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EXOTIC BURGERS AT THE BEACH

Paddy O'Sullivan's offers build-your-own gourmet burgers (foie gras boar, anyone?) and craft beers.

Jimmy Buffett may long for a cheeseburger in paradise, but finding a memorable version along the Pinellas beaches can be a challenge. And enjoying it with a frosty adult beverage with more flavor than the ubiquitous Bud Light? All but impossible.

John Hargrave and Arthur Fuller are addressing that problem with an Irish accent.

Paddy O'Sullivan's, which opened a few days before St. Patrick's Day in a former gas station, combines half-pound gourmet burgers and craft beers in an Irish pub.

They plan to offer 100 different beers, from standard Irish favorites like Guinness and Bass to American craft brewers like Rogue, Brooklyn Brewery, Lefthand Brewery and Tampa's Cigar City. For now the number is around 70 and growing, most of it in bottles with a few premium beers on draft. There's also a full liquor bar, with lots of Irish whiskey and single malt scotch.

It is mostly a bar, with eight pub tables in one room, half a dozen tables in another, umbrella tables outside. Nine large flat-screen TVs hang in the main room.

Fuller, the executive chef whose experience includes stints at Gallagher's Steak House in Tampa and Chateau France in St. Petersburg, has focused the menu on premium burgers, with some sideways glances at a couple of Irish favorites (shepherd's pie stew and something called Irish gumbo, with a roux made with Irish butter). There also are a few beach standards like wings and grouper nuggets.

But the goal is to live up to the boast on the sign on Gulf Boulevard claiming the best burgers on the beach. It's not just brag.

The standard burger is made with black Angus beef from Creekstone Farms, a hormone- and antibiotic-free product that has been featured on the menus of such New York City restaurants as Babbo, Cafe Boulud and Danny Meyer's Shake Shack. They are fresh, juicy and flavorful, and lightly seasoned to let the beefy flavor shine.

It gets even more interesting with burgers made from lamb, bison, Wagyu, turkey, chicken, alligator and wild boar (caught wild but fattened up before slaughter, cutting down on the gaminess). Extras include foie gras ($14), lump crab, applewood bacon and Guinness gravy (all $2). The burgers are priced between $7 for the most basic and $13 for the Wagyu. But combine Wagyu and foie gras and you move into luxury pricing (with Fuller personally handling the execution). The burgers are cooked the way you like, but forget about medium rare for the wild boar; that one is cooked to at least medium.

The centerpiece of the menu is a little dizzying. You can choose from an array of meats, toppings, buns, cheeses and sauces to customize a burger. The estimate is about 200,000 possible combinations. That sounds about right and might be a little conservative.

"Our concept is to allow our guests to create the ultimate custom burger," Hargrave explained in an e-mail. "Every burger lover dreams of their ultimate burger."

The beach, which seems dominated by a value-conscious crowd more interested in quantity than quality, could prove to be a hostile environment for a place trying to be more than that. And offering so many combinations can be tough to execute.

But Hargrave is confident enough that he's already exploring new locations off the beach.

Tom Scherberger can be reached at scherberger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8312.

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IF YOU GO

Paddy O'Sullivan's

6101 Gulf Blvd., St Pete Beach. (727) 360-7888.

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