Following a year of munching their way through Amelia Island hamburgers the Fat Men From Space have reached the end of the grill and announced their list of the top 10 places to get a really good burger among Amelia Island’s United Federation of Hamburger Joints.
The final results surprised me — not because I disagree with their decision — but because I was startled at their choice for the number one hamburger eatery…. a tie between a fancy white linen tablecloth restaurant and an iconic funky down-home joint for the top honor.
Crossing the griddle line in a dead heat for Best Amelia Island Hamburger were Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro, 14 South 2nd St., and T-Ray’s Burger Station, 202 South 8th St. The burgers of both establishments were retested in a taste-off by both Fat Men From Space and myself during a second round to see if we could break the tie, but our tastings only confirmed the initial outcome — it’s impossible to pick one over the other.
Since there are so many places hereabouts that serve burgers, the final list this year was expanded from five to 10 with four newcomers breaking into the top tier, led by the one-year-old Sandbar Restaurant & Kitchen at Main Beach that nailed 2nd place. The Centre Street Tavern finished a very respectable third, Karibo-Karibrew at 27 North 3rd St, moved up a notch from last year’s fifth to fourth while south island recent newcomer, Lagniappe, next to the Harris Teeter shopping complex at 4810 First Coast (A1A) Highway, rounded out the top five.
Last year’s number one, Putt Putt at Main Beach, tossed its greasy apron in the ring and retired undefeated to concentrate on miniature golf, ice cream and hot dogs. Three of last year’s top five — Leddy’s Porch at the Florida House, Salty Pelican and Halftime Sports Bar & Grill — were toppled from the top tier by island newcomers. Not that they don’t have good burgers. They do. But there are others out there that are a bit better say the Fat Men.
According to the Fat Men From Space the top ten places to get a hamburger on Amelia Island are:
1- T-Ray’s & Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro – tie
2 – Sandbar Restaurant & Kitchen
3- The Tavern
6- Bar Zin
7- Amelia River Golf Club
8- Down Under
9- Island BBQ
10- Picnic Basket
In no particular order, other places that had burgers on the lunch menu that were eaten during the Fat Men invasion were: Leddy’s Porch at the Florida House, Crab Trap, The Galley, Ritz Carlton, Bretts, Barbara Jeans, Sliders, 29 South, Beach Diner, Parkway Grill, Denuicci’s, Tasty’s, Horizons, Ops, Halftime Sports Bar & Grill, Doo Wop, Salty Pelican, and The Surf.
Restaurants that do not serve a burger at lunch or are only open for dinner did not make the cut as in our opinion, with few exceptions, most folks who want a burger, want one for lunch, not dinner, unless they’re 16 or under. Don’t think that’s fair? Tell it to the Fat Men.
I’ve had restaurateurs, cooks, professed hamburger aficionados, drunks, and others tell me I’m all wet when it comes to ranking island burgers. They say the Fat Men should always eat together, that dinner-only restaurants should be included, that McDonald’s, Burger King, Krystal, etc are legitimate burger joints, and more. To these people I say “Phooey.” Do you know how hard it is to recruit Fat Men from space? Don’t like their conclusions? Go find your own Fat Men and do your own analysis. This is as scientific as it gets people. I don’t see the local News-Leader newspaper doing restaurant reviews, or the two local online news publications. Other than right here, the only restaurant reviews I’ve ever seen hereabouts are those on the back pages of the “Islander” magazine and those would declare a boiled boot appetizing, as they definitely aren’t critiques, only slobbering tributes to their advertisers, no matter what’s on offer.
And who are these spacey fat guys who think they know so much about local hamburgers? The only person who knows their identities is me. And I fiercely protect their anonymity like Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth does Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) with absolute secrecy. Their names aren’t on doors, they don’t wear name badges, and they shun publicity. They munch Amelia Island burgers in obscurity like Clark Kent, Billy Batson, and Peter Parker. Fame isn’t their goal, seeking hamburger perfection is. If their identities became known then the results might be skewed. Burger joint management might be tempted to provide them special treatment, offering perks not available to the island’s humble hungry humanity hankering for hamburger happiness. We can’t have that.
So what’s next for the fat boys? When not meandering around the Milky Way and other galaxies in search of burgers they have lots of free time on their greasy hands. One of them indicated to me that he thinks Amelia Island is ripe for a “Best Wings” survey. He may be right. What do readers here think?
In the meantime here’s a brief summary of the Fat Men From Space’s top five 2018 burger places as written up by them the past 12 months:
Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro: Here’s a question for you mere mortals…what’s better than brisket BBQ? A delicious cheeseburger might give it a run for the money. Now imagine a place where the two are combined. Good Grief!! For $13.00 you can enjoy this lunchtime-only brisket cheddar and BBQ burger at the downtown eatery, Joes 2nd St. Bistro at 14 South 2nd Street. This really shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s enjoyed a wet-aged steak expertly prepared by a local gent and owner named Ricky Pigg, who handles the kitchen while his wife, Mari, runs the front end. Speaking of pigging out with the Piggs, did I mention the half pound brisket burger, which seems much larger, also came with strips of bacon? Take ’em off if you’re a traditionalist but Egads, it was good! Having spent time all over this ever expanding universe, I know a fine burger, particularly when it drips down my fat forearm, all over this fancy establishment’s white linen table cloths. Bistro is simply a elegant name for tavern, and according to my cosmic rules of the road, it shouldn’t shock anyone this place has a rocking great burger, full bar, brisket on a Brioche bun, it simply hits all the marks. By the way, the combination BBQ sauce and the Ketchup are made in house. Nice touch. This is so good I’ve failed to mention the white cheddar cheese that adds a whole additional dimension to the meal. And is comes with a plentiful order of cooked-just-right fries. I could go on and on about the burger, but frankly I can’t keep my eyes open after downing this gastronomically good Goliath. Call ’em at 904/321-3558.
T-Ray’s Burger Station: OK, if you’ve lived on Amelia Island for any length of time or are a regular visitor, you know (or at least have heard of) T-Ray’s. It’s located at 202 South 8th Street in an old converted gas station and is something of a local institution. T-Ray’s has received some broader notoriety, having been written-up in Southern Living, USA Today (which claimed several years ago that it had the best burger in all of Florida) and the Washington Post. They are particularly known for their breakfast and burgers. We, of course, are here to talk about the burger. I ordered the Big T Burger, priced at $6.00 ($.75 extra for cheese). This is an eight ounce burger served “all the way” with lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled onions, mayo, mustard and ketchup. They, also, have a smaller four ounce version, cleverly dubbed the Little T Burger, for $4.00. Fries and a drink are extra with either. I went with the combo (burger, fries and drink) that priced out at $9.50. Try and find this much goodness for that price anywhere else in this galaxy. They do not cook to a specified doneness here. All the burgers are served medium-well. The patties are hand formed and cooked on a flat-top grill. After taking my seat among the kitschy, mismatched furniture (and wiping away, as best I could, the artifacts left behind by the previous diner), I anxiously awaited the arrival of my burger. Let’s start by saying this is a burger that looks good getting off the bus. It was big, well formed, nicely dressed and a bit intimidating. The accompanying steak fries were plentiful and fried to a prefect, golden brown. Getting a handle on this burger is no small feat. One misstep and whole thing can end up in your lap. So counter-measures are advised (cutting in half, taking your face to the food or both). This is a big, juicy, messy burger. Despite being cooked past medium, the burger was very moist. The lettuce was crisp and the tomato perfectly ripe. The condiments were abundant. Halfway through my burger, I had soiled enough napkins to circle Jupiter. So I decided to go knife and fork from there. I know. I know. But before you judge, think of Mother Earth. Anyway, T-Ray’s hits the mark with its burgers and it has the best price of any island burger. Mine was delicious. I could barely finish it. Next time I might opt for the Little T, though that would be embarrassing for a fat man to order. Of note, T-Ray’s is only open for breakfast and lunch Mon-Sat but is closed Sundays. Call ’em at 904/261-6310.
The Sandbar and Kitchen: While space may be the final frontier, even us fat guys know the beach is where it’s at. Throw in a cheeseburger, well, reason enough to make the ole’ light year leap. Found myself recently at one of the newest island eateries, The Sandbar Restaurant and Kitchen, located at Main Beach. For a few decades, the joint was known as Sandy Bottoms (Who thought THAT would be a great name for a place to EAT?!) Butt, I digress. Cheeseburgers are the name of my game and I was pleasantly surprised when the burger slid into place onto the bar with my favorite culinary rainbow on display- blue bar, green pickle, red tomato, purple onion (Just barely enough to be included in this metaphor) orange cheese and yellow fries. Get the idea that space is monochromatic? Well, it is. Somebody even saw fit to toss on a ribbon of bacon. Whaaat? I’ve traveled too far to fib, folks, it was a damn good burger. Combine it with the salty sea breeze pouring into the building and the view of the intrepid beach goers through the big new windows, and it added up to a very pleasant meal. But, here’s a few additional thoughts. Does a great view of the Atlantic ocean and a few semi-clad beach bodies worth an extra 4-5 bucks for an extra side of collards or something else? I’ll let you decide. My burger was $12.50 and it came with fries. Want sweet potato fries or some other side instead of your basic Idaho sticks? Be prepared to shill out a few more bucks. Call ’em at 904/310-3648.
The Amelia Tavern: As both a traveler and a bit of an expert about eating, cheeseburgers in particular, I’ve learned a few things. Rules of the cosmic road, if you will. For example, a place with a full bar, has better burgers than a joint that serves just beer and wine. Here’s another, taverns have better burgers than diners. Take it to the bank. Amelia Tavern at 318 Centre St. is one such place. For $10.99 you get a “half pounder” with the usual trimmings, including a particularly tasty Brioche bun. The burger is also a mix of various cuts including short rib (culinary genius). Since the Tavern features bacon on their menu as an appetizer, why not toss a few strips on-board for “style points”? Add some pepper Jack, and we’re off to the space races! Crispy French fries (some were sweet potato fries mixed in) help soak up all the greasy, salty goodness that this cheeseburger provided. It was a greasy treat and worth every dime. Served medium to medium rare (just a blush of pinkness in the center) is the way to go. When I was finished, I actually considered licking the plate, it was that satisfying. If you have some time and are lucky enough to get a parking space within six blocks of the Amelia Tavern, do it and order up an Amelia Tavern Burger. Call ’em at 904/310-6088.
Cafe Karibo & Karibrew: You know what’s fun? Space travel is fun! Returning to the Home Port for a few days and enjoying a great burger (or TWO) with some cold beers is also great fun, and a lot less knobs and switches to make it happen too. I had a fantastic cheeseburger from Café Karibo.. At just $10.99 for a half-pounder plus an extra buck for some additional Pepper Jack, well, take it from me, Earth money well spent! What’s more, it came with a mix of regular fries and sweet potato fries…fun times two! As I plowed through the meal like a front-end loader on nearby Yulee’s endless eight lane monstrosity roadway project, I couldn’t help but wonder if the owner had some deep seated fascination with large antelope. Stay with me here, folks. The burger joint is called Café Karibo, the bar area is now minus the large stainless vats to make way for great new craft beer taps, is called Café Karibrew. On a recent visit to the frozen north, I came across a herd of Caribou, sort of a moose except sportier. Anyway, I couldn’t help but wonder if the owner, formerly a member of the City Council, was engaged in clever word play with the name of his restaurant. In any case, I was relieved he didn’t have the same weird word fun with the Angus beef that the delicious burger was made of. And I discovered later that Karibo is actually the maiden name of the lovely Mrs. Poynter, who also serves her grand pappy’s Cincinnati chili. In any case, if you’re downtown, and hungry, bring your herd to Café Karibo and enjoy a great cheeseburger. You can thank me later. Call ’em at 904/277-5269.
Lagniappe: Most planets in this Fat Man’s home galaxy are easier to pronounce than this restaurant’s name, but not many have offered up a tastier burger, no matter how you say it, and I’m told it’s pronounced “lan-yap”, a Creole word meaning “something extra.” And something extra is just what this spacey guy got when my server slid it across the bar. Listed on the lunch menu as the “Classic Double Cheeseburger” for a reasonable $12, this half pounder of two quarter pound handmade patties and a couple of slices of American cheese is as tasty as they come. It’s cooked perfectly on a flattop to medium unless you ask for it otherwise. No burger silliness here, just pure hamburger excellence with this beauty topped with shredded romaine lettuce, a big slice of sweet red onion and a hearty slice of tomato on a very fresh buttered bun, that tasted great and held its shape during consumption. A special sauce consisting of mayo, ketchup, Creole whole grain mustard, and relish added to the experience. It was one of those meals where you want more but couldn’t take another bite. This succulent burger comes with a pickle spear, and a scoop of Creole potato salad, called Creole because, once again, it has Creole whole grain mustard in it, mixed with the red skin-on potatoes. The potato salad was OK, but next time I’m opting for the fries for an extra $4.00, a Belgian specialty, that are blanched, and then double fried and are dangerously delicious. The Earthling Englishman owner, tells me they are made in house from special “chip” potatoes grown in south Florida…”chips” being that Englishman’s word for fries. Oh, malt vinegar is also available. The newly opened eatery at 4810 First Coast (A1A) Highway, is next to the Harris Teeter shopping complex. Call ’em at 904/844-2634.
*Editor’s Note: I commissioned Steve Hall [at no small expense, I should add], a noted national hamburger illustrator and semi-retiring editorial cartoonist to illustrate this year’s Best Burger Award. He is presently a dinosaur artist for impressionable small children and law firm marketing guru. Mr. Hall and his wife, landscape architect Susan Hall, divide their time between Fernandina Beach’s historic district and their other home on Merritt Island with a loudish old tabby cat and perpetually frightened, constantly squawking, yellow bird. Their three grown children have wisely fled.