Comfort foods really don’t get any better than the eternally cool combination of beef and bun – except, of course, when you start adding things like cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and perhaps a couple strips of crispy bacon.
May is national hamburger month. May 28 is national hamburger day. Which means it’s time for our annual list of best burgers in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
We skipped running the list last year because of the pandemic. But not even the coronavirus could stop us from eating lots and lots of burgers during the past year from our favorite local restaurants.
Because we’ve gone two years without running the list, we opted to expand it and present it in two parts – Sarasota County this week, with Manatee County coming soon. Twenty selections each, with some overlap for places with locations in both counties.
We included a few locally owned chains but not a single national chain. Yeah, we know, Five Guys makes a fine burger. But guess what? These local businesses do ’em better.
The restaurants are presented in alphabetical order. Menu prices are subject to change with some, but not all, burgers coming with a side. Some of the sides, namely fries, were simply too good not to mention.
4520 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-921-3798; alpinesteak.com
A restaurant and butcher shop serving Sarasota since 1975, Alpine Steakhouse is probably most famous for its TurDucKen, which was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” But us locals know it’s also home of The Alpine Burger ($9.99), featuring a wonderfully juicy slab of fresh ground sirloin steak prepared in house and served on a kaiser roll. Looking for a great deal? Burgers are a mere five bucks on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
370 Commercial Court and 525 Tamiami Trail South, Venice; brewburgers.com
BrewBurgers serves the best burgers in Venice. The massive menu includes such items as the Ollie G ($11.99), with crispy bacon slices, creamy brie, olive tapenade with a kick, and extra heat from the chipotle ranch. Too healthy for ya? The Widow Maker ($17.99) is a half-pound beef patty topped with a sausage burger, ham, pulled pork, bacon, chili and American cheese on a brioche roll. Please note, BrewBurgers is relocating their Venice island restaurant in the Publix plaza at 525 Tamiami Trail South to a larger space on the south end of the same plaza. But, fear not burger fans, BrewBurgers’ food truck is parked behind the Elephant’s Trunk Thrift Shop at the south end of the plaza during construction “as often as possible.” Plus, BrewBurgers continues to operate its location at 370 Commercial Court in Venice.
Evie’s Tavern and Grill
4725 Bee Ridge Road and 1560 Main St., Sarasota; eviesonline.com
The locally owned Evie’s – with Sarasota locations on Bee Ridge Road and Main Street (with a bowling lane) – offers “build your own burgers” ($9.50 for a half-pound Angus beef patty) as well as the highly recommended Evie’s Signature Burger ($12.99). The delicious brisket, short rib and chuck steak blend patty is judiciously topped with poblano peppers, crispy onions and chipotle mayo. Evie’s newer sister restaurant The Point, on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey, also serves an impressive signature burger with bacon, tomato bacon jam, cheddar, arugula, and caramelized onions. (There’s an Evie’s in Ellenton, too, but that one doesn’t serve food.)
Gecko’s Grill & Pub
Multiple locations in Sarasota and Manatee; geckosgrill.com
So the locally owned Gecko’s no longer features The Gecko Burger on its menu but, guess what? You can totally build it. Covering a brioche onion roll, it’s a half-pound slab of USDA Choice Angus chuck cooked to order and smothered with chili and cheddar cheese and topped with onion rings. Gecko’s classic burger is $10 and then each additional side is $1.25. The options are cheese, bacon, onion rings, chili, fried pickles, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed onions, jalapeño and guacamole.
The Hob Nob Drive-In
1701 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota; 941-955-5001; hobnobdrivein.com
A Sarasota institution dating back to the 1957, The Hob Nob serves a classic diner style burger that’s thin and salty with plenty of juice bursting out from under a blanket of American cheese, even when adorned with mayo, mustard, iceberg lettuce, a thick tomato slice, raw white onions and pickles. The $9.50 cheeseburger basket comes with a small side of coleslaw and comforting crinkle fries.
239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota; 941-706-4740; indigenoussarasota.com
One of the most acclaimed chefs in the country, owner Steve Phelps earned a James Beard Foundation semifinalist nomination for Best Chef, South, in 2014 and 2015, and was recently featured on “CBS This Morning,” where he discussed his use of ingredients native to the area, as well as fish farming. Yes, people come to Indigenous for the amazing seafood dishes that change daily, but what Phelps does with a burger – fortunately a fixture on the menu – is ingenious. My Uncle’s Burger ($19) is two thin, perfectly seasoned, grass-fed beef patties covered with cheddar, bacon jam and a shot of addictive “Indigenous sauce.” The masterpiece is served with duck fat roasted potatoes and pickled veggies.
Knick’s Tavern & Grill
1818 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota; 941-955-7761; knickstavernandgrill.com
Served during lunch and dinner, the Brunch Burger is one of the more distinctive offerings on our list of faves. A sublimely timeless combination of Angus beef, house-fried bacon, fried eggs and American cheese with red onion, lettuce and tomato, it’s given an interesting twist via its placement on a grilled pita ($13). It was created by owner Knick Barger, a fact I learned while noshing on my first Brunch Burger years ago. These days, his daughter Knickole Barger runs the restaurant with Knick still coming in regularly for his tasty burger creation.
Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie
1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota; and 8445 Lorraine Road, Lakewood Ranch; libbysneighborhoodbrasserie.com
The locally owned Libby’s, with the original in Sarasota’s Southside Village location and a second one in Lakewood Ranch, both serve the Brisket Burger ($15.50). It’s a nicely formed and proportioned brisket blend with aged cheddar, lettuce, tomato and kissed with just the right amount of their herbed mayo. Libby’s also serves a version with Maytag blue cheese as well as an Impossible vegan burger.
1990 Main St., Sarasota; 941-953-2900; maderestaurant.com
Featured on a 2018 episode of Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise,” Made offers clever twists on numerous American classics, including its namesake burger ($15). It’s a beef blend covered with pork barbacoa, barbecued peppers and onions, and pepper jack cheese. Plus, there’s a fried green tomato under the patty for an extra helping of Southern goodness. It’s served on a tasty, Hawaiian-style brioche roll. And be sure to pair your handheld with the cheesy tots.
Mandeville Beer Garden
428 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota; 941-954-8688; mbgsrq.com
A first-rate beer bar with a great lineup of pub grub, Mandeville offers the Char-Grilled Beef Gurger ($13.50), a fresh-ground, hand-formed half-pound patty on a grilled brioche bun with lettuce, red onion and tomato. The choice of cheese is perhaps the best in town, with the standard selection of American, Swiss, cheddar, provolone and blue augmented with smoked gouda, ghost pepper and jalapeno pepper Monterey Jack. Mandeville also serves a Hangover Burger smothered in beer cheese as well as a Popper Burger topped with fried jalapenos, cream cheese and popper sauce.
Multiple locations; mattisons.com
Chef/owner Paul Mattison has three namesake locations (South Tamiami Trail, downtown Sarasota, Bradenton Riverwalk) all serving outstanding burgers made with freshly ground Niman Ranch beef, routinely cooked spot-on to order ($18 at dinner). I prefer mine these days with either just American cheese or perhaps Monterey Jack cheese and bacon if I’m feeling naughty. Plus, the Bradenton restaurant is now offering a bison burger.
New Pass Grill and Bait Shop
1505 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota; 941-388-3050; newpassgrill.com
Every Sarasotan owes it to themselves to at least once experience the Old Florida joy of visiting City Island for a New Pass Burger and a cold one while seated on the docks of New Pass Grill and Bait Shop. After changing ownership last year, the diner-style patty remains a tasty treat tucked inside the same remarkably hearty and flavorful bun. The burger comes with American cheese and/or bacon, with a choice of toppings: lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mustard, mayo, and ketchup.
My preference? Bacon cheeseburger and fries ($10.99) all the way, hold the ketchup, please. Now, while seated at that funky old wood structure on the water, keep in mind you will be carrying on a dining tradition dating back to the 1950s, at a local landmark used as a bait shop and fish camp even decades longer. Yes, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
Oak & Stone
Multiple locations in Southwest Florida; oakandstone.com
Launched by locals in 2017, including members of the Seidensticker family, with its University Parkway location, Oak & Stone restaurants can now be found from downtown St. Petersburg to Naples, with a rooftop location in downtown Bradenton. While, alas, the Double Double burger is no longer on the menu, Oak & Stone still excels with their Griddle Burger ($13). The juicy, mid-sized patty is smothered in a winning cheddar blend with crispy onion straws, lettuce, and a superb “secret sauce” that recalls a richer and more robust Thousand island.
1420 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota; 941-500-9175; theovertonsrq.com
The Overton’s Classic Roadside Burger ($9) is everything you want from a diner-style burger created by a world-class chef like owner Christian Hershman: superior beef used for that hand-formed patty, American cheese, onion, house pickle and “secret sauce” on toasted bun. It’s simple and perfect, the kind of relatively healthy (for a burger) comfort food you can return to over and over again. And be sure to pair that burger with some of Overton’s fries ($2) – which are like McDonald’s, but better – and one of their crafty cocktails.
1481 Main St., Sarasota; 941-955-1481; patricks1481.com
You can’t do downtown Sarasota without spending an evening – or long lunch – sipping martinis and eating a burger and fries at the handsome bar or shaded sidewalk tables of Patrick’s, which has been a downtown destination for three decades. The menu includes seven burger options including sliders, and you can’t go wrong with the basic cheeseburger ($13), served with choice of American, Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack, or blue cheese. The Kress Burger ($16) remains king, though. It’s Patrick’s thick, flavorful cheeseburger topped with crispy bacon and onion rings, and served with a side of chili, which is ideal for French fry dipping.
Pub 32 Irish Gastropub
8383 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-952-3070; pub32sarasota.com
One of the best and most authentic Irish gastropubs in the region, Pub 32 excels at traditional Irish dishes such as shepherd’s pie with lamb and beef, corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, and the fish and chips made with Atlantic cod. Owners Ross and Louise Galbraith, both Irish natives, also make an awesome half-pound burger cooked to order. The well-seasoned beef holds up just fine under lettuce, tomato and red onion ($10), but it’s a pity not to upgrade for a few dollars more to a Dubliner (caramelized onions and brie), Irishman (Irish cheddar and pork belly), or perhaps take it in a different direction with the Irish B&B burger featuring Cajun seasoning and blue cheese.
Shakespeare’s Craft Beer and Gastro Pub
3550 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota; 941-364-5938; shakespearesenglishpub.com
One of the best and longest-running beer bars in Sarasota, Shakespeare’s also excels at pub grub, particularly burgers. All the burgers are made with eight ounces of Black Angus beef expertly seasoned and cooked. Ordered medium, they come out with a charred crust of salt and spice and a juicy pink inside. Best of the bunch? Start with the Caramelized Onion & Brie Burger ($14.95), which has become something of a Sarasota burger celebrity!
465 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands Circle; and 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key; dineshore.com
A chic second-floor setting melding outdoor and indoor seating with sweeping views of St. Armands Circle, Shore is a fun spot just to sit back, relax and people watch. It’s an even more fun spot to dine and drink, though, thanks to items such as the Shore Burger ($17-$19). It’s a patty made from grass-fed beef, ground in house daily with a rocking bacon jam, Tillamook cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion, with a side of their yummy truffle fries. The same burger can also be enjoyed at Shore’s newer waterfront location found on the Manatee County side of Longboat Key overlooking Sarasota Bay.
State Street Eating House + Cocktails
1533 State St., Sarasota; 941-951-1533; statestreetsrq.com
Enjoy this double stacked, fresh ground burger with American cheese, pickled cucumber ribbons and red onion, with a nice smear of house mayo on the brioche bun ($16). Pair it with one of the tastiest cocktails in the town, the Bramble (gin, blackberries, simple syrup fresh lemon juice, crème de mûre).
Tony’s Chicago Beef
6569 Superior Ave., Sarasota; and 1856 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice; tonyschicagobeef.com
So, yeah, if you’re looking for a taste of the Windy City, Tony’s is the best place in Sarasota County. They serve outstanding Chicago-style hot dogs with fresh-cut fries and an amazing Italian beef sandwich. These true Chicagoans also excels at burgers, which come char-grilled. There are several options, but if you’re going to try just one better make it the burger named after comedy legend and Chicago native John Belushi. It’s a deftly seasoned, mid-sized patty smothered in Swiss cheese, fresh grilled onions and mushrooms on a tasty, toasted, old fashioned bun. Plus, it costs only six bucks, making it one of the better deals in town.
Wade Tatangelo, the Herald-Tribune’s entertainment editor, may be reached by email at [email protected] Support local journalism by subscribing.