Sure, there’s a backlit menu board at the counter where you order your burgers. Yes, you squirt your own ketchup and mustard into little plastic condiment cups that you bring back to your table.
But Shula Burger may be the only fast-casual burger joint to offer real flatware, wine by the glass (including very good La Crema pinot noir for $9.25) and pints of craft draft beer ($3.75-$4.50).
While it’s been more than a year since the first Shula Burger opened in Islamorada, there are now locations at the Tampa airport and in Kendall. The first franchisee-owned location is set to debut sometime in May at Delray Marketplace in Delray Beach.
This spot opened in November, just a few miles from Don Shula’s corporate headquarters, which built its reputation with Shula’s steak houses, first opened in 1989 in Miami Lakes. Like the steak houses, Shula Burger uses Black Angus beef. The patties are a never-frozen combination of chuck, short rib and brisket.
You’ll want to start with something called 50/50 ($4.59), fried pickles and fried banana peppers. They’re served with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce.
There are 10 signature burgers, but start with the classic Shula Burger ($5.99), with American cheese, shaved lettuce, tomato and pickle. Burgers are served on a soft brioche bun that’s branded with the Shula name. I had the Wine Country burger ($7.99), with roasted peppers, goat cheese, balsamic greens and roasted tomato. We weren’t asked how we wanted our burgers cooked, but mine arrived nicely medium. The House of Blue ($7.99) is topped with blue cheese, red-onion jam and balsamic greens, while the California Burger ($6.99) gets avocado, tomato, cucumber and those greens. It’s $2.99 extra for a double burger. You can also create your burgers.
We couldn’t resist the Don ($9.99), which combines a burger patty and a hot dog with pickles, onion sauce, American cheese, ketchup and mustard. It’s over the top, but represents the best of the burger-dog world.
Among the section of the menu called Coach’s Favorites is a Shula Steak Sandwich ($12.99), grilled-chicken sandwich ($6.99) and a veggie burger on a multigrain bun ($6.79.)
Crisp sea-salt fries ($2.49) and other sides are not included. Sweet-potato tots ($3.99) were very nice, but tasted as though they’d been sweetened with cinnamon.
One of the biggest bargains here may be the salads. We ordered the Sante Fe ($6.99), and received a huge white bowl filled with greens, corn, black-bean salad, tomatoes, green onion, tortilla strips, pepper Jack cheese and honey-lime dressing. For just $2, you can add grilled chicken, blackened chicken or a naked burger.
There are Haagen-Dazs milk shakes ($4.29-$4.79) and an ice-cream-cookie sandwich ($4.99), with your choice of two cookies sandwiched between either chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
An X’s and O’s football play decorates one wall of the 56-seat Shula Burger. Otherwise, it’s pretty standard-issue fast-casual, save for the very good lighting. The youthful staff seemed more engaged in their work than at many restaurants of this ilk, but at lunchtime last week, just one cashier was taking orders during from a dozen-deep line. She somehow made it work. Food runners took a real interest in making sure we had everything we needed.
Shula Burger has entered a treacherously oversaturated burger market. It will take a name like former coach Shula’s and the quality I saw in this Fort Lauderdale flagship store to rise to the top.
BY JOHN TANANSYCHUK