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Review: Tampa Bay's first BurgerFi serves up sublime fast food

BurgerFi, which opened in October next to Ava on S Howard Avenue in Tampa, offers burgers free of antibiotics and hormones, and never frozen or microwaved, sublime fries and dreamy desserts.
Published Dec. 9, 2014

TAMPA — Shake Shack, Smashburger, Burger 21, Burger Monger, Square 1 Burgers — surely the premium burger wars are so pitched that the battlefield is at capacity. Yet into the Tampa Bay melee steps BurgerFi, which debuted in the new Post SoHo Square building at the end of October. The North Palm Beach-based chain has seen massive expansion in 2014, making good on its name's promise to instigate "the Burgerfication of the Nation."

With much-anticipated Ava opening next door and MacDinton's and all the SoHo party spots just a stumble away, the setting is inspired. This is order-at-the-counter fast food, but it's an attractive indoor-outdoor space that serves wine and craft beer, has flat-screens cued to the day's sports, and a toe-tapping soundtrack. What's more, it offers this: warm fuzzies. The interior design is eco-friendly, with recycled-material furniture, a rigorous recycling program and large fans that use 66 percent less electricity. And then there's the Angus beef that is antibiotic- and hormone-free, never frozen or microwaved. Building on feel-good successes like Chipotle or Evos, BurgerFi aims to swiftly open a handful of restaurants in our area.

So far, this initial Tampa Bay effort is thronged, and with good reason. 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, chili and cheese sauce. Just on their own, hot and salted, they're sublime (a regular size, $2.97, will feed two people, but you'll be peeved if the other guy gets grabby). I was less wild about the onion rings ($3.97 regular), which are cut so darn thick that it's like wrangling a golden inner tube mouthward.

And the burgers? The marquee offering is a brisket burger with blue cheese, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, pickles and sauce ($9.97). It's good, and messy, but at nearly twice the price of the regular cheeseburger ($5.97), I'd opt for the latter (two patties, two slices of cheese, lots of crisp lettuce and a soft bun with the BurgerFi logo branded nattily into its top). Sandwiches are delivered (you put your magic tracker at the center of the table and servers find you) on metal trays, each wrapped in waxed paper envelopes, condiment squirters and utensils at the side of the room with the cool Freestyle soda dispenser.

BurgerFi is with the program: It has removed veto power from vegetarians and gluten-free-ers. There's a solid VegeFi burger ($6.77) that goes heavy on quinoa, and burgers can be ordered "green," bun-free and bedded down on swaths of crisp iceberg. Meanwhile, the creatively inclined can build their own extravaganza, drawing on ingredients from a fried egg to garlic mayo and Peter Luger Steak Sauce.

But it's the smart little wine and beer list and the desserts — frozen custards, shakes and concretes — that are likely to keep South Tampa's party set enthralled. What's a concrete? They say it's frozen custard blended with cake, brownies or pie. Eh, I think the term really started in the 1950s when a shake was so thick that a server cockily handed it out the order window upside down. Etymology aside, these are seriously good shakes. I'm game for being BurgerFied again soon, but it's the fries and coffee mocha shake ($4.47) that will spur me to brave S Howard on a busy night.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

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