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Restaurants & Bars 10

Tampa (Westchase area) Newcomer: Burger 21

gfr1111 | Dec 13, 201008:42 AM

Burger 21 opened November 16 at 9664 W. Linebaugh Avenue, Tampa, FL 33626 in the Westchase Village Shopping Center, along the south side of Linebaugh Avenue. Chris Ponte, of Cafe Ponte fame, is listed on the restaurant's website as "Chef/Partner," reason enough to check out this new arrival.

Burger 21 is a slightly upscale hamburger restaurant (well, compared to McDonald's and Burger King) where one lines up at a cash register to place his/her order. The patron receives a number to be displayed at the table and a waiter/waitress brings the food. There are no tablecloths and the utensils are plastic, but the good news is that the savings on these items seem to have been invested in the hamburgers.

I've eaten there four times. The menu consists of a six ounce (according to a waiter) beef patty hamburger, dressed any one of nine ways, plus a standard veggie burger, a Greek veggie burger, a black bean burger and burgers made from chicken and turkey. There are also sandwiches served on the same brioche bun as the hamburger, including Asian Shrimp, Po' Boy Shrimp, and Ahi Tuna. Additionally, one can buy an assortment of sides, such as French fries, sweet potato fries, bacon cheese fries, wild rice orzo salad, six composed (meal in themselves) salads, floats, shakes and cookies.

The burgers are about three inches across and rather thick, nicely crusted, and juicy. The first time I went, the person at the counter asked how I wanted the burger cooked. At subsequent visits no one has asked, but the burgers seem to come out slightly pink or completely cooked on the inside, if you say nothing, but custom cooking is available.

The basic burger (called a "Burger 101") and the cheese burger, with American, cheddar, or swiss are delicious and reasonably juicy. This is a cafe style burger, not a flattened McDonald's style burger. The dressed burgers are interesting. The Shroom, consists of lettuce, tomato, grilled crimini mushrooms, fontina cheese, grilled carmelized mushrooms, and garlic butter on a brioche bun.

I was less impressed with the Steak Frites burger, described on the menu as having "lettuce, tomato, red onion jam, frites and garlic butter on a brioche bun." The burger itself was as tasty as usual, but I just didn't like the French fries on my burger. It's a combination which just doesn't work because the fries immediately soften and, therefore, do not supply the crunch that they are supposed to provide. The rest of the burger was fine, but I didn't really notice the red onion jam or the garlic butter, perhaps because they had to be cut back to make room for the fries.

My favorite burger on the menu so far is the Tex-Mex Haystack, which has lettuce, tomato, bacon, smoked cheddar cheese, guacamole, very thin fried onion strings, and chipotle-jalapeno "sauce" (mayonnnaise) on a brioche bun. Lots of flavor! The onion strings didn't seem to soften as the fries did in the Steak Frites burger and seemed to be more integrated into the sandwich.

I also liked the toasted brioche bun, which is soft and not overly bready. I liked the proportion of burger to bread.

A word about the fries: these are the shoe string fries that McDonald's used to make back in the 1950s and 1960s before McDonald's stopped frying in beef tallow. I didn't think I'd ever see them again in a commercial establishment, but Burger 21 has them. (I have no idea what fat Burger 21 fries in, but the effect is like frying in beef tallow.) I prefer plank fries myself, but these are truly exceptional shoe string fries--crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, but mostly crunchy. Like most shoe string fries, they have short life expectancy before they dry out, so eat them in the first ten minutes of the meal.

Prices range from $5.50 for the basic burger to $7.50 for the BBQ Bacon Burger. A double sized and elaborately dressed burger (12 ounces of beef) called "The OMG!" runs $9.95. Adding an extra six ounce patty to any regularly dressed burger adds $2.00 to the price. Add a soft drink or a beer to one of the well-dressed burgers, plus fries, and you bill will exceed $10.00, but the price is in line with what you will pay for Burger 21's natural competitors, Burger Monger and Square 21. Five Guys' Burgers and Fries is substantially less expensive for what I perceive to be at least an equivalent amount of tasty burger, but the decor is less attractive and, of course, the custom burgers are unavailable. (I will not comment on the difference in the fries because I am ambivalent about Five guys' fries, loving them sometimes and not so much other times. At any rate, Five Guys' fries and Burger 21's fries are quite different and a comparison would almost be unfair.)

All in all, check out Burger 21. I think that you will like it.

Cafe Ponte
13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

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