Making your way through the gourmet-burger landscape can be a one-tank trip without leaving the metro Orlando area.
There are the obvious destinations such as Burger Fi, Beth's Burger Bar, B&B Junction (not to be confused with Graffiti Junktion), Hamburger Mary's, Five Guys, Red Robin, Bar Louie and Pine 22. In addition, eateries such as The Tap Room at Dubsdread, K Restaurant Wine Bar, Ravenous Pig, Hillstone, Bar Louie and Rusty Spoon are known for gourmet twists between the buns.
Last fall, Burger 21 opened two fast-casual restaurants. The first was in Orlando's Shoppes at Millenia off Conroy Road, the second near the University of Central Florida.
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4192 Conroy Road #109, Orlando, FL 32839, USA
11551 University Boulevard #16, Orlando, FL 32817, USA
The décor is Steak 'n Shake modern.
The concept is pretty straightforward. Walk in, order up, take a table number and find a seat. Even though my visit was months after opening day, an employee briefed all who entered on the protocol. It was cumbersome, but welcome.
While you are choosing from sliders, stacked burgers, salads, fries and hot dogs, you might decide to skip the hand-dipped shakes, sundaes and cookies. Fair warning: Once you sit down, you will be tempted by the soda bar. Darn you, blender siren song.
At the Millenia location, my colleagues and I sampled the Burger 101 ($3.99 for 4.5-ounce patty, $5.99 for 6-ounce). The meat was freshly packed and juicy. Served on a buttery toasted brioche bun, the burger was simply dressed with crisp lettuce and a tomato slice.
Other condiments are self-service from a sauce bar adjacent to the beverage area. There are dipping sauces for fries or to enliven your meal.
Burgers such as the Tex-Mex haystack ($6.49 for 4.5-ounce patty, $7.99 for 6-ounce) need little embellishment. Ours came loaded with lettuce, tomato, applewood-smoked bacon, Gouda, guacamole, onion strings and a chipotle-jalapeno sauce.
For lighter appetites, share the black and bleu ($8.99), a four-pack of sliders on toasted Hawaiian rolls. The dry seasoning is just enough to give the beef a spark without overwhelming and the cheese crumbles are melt-in-the-mouth good.
The surprise was the spicy Thai shrimp burger ($7.99), a compact portion of lightly fried shrimp on a toasted sesame bun, served with a dash of sriracha aïoli, hot chili slaw and pure sriracha. (Sriracha is a garlicky Southeast Asian hot sauce.)
The chicken tender basket ($5.99) didn't break any new ground, but it will satisfy the younger set while adults explore more adventurous menu items.
Fries are extra ($2.49-$6.99) and shareable.
The shake bar has diner-style counter stools. Treats from here can be ordered with your savories or by walking up to the ice-cream counter.
Three of us could barely finish the signature chocolate malted milk bar shake ($4.99) made with Blue Bell ice cream.
In addition to our orientation upon entering Burger 21, several employees work the room clearing tables and fetching condiments and other items you might need.
Red Robin, which has restaurants in Port Orange and Winter Garden, is next on my dance card. After that, I may be burgered-out for a while.
Call: 407-203-2848 (Millenia); 407-985-3541 (UCF)
Where: 4192 Conroy Road, Suite 109, (Shoppes at Millenia); 11551 University Blvd., near the University of Central Florida; both Orlando
When: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (Millenia); 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday (UCF)
How much: $3.99-$10.50
Beverages: Beer, wine, soft drinks
Wines by the glass: From $4.50
Extras: Counter service, children's menu, gluten-free menu items, good for groups, family friendly, wheelchair access
Credit: American Express, MasterCard, Visa