As my eyes scanned across the section containing the recipients of the award for the best burger in Hernando County for 2012, I could feel concern forming in the pit of my stomach. The award for Five Guys of “Gold” was not particularly horrifying in itself, as I know people that swear by it. No, my concern was in the award of “Silver” going to none other than McDonalds and “Bronze” to Chili’s. I am still holding out hope that this was the result of people voting for it as a prank since it’s the only way I can justify those selections to myself. I have had a lot of burgers over the years in Hernando County and have been an advocate for supporting local restaurants for a while now on my Hernando County Food Lovers Facebook page. I wanted to see what the local establishments (as well as some of the most popular chain restaurants in order to make it fair) had in their arsenal so I decided that I would go on my own quest to find the best burgers in town!
I wanted to judge the burger on a few criteria: the patty, the bun, the “fixings”, value for money, and overall experience. On this expedition I had a lot of fun and tasted a lot of great burgers but there were four that stood out for me in the competition: Amnesia has the best overall burger, Brian’s Place has the best burger that is a little out of the ordinary and really pushes the envelope with creative ingredients, Nina’s Cucina has the best value for money with an inexpensive burger that sacrifices nothing on taste, and BeckyJacks has shown that they should not just be known for their great seafood. Burgers are so varied and such a personal thing that I know everyone will have their own favorite but next time you (or the kids) want a burger, try something other than the fast food chains. You won’t regret it!
Below are my findings from the best of the competitors this area has to offer:
Amnesia Pub is somewhere that people struggle with wrapping their head around as being a good restaurant to try. Many think of it as a smoky bar and can’t bring themselves to eat there. That’s a mistake. Everything that I have had there has been great. Wings? Huge and tasty. Quesadilla? You’ve never had one like this. The burger? Well, the burger is phenomenal. It is flame cooked and then finished on the flat top. This does two things. It seals in the flavor and juices and then it allows them to melt the cheese properly on the burger by steaming it on the top. It looks like they season it with some sort of Adobo spice as well, although I couldn’t make out what it was exactly. The bun is just a plain bun but it holds up well, compliments the burger, and is the right size. Could they use a better bun? Yes, but it works just fine. I had the bacon cheeseburger and the cheese is perfectly melted. The bacon is chopped (almost like bacon bits) and it is topped with lettuce, tomato and onion. I prefer my bacon whole in strips but it doesn’t detract from the taste. All in all this is probably the best bar burger that I have had anywhere, maybe even the best burger full stop. I get it to take out now as my wife is pregnant so, if you don’t want to eat in a smoking establishment, try a takeout.
The Fusion Burger at Brian’s Place is one of the more artistic creations that you will find and features Gorgonzola cheese, caramelized plantains, tomatoes and a habanero mayonnaise. The first thing to note about this burger is that the patty is absolutely delicious. It is clearly fresh made and was cooked with a perfect sear, giving it a little crunch. It was certainly in the top 3 of all the patties that I tried in the competition. The bun was a Cuban bread style and was very tasty but was unfortunately a little smaller than the burger (causing the burger to hang out of the bun slightly which is a small deduction for me). This burger is one that I could never dream up but it just works. The sweetness of the plantains cut through the richness of the cheese, creating a perfect balance of flavors. The burger was $7.99 and came with seasoned fries, which were also great. It was one of the more expensive burgers but when you consider the work that goes into it and the quality of the ingredients, it was worth every penny. This is a delicious burger that I will be going back for…and I live 30 minutes away. It’s that good.
Nina’s Cucina may not be a place that you would think would serve a great burger so I decided to try their Caprese burger (as opposed to the traditional cheeseburger) and the first thing that struck me was the price…$4.50 for burger and fries? Is that a misprint? Turns out that was the correct price! Now I haven’t been to McDonalds in a while but isn’t an extra value meal around $5? The price was certainly on point and I hoped that the burger (Caprese was $6) would be too, as quite often you get what you pay for. The burger came out and immediately I could see that the burger matched the bun size perfectly. Good start! Then I bit into the burger and was blown away by two things; first off, the burger is delicious and second, the focaccia bun was the best of all the buns that I sampled. The burger was homemade and juicy with tons of flavor and was cooked perfectly. The bun really compliments the burger and the whole thing blends together seamlessly. The mozzarella and tomato bruschetta were fantastic as well. It didn’t need anything else on it to enhance the experience. The burger was a little smaller than most of the other competitors but it was a perfect size for a lunch. I was satisfied and I have a great appetite. This is truly somewhere that you could bring the whole family for lunch and not need to rob a bank to pay your bill (which I know is the owners aim with the pricing). There really isn’t an excuse to miss out on this burger experience and I highly recommend trying this one.
BeckyJack’s is almost certainly one of the best restaurants that many local residents don’t know about. Imagine something Guy Fieri would visit on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network. They are renowned for their seafood, but I have heard that the burgers are good, which brought me to their doors for this competition. It appears that the regulars there have, over time, made their own inventions and given them certain names. I ordered an item not on the menu called the ‘Greganator’, which is a burger with pulled pork, mac n cheese and bacon. This thing was messy (in a great way). The burger was a delicious patty cooked perfectly. (I was happy to see so many of the restaurants knocking out great quality fresh patties.) It was easy to see how they get rave reviews on their burgers. The bun was also great (the right size, tasty and fresh) and despite my concern that it might not hold up there were no issues there. Everything on it was delicious and I will certainly be having another burger there (although for the sake of my waistline something a little smaller next time). This is one of my favorite places in town and everything that I have had there is delicious. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll have my own burger there named after me.
Rookies Sports Bar and Grill is another place getting good reviews for their burgers in the community. This sports bar does a few different half-pound burgers and I opted for the “Big Blue” burger ($8.99) which comes with blue cheese, an onion ring and buffalo sauce, and a side of fries. The burger was very tasty, well cooked, and well-seasoned. Great start. It comes on a delicious ciabatta roll. I think it’s nice to have a slightly different bun as long as it adds to the experience. The burger was not quite up to the size of the bun but again, not a huge issue. The cheese and buffalo sauce were delicious and a really a good combination. The one thing I would note is that it was a little bit too rich towards the end and I would have liked something to cut the tang a little. That’s just my personal opinion but I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and look forward to trying their other burgers.
Jersey Cafe has a great reputation locally for putting out traditional diner food. I opted to order a good old fashioned cheeseburger with lettuce, onion, tomato and pickles. The half-pound burger (comes with a side of potato chips, but you can get fries for a little more) is certainly a large burger. I have seen people split them in the past, and even I had trouble getting it in my mouth. The patty was very tasty and you can certainly taste that it is fresh. It maintained a lot of juice and flavor. The bun was a little larger than the burger (which I don’t personally like) and it did fall apart quite easily so it didn’t seem to be able to handle everything that was in it. The accompaniments on the burger were very much what you would expect…they were very fresh and plentiful (I even removed some of them to make it a more manageable size). At $6.39 this is a great value for such a large burger. I, of course, ate the whole thing but don’t let my greed fool you, this is a behemoth of a burger and could surely be split with a friend. All in all it is a very good burger and I can see why people rave about it.
Ruby Tuesday was recommended by more than a few individuals as the best in town so I put aside my feelings on chain restaurants and went to try it with my family to have a few people sample the burger and get a more rounded view. The burger comes with a huge selection of sides which is something that I appreciate, as I could balance the burger with something healthy (whatever you need to do to justify it to yourself eh?). My choice of The Triple Prime bacon cheeseburger was tasty without standing out at all. It didn’t have the flavor of the other burgers I sampled and the bun was a bit generic…The best way I can put it was that it was just a burger. It was the only one which required ketchup to boost the flavor a bit and was one of the most expensive burgers that I tried.
Five Guys seems to be the peoples champion when it comes to fast food burgers. I ordered the cheeseburger ($5.79) with grilled onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. I also ordered the fries (which were delicious, but that’s another review topic). The burger is unmistakably a bar/fast food burger. Everything about it looks like a good old fashioned greasy burger (I mean that in a good way believe it or not). It definitely resembles more of a Big Mac than a burger like Brian’s Place or Nina’s Cucina. The taste was quite good, I have to admit however it was quite greasy (the bun got “soggy” as it absorbed the fat). It was all very familiar. That said it is better than the fast food competitors and I even enjoyed it more than the other chain burger that I tried at Ruby Tuesday’s…but compared to our private competitors it just doesn’t measure up. I liked that they has a number of options for the burger and the extras but I can’t say I will be rushing back. The best way I can describe it is that it would be a great “hangover cure” if you missed breakfast time. Five Guys also tout themselves as having the best $5 burger around. Having tried the one at Nina’s I find it very hard to agree with that claim.
So what did I learn from my hunt for the “real” best burger in Hernando County? Well, I confirmed that there are better burgers in Hernando County than McDonalds. I learned that I’m actually a lot pickier about burgers than I thought, and that they are a lot harder to perfect than most people appreciate. There are so many components that go into a burger that the smallest thing can change the whole profile of it. I learned that eating 10 burgers in a month will make your waistline grow (who would’ve thought) and I learned that after all is said and done, most of the time, you cannot beat a good old bacon cheeseburger. I strongly encourage all of you to try the different local restaurants and their burger offerings and see if you agree with me. Let me know your thoughts on my blog (click here) or my Facebook Page (click here).