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Burger Wars

After 25 years running Bella’s Italian Café, a wood-fired fixture in Tampa for two decades, Bill Shumate wanted to try something new.

One Burger in Coral Gables
One Burger in Coral Gables

Well, burgers aren’t exactly new for Shumate. He based his newest venture, Square One, on his first restaurant called Across the Street. It was located across the street from the University of Oklahoma.

“But I always wanted to get back into it,” Shumate says. And budget-strapped 2008 was the right time.

Folks at Duffy’s Tavern on Anna Maria could have told him that Floridians love burgers, too — great beach food long before grouper sandwiches. The beloved Duffy’s dates back to 1958 and is so dedicated to burgers that it doesn’t bother with fries. Regulars know not to even ask; chips are enough.

Ditto for one of the best dives in Miami for hamburgers, the raggedy Tobacco Road saloon, built before Prohibition and now the city’s oldest bar. Or Angel’s legendary 1932 diner in Palatka, which may have Florida’s first fusion burger, the Black Bottom Sandwich, ground beef, bacon and scrambled eggs.

At Shumate’s Square One in Tampa, Shumate’s burger matrix can start with buffalo, tuna, Angus or Kobe beef, a choice of buns, sauces from remoulade to ginger, cheeses from pepper jack to brie, and four toppings from cranberry and apple compote to a fried egg. Try to follow that with red velvet cupcake, a Dreamsicle shake or root beer float.

Johnny Rockets
Johnny Rockets

Square One in Tampa
Square One in Tampa

The burger wars are hot and difficult, yet in today’s economy, a big juicy burger drips with more comfort and value than ever. It’s been at the center of the menu for many chains for years such as Fort Myers-based Cheeburger Cheeburger. Started in 1987, the chain delivers burgers from 5.5 ounces to a 20-ounce monster. Most popular is the “semi-serious,” a 7-ouncer. Chain concepts range from bubblegum jukebox Johnny Rockets (24 Florida locations) to gay-themed Hamburger Mary’s (now in Orlando).

New millennials have added many more burgers, high and low, revived and reinvented, across the state. Five Guys Burgers and Fries has opened many new stores in Florida during the hyperexpansion of its no-frills, retro concept. Idaho potatoes by the sack, peanuts on the floor, burgers with unlimited toppings, wrapped in foil and stuck in a brown paper bag stuffed with fries and stained with grease.

Burgers are so hip that they have their own stylish hangout in Miami such as the 8 oz. Burger Bar in South Beach and One Burger in Coral Gables, which actually has about 30 different burgers. The last is an homage to the frita, a Cuban-born treat found from Miami to Tampa. Gracias, but no thanks. We’ll head to Miami’s Calle Ocho Cuban district for spicy beef-and-chorizo patties with French fries or potato sticks on top — and melted cheese.?

A glorious mess — and a burger with real Florida flavor.

Duffy's Tavern Burger
Duffy’s Tavern on Anna Maria Island