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Marsha Toler

Council’s Bradenton Recreation was never supposed to be a burger restaurant. It was a pool hall, a midday, after-work, anytime hangout for downtown businessmen and the attorneys and cops who frequented the courthouse across the way. But from the day the pool hall opened in 1926, before it was even owned by the man, Council Smith, who gave it its name, the grill was there—a 4-foot by 2-foot black metal Garland, with a flattop flanked by four burners and drawers below for toasting buns.

It’s still there today, in the corner near the front. The grill has survived ownership changes and generations of customers. And although it’s warped from welding fix-ups and scarred from the regular whack-whack-whack of the spatula, it requires little aside from a daily scrubbing and a monthly breakdown, cleanup and rebuild.

“That’s our golden goose,” says Marsha Toler, a server at the restaurant for close to two decades. “It’s definitely well seasoned.”

Grilled on that seasoned flattop, a Council’s burger needs nothing fancy. A good piece of meat. Tomato and lettuce. A Wonder Bread bun. Call out your order, and an obliging cook—trained in a lineage that snakes from Toler to previous owner Lawton Smith to Smith’s father, Council—tosses a patty on the grill’s inky surface and presses down hard. It sputters and squirts as the outside chars. Sandwiched between napkins and speared with a toothpick, a Council’s burger is crispy but juicy, with a sweet rush from the tomato and pickles.

Installed in a year when America had just 48 states, the grill has lasted through 15 presidencies. It came through a depression and a world war. It was cooking burgers when the Beatles played Ed Sullivan, when Richard Nixon was impeached, when the Berlin Wall fell. Odds are it will still be blackening meat and crisping up buns long after the rest of us are gone.

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