a good burger (Where’s the Best Place to Grab a Good Burger? davescottblog.com, Aug. 8, 2014) and I’m inclined to take him seriously as he informs me that he is the “Official Amelia Island Burger Judge,” self-appointed, and who am I to argue with a fellow bearing such a lofty and impressive title?
FMFS wrote that he had just tasted Main Beach’s Putt Putt Burger, which I have declared one of the top two island burgers (the other being T-Ray’s), because that’s what his job description says he’s supposed to do, and it all started as a hobby that this alien parlayed into an occupation despite the absence of enumeration and stinging and unheeded criticism from close and deeply concerned family members.
He has suggested that I consider other island eateries he’s visited, which he has blessed with the outer space fat boy’s seal of approval or disapproval, and implying that some of my suggestions don’t rate very high with his planetary palate. The fat fellow’s choices are all listed here with his unedited comments in no order of preference and me just adding the addresses and phone numbers and an editor’s note or two:
1. Bright Mornings: My reigning island champ is the burger at Bright Mornings. Why is it so good? I have no idea. I asked head honcho Dale Jr. why it was so good and whether there was there anything special or specific going on there. But it sounds pretty much just like basic meat and basic seasoning. So I don’t know why and I don’t care, I just want it. It’s easy to miss Bright Mornings tucked back there or not realize they do more than breakfast based or the name of the place, but go get you that burger. You won’t be sorry. Call ’em at 904/491-1771 or go visit ’em at 105 South 3rd St, downtown. Editor’s note: I’ve heard from very reliable sources that this restaurant just changed owners recently.
2. Horizons: Another good one I haven’t had in a while is the one at Horizons. Very nice. Haven’t had it since they moved and don’t know if anything has changed. Call ’em at 904/321-2430 or visit them at 5472 First Coast Highway.
3. The Falcon’s Nest: My most recent exciting find was the burger at the Falcon’s Nest. I’ve lived here for years and had never once ventured down there because going south of Sadler feels like driving to Tierra del Fuego, but I resolved to remedy that. And the burger is my first litmus test of any place. This one passed with flying colors. They grind their meat in house from three cuts that I can’t remember, but I think they say one of them was a wagyu cut. Good char, nice toasted bun. Really a great burger. Nice onion rings to boot and a few good craft beers. Editor’s note: Call ’em at 904/277-5166 or pack a bag and head south to 36 Amelia Village Circle, somewhere in the Omni Amelia Island Resort maze.
4. T-Ray’s: I’ve had a few T-Ray’s burgers because I kept hearing how great they were, but they just never resonated with me. Maybe the seasoning? Maybe the char level? The meat? I don’t know, but I feel like the odd man out. My friends love that burger. Best in Florida, etc. I love that place, but just not the burger. I may need to revisit it to reevaluate in light of wider island burger experience context. Call ’em at 904/261-6310 or go see ’em at 202 South 8th Street.
5. Tasty’s: For some reason I thought Tasty’s was going to be a fancy burger boutique back before it opened. Instead it’s an old school indie burger counter that uses the popular smashburger style, where they squish it flat so more surface area gets that lovely Maillard-reaction crust. It’s basically a fast food burger, but just done better than at fast food places, with so much more flavor. I believe the meat is a higher quality and also the buns. It hits the spot for me every few weeks but is just a different animal than the big juicy kind of steakhouse burger. It has a great hometown/family feel though, and is run and staffed by nice people who aren’t gentrified by uniforms. Seriously, everybody there is so nice and so conscientious about good service and good cheer. What a win. It has that community hub feel that I think makes it worth it by itself. Not quite to T-Ray’s level of rich local texture but getting there. I don’t think T-Ray’s can be beat in that regard. Tasty’s is a little more expensive than it seems like it ought to be but that prime corner lot can’t be cheap, and you won’t care when you get that first bite that scratches the itch. Check out the daily specials calendar and the surprising craft beer options. Call ’em at 904/321-0409 or visit at 710 Centre Street and the cornet of South 8th Street.
6. 29 South: Honorable mention to the burger at 29 South. I haven’t had it in several years or I’d have more to say about it, but I remember it being good. I think they used to call it the Kobe beef burger but everybody had to stop saying Kobe, so now maybe it’s called wagyu, not sure. Call ’em at 904/277-7919 or go see ’em at 29 (where else?) South 3rd Street.
7. Putt Putt: OK just had the Putt Putt burger and it was indeed a good one. Why doesn’t everyone toast their buns this way? Toast your buns, burger makers! It makes such a difference. An extra layer of texture and flavor. For science, I will need to test this burger again and then probably again. I asked them what their off-season hours were going to be and they said they’re in discussions about that right now. Editors’ Note: Alert and loyal reader Cal Atwood just reported that he has also tried the Putt Putt burger at Main Beach and declared it “extremely juicy” and very tasty and well worth a return trip. Call ’em at 904/261-4443.
8. Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge, Ritz-Carlton: The only other place I can think of right now that I need to try is Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge down at the Ritz, which I’ve only just heard of. I’m having a hard time convincing myself to go somewhere where I have to do valet parking to have a burger at a sports bar, but as the Official Judge, I’ll have to get it done here soon. Editor’s note: I’m leaving the tasting of this one entirely up to FMFS, as when I looked online their menu prices were not listed, which reminds me of the old adage “if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it.” However in the upper right hand corner of the online menu was a notice declaring “happy hour 4-6 pm” featuring a “signature burger and a beer for $15.” Have fun pal, but don’t go after 6 pm or before 4 pm and don’t send me your expense account. I recall when I was a struggling sports writer I would toss a Jackson on the bar, tell the barkeep to notify me when it was gone, and when I was told time was up a few hours later I’d eaten a burger, fries, quaffed a few beers, got change and left a tip. If FMFS tries that at the Ritz’s Eight Burger Bar with a Benjamin after 6 pm I’m betting he’d be back at valet, waiting for his car within 10 minutes of arrival. Call ’em at 904/277-1100 or go visit ’em at 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, but stop at an ATM first.
FMFS failed to mention two of my burger favorites — Halftime Sports Bar & Grill on South 8th Street and the downtown Florida House’s Leddy’s Porch on South 3rd Street, but he’s obviously got a hectic galactic schedule and I’m sure he’ll get to ’em eventually. Keep me posted chum, as you sound like the kind of alien I’d enjoy having a beer with.
Editors Note: Fat Men From Space is actually a children’s book by Daniel Pinkwater about a group of aliens who attack Earth and eat up the planets supply of junk food, leaving only healthy stuff behind, a book that prior to my alien pal’s correspondence, I’d never heard of but now have on my shopping list for Texas grandson, Luke. Also, if anyone wants to chide me or the fat space guy and provide his or her two cents worth on the best burger I’d love to hear what you have to say. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the space at the left side of this site.
The Best BBQ On The Island: Family owned US Bar-B-Que, a catering outfit that I can only find at events such as the recent Main Beach Great Southern Tailgate BBQ Cook-off and occasional festivals, has in my opinion the best BBQ on the island and some of the best BBQ I’ve ever eaten. Family members James, Brenda and Brian Hooper plus assorted others combine to cook up a terrific brisket, a Texas product not often seen in these deep South parts, as well as pork, chicken, a great smoked turkey leg and lots of appropriate sides like cole slaw and beans. I’ve urged this fun family to open a permanent island BBQ “joint” but they’ve indicated they’ll stick with their bread-and-butter catering business and I’ll just have to hope I’m lucky enough to run into them at least four or five times a year. If you want to host an event that will have your guests raving about the food then call the Hooper family at 904/556-1652, 904/753-6203 or 904/556-2564. And if anybody is interest the former Island BBQ space attached to the backend of the Hammerhead is available and there is already a pit there awaiting its next master.
Speaking Of BBQ: Driving through Callahan Monday we spotted a sign reading “Boston Butt Hutt” and, despite eating our fair share of BBQ at this last weekend’s Great Southern Tailgate cook-off, decided to give it a try and we’re glad we did as we discovered not only a very tasty BBQ joint but some of the best prices we’ve seen in a long time including our order of a half smoked chicken and two sides for $7.50, a pork plate and two sides for $8.00, and a take home whole smoked chicken for $9.50. Folks can order a whole smoked chicken, a pound of pork and two sides for $24, two whole chickens and two sides for the same price or opt for a 8 ounce ribeye steak and two sides for $10.95 or a one pounder ribeye and two sides for $16.95. Sides at the Butt Hutt include black eyed peas, fried okra, baked beans, green beans, cole slaw, potato salad, baked potato, mashed potatoes and gravy and macaroni and cheese. The Hutt, which features a drive-through window, sits in a nondescript building attached to a small motel at 542415 US Highway1, in what I’m told is downtown Callahan, and the menu says they are open Monday-Sunday 11 am -8 pm. Call ’em at 904/614-1940.
Light Up Or Plug In? Despite the controversy swirling around their product, long-time Fernandina Beach residents Jason and Jenny Hambrecht have opened Speakeasy Vaporium, a store resembling a 1930’s version of a hidden bar or “speakeasy” where customers can sit around and suck on flavored electronic cigarettes or buy them to take home. Located in a strip shopping center at 1825 South 14th St., Suite 6, it offers what a flyer says are: starter kits, E juice, a tasting bar and supplies. Attorneys general from some 24 states, with the exception of Florida, have urged the Food & Drug Administration to impose restrictions on these e-cigarettes including banning the wide variety of candy and fruit flavors that have helped make them popular saying that it makes smoking attractive to young people. Those under 18 are not allowed in Vaporium. On the opposite side of the controversy are those who claim it helps people break the cigarette smoking habit and I have one good friend who has gone back-and-forth from e-cigarettes to real cigarettes a number of times, so can’t vouch for that side of the issue.
Terrorists Beware! Oh, Never Mind: Following the horrific beheading of journalist James Foley last week President Obama took time from his golf game to issue “stern words” to the killers, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which surely must have those evil folks very nervous. He also assured the terrorists and any others who might have been listening that the terrorist group “ISIL speaks for no religion,” neglecting the fact that “Islamic” is the first word in the group’s name. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim,” he added, “and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” Really? He might want to check his copy of the Koran. It contains numerous verses calling on faithful Muslims to kill infidels. It’s where the term “jihad” originates – Koran-prescribed holy war against unbelievers, and if other Muslims get in the way, too bad. We’d be better off if this guy just stayed on the golf course for the next two years and four months and kept his mouth shut.
What the ..! The White House sent three officials to the Michael Brown funeral in St. Louis this week while last year it sent none to attend the funeral of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
More Drinking, Dining & Dancing: It has been reported to me that the downtown Courtyard Pub & Eats, the popular Centre Street piano bar featuring good guy and talented piano man John Springer has been sold by Joe Parrish. No word yet on the new owners or their plans but as soon as I hear I’ll pass it on but I’m betting that the affable Mr. Springer and his loyal following will continue to be fixtures at the 316 Centre St. location Thursday through Saturday evenings. Call ’em at 904/432-7086. Gourmet Gourmet has been awarded a plateful of awards including Best Service, Food, Ambience, Outdoor Dining, Lunch, and Neighborhood Gem on Amelia Island and in Northeast Florida by OpenTable.com in its Diner’s Choice selections. So if you want quality food, service and ambience while being surrounded by the Ritz-Carlton and Omni Resort luxury without the highfalutin prices call ’em at 904/261-8973 or go see ’em at 1408 Lewis St on the North end. Owner Bill Mertens tells me that effective after Labor Day he will be opening at 10:30am on weekdays will serve brunch only on Saturday, Sunday and holidays but will continue to honor the 20 percent off coupons for weekday breakfast that he has run at the bottom of each of his newsletters and other publications. I’m told that Dunkin Doughnuts is supposed to be opening this week on South 8th Street in the old Wendy’s burger joint building, an event that I’m sure will make my friend and Dunkin aficionado Cal Atwood very happy.