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Letters From The Wasteland: Cheeseburger in Paradise?

Published Tuesday, December 17, 2013 12:03 am

So I get back from out of town and what do I see, but that Council's is no longer the TBT burger champ. It seems the crown is pulling a George and Weezey and movin' on up ... or out in this case, to the island, courtesy of Duffy's Tavern.

One thing I've always been proud of is my town's burger cred. True, we can't make a pizza worth blowing your nose with, but I think that has more to do with the hard water than the local pie joints.

I'm often asked where my favorite place to get a hamburger is, and in truth, I don't really have one. When it comes to beef, I can find just enough to like and dislike about each place to keep me in rotation.

Lawton Smith over at Council's flips a hell of a burger on that old griddle and he keeps the beer good and cold. Plus, it's the only burger place where you can also get engaged in a game of pool.

However, the plain, un-toasted Merita bun is nothing to write home about and the crowds of ambulance chasers, divorce lawyers and politicians that tend to spill in from the courthouse across the street often spoil my appetite.

So sometimes I head west to the Shake Pit where Debbie's burgers are thin and well done, but topped with just the right amount of accompaniment and sandwiched between two pieces of delicious golden-toasted bun. There's no beer at the Pit, but the thick shakes almost make up for it.

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Once out on the island, there's the Hatfield and McCoy-like decision of Skinny's or Duffy's. To further confuse the matter, Skinny's is the old Duffy's, which was Skinny's before it was Duffy's in the first place.

I still think there's magic in that old griddle, giving Skinny's a bit of an edge. However, the last two times I went, I walked out after failing to get even a passing nod despite waiting patiently at the bar for 20 minutes to order.

Once you do order at Skinny's, it's still going to be a good wait by their own admission, so if you can't even get a cold PBR while you relax in a non-air conditioned shack because the single waitress working the shift is completely overwhelmed, it can be hard to take – especially with Duffy's being right up the street.

Also, the second best part about Skinny's is the tater-tots – a rare delicacy outside of an elementary school cafeteria. Everyone loves a side of tots, but there have been multiple occasions recently where they were out and “unsure whether they were going to have those anymore.”

While we're on the subject of sides, that brings me to Duffy's. Duffy's has a truly delicious burger and ice cold beer on tap, but the first time I went in I was shocked when they told me fries weren't on the menu – only bags of potato chips, which I stay away from. Those things will kill you faster than the burgers or the beer.

Aside from the burger joint icons, there are a couple of other local spots that flip some tasty beef, even if they're not known for it. The Boiler Room may have built its reputation on killer cheese steak sandwiches, but their burgers are also on point.

Annie's Bait and Tackle down in Cortez also serves up a mean burger and even though it's not the first thing you think of when you're sitting down for some seaside grub action, the half-pound Pier Burger at the Rod and Reel can hold its own with any gut bomb in town.

At the end of the day, there's no one perfect burger in Manatee County. But it would seem like there are plenty that are perfectly imperfect enough to keep a steady rotation of top-shelf burgers in your diet without ever having to find yourself inside some pathetic chain restaurant, so eat righteously and tip well my friends.

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