Are we really eating all these hamburgers? The list of beef purveyors in greater Sarasota is mind-boggling. In addition to all the Interstate-hugging fast food joints, we've got chains like Culver's, Five Guys, Freddy's, Smashburger and Square 1, plus a plethora of local options: S'macks, Patrick's, Shakespeare's, BrewBurger's, Council's, Skinny's, Duffy's and probably three dozen others I can't think of off the top of my head.
That's a crowded market, and it grew even more crowded on Monday, with the opening of BurgerFi on Cattlemen Road just opposite the University Town Center mall. The first BurgerFi opened in 2011 in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, and in just over five years the brand has expanded to almost 100 locations in 20-plus states. The company's claim to fame is its use of grass-fed beef, with no hormones, steroids or antibiotics, plus energy-saving design features, and of course, its buns, which come seared with the company logo.
It's day two of the restaurant's Sarasota debut, when my wife, Rachel, my father, Denis, my two sons, Theo and Felix, and I meet up to give 'er a try. It's clear the eatery's in its early stages. There's a ton of staff on hand. Dressed in all black, workers huddle at tables to strategize for the busy evening ahead or linger behind the counter, absorbing the process and pitching in when needed. A ladder sits beneath one of the restaurant's seven flatscreens, which for the moment aren't functioning. Thank the Lord.
You order up front then wait for your food, which comes awfully quickly—piled up on metal trays lined with brown paper. The skinny-patty burgers come tucked in small wax paper pockets: the basic BurgerFi cheeseburger ($5.47 for a single patty, $6.97 for two), the "CEO" burger ($9.97) and my selection, the "conflicted burger" ($7.97), so called because it includes one beef patty and one veggie burger patty.
Veggie burgers are having a moment, largely thanks to New York City's Superiority Burger, an all-vegetarian, sometimes-vegan outpost in the East Village that's earned raves from The New York Times and The New Yorker for patties that aren't just sad substitutes for beef, but considered compositions all their own. Like Superiority's, BurgerFi's vegetarian patty is based on quinoa; in the "conflicted" burger it comes topped with both American and white cheddar cheeses, along with lettuce, tomato, "BurgerFi sauce" and other toppings as requested. I take mine with raw onions, pickles and jalapeños and the result is splendiferous. I'd never guess one of the patties is made from vegetables, not cow—the whole here is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Rachel's "CEO" burger, meanwhile, is notable mostly for its candied bacon and tomato jam, which provides a sweet, rich caramelized flavor to the sturdy beefiness below. That flavor hides whatever I'm supposed to get from the truffle aioli and aged Swiss that's also included, but that's not a complaint.
The simpler burgers are basic: solid, juicy, beefy, classic. On the side, a "family"-sized order of French fries ($6.97) nets us a pile of fried potatoes big enough to rival Vesuvius. They're impressively potato-y—less greasy than at Five Guys, but in that same vein. Onion rings ($4.67-$5.47) suffer from the problem that plagues most onion rings: With one bite you suck out all the onion.
So, overall: good. At times, really good. But enough to be heard amid the white noise of every other burger restaurant in town? That's a more difficult question. But it's only day two, and given the steady stream of curious burger-hunters streaming in this evening, I'd say we'll know the answer soon enough.
BurgerFi is located at 257 N. Cattlemen Road, Building 10, Unit 90, Sarasota, and is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more info, call (941) 800-1800 or click here.