BURGER KINGS: Safety Harbor Beer and Burger Throwdown
Back for a second helping, the Safety Harbor Beer and Burger Throwdown returns Saturday to challenge local brewers and restaurants to get in our bellies. Last year's winner from Tampa's Eats American Grill was a double cheeseburger with pulled pork and bacon, so they take this challenge seriously. You can get samplings from local craft brewers in the Microbrewery Beer Garden, plus restaurants will be cooking up their top burgers ($3 or less each) for local celebrity judges to pick the Best Burger of the Bay. The 2-8 p.m. Saturday party also includes country music by Indiana, arts and craft vendors, photo opportunities with NASCAR's Cody Lane and interactive games in the kids zone at Safety Harbor City Marina, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane. $5, 11 and younger free. (727) 674-1464.
On our list
The competition prompted us to pull up a chair and review some of our favorite burger joints in the Tampa Bay area.
Engine No. 9
In St. Pete's Grand Central District, tucked into the old Chatterbox space, Engine No. 9 has about 20 burgers and dogs dominating the menu, with sophisticated combinations like the Demi-God: Swiss, cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and a swipe of horseradish mayo on a very tasty medium-rare patty, with a nice bun and a cup of crisp, greaseless skinny fries. 56 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 623-0938.
This upscale burger joint has a chef-driven menu and stylish look that looks to be the start of a small empire. The burgers come on tasty brioche buns with toppings in inventive combinations. And the burgers aren't just beef. In particular, try the shrimp po' boy version, with a hot chili slaw. There are shakes and floats to complete the retro experience and condiments created specifically for sweet potato fries. 9664 W Linebaugh Ave., Tampa. (813) 475-5921.
This order-at-the-counter fast-food space has an attractive indoor-outdoor area that serves wine and craft beer, with flat screens cued to the day's sports and a toe-tapping soundtrack. The fries may be the best part — skin on, crisp and greaseless — which can be tossed a number of ways, from Parmesan and herbs to Cajun spices. And the burgers? The marquee offering is a brisket burger with blue cheese, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, pickles and sauce. Cheeseburgers come with two slices of cheese, lots of crisp lettuce and a soft bun with the BurgerFi logo branded nattily into its top. There's a smart wine and beer list, and desserts include frozen custards, shakes and "concretes," which are concoctions of frozen custard blended with cake, brownies or pie. 714 S Howard Ave., Tampa, (813) 440-2283; and 2910 Little Road, Trinity, (727) 375-7111.
Big bathtub planters outside, froufrou English collectibles inside, and it's dog-friendly: The Chattaway in the Old Southeast neighborhood is a quirky bird with legions of followers who have the bumper stickers to prove it. The central draw is the burger, a big dry cleaner's nightmare, but Chattaway is also cherished for its historic, ramshackle glory (it started as a general store with a gas pump back in the early 1920s). 358 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-1594.
Square 1 Burgers and Bar
Square 1 Burgers has a menu full of interesting combinations, but even better, it has a menu of ingredients so you can build your own. Suggestion: Start with the Angus — Kobe burgers are overkill — on a kaiser, chipotle ketchup, Gruyere cheese, tomato, caramelized onion and a fried egg. They've also got one they call the Buffalo Bob that's a buffalo patty with bacon, an onion ring and spicy beer cheese. 3942 Tyrone Blvd., St. Petersburg, (727) 345-1011; 3701 N Henderson Blvd., Tampa, (813) 414-0101; 2042 Badlands Drive, Brandon, (813) 689-1611.