On Best Ofs, Burgers, and Gilbert's 17th St. Grill, Part 1

Categories: The Critic
bestof2010cover.jpg
Note to the editors: Maybe we should start calling them the "Best-er Ofs"?
I have to admit, I'm completely over "Best" lists. The raging -- sometimes infuriating -- argument over who makes the best burger, tacos, pizza, French fries, or fried bologna sandwiches is a hopelessly futile one to me. Why? Everyone has a different opinion -- none of which, quite frankly, is more valuable than another.

As for me, my opinion would be this: After sampling a litany of all of the above food stuffs across my 25 years living in South Florida, I believe that there is no de facto best burger. The same holds true with pizza and tacos and probably 90% of the other rank-able dishes out there. There is good. And there is even great. But I've never had a single one of these foodstuffs (that wasn't adulterated by timing, relative hunger, drunkenness, or general disposition) that I could say with absolute certainty is the best. 

"But wait a second, John," you say. "Doesn't New Times give out Best Of awards every year?" Of course we do. So does every other publication on the planet, and the reason is simple: They're huge readership draws. People love to read lists (it's why our corporate overlords make us write a bazillion of them per month), and they love to read Best Ofs. Most of all, they absolutely love to argue vehemently over the results.

None of this is to say when we name a Best Of or devise a list that the results don't mean anything. What I wish we could say (and if we lived in a more honest world, perhaps we could) is "Here are some very, very good places that we like a lot. Please check them out." Of course, that phrase doesn't quite have the same snappy ring to it as "Best Of" (or even the "Top 10 Places to Gouge Your Eyes Out With a Fork"). But that's also why I'm a writer and not, say, a salesman.

(Note to self: All of this will bite me on the ass come next year's Best Of, when I'm forced to come up with another Best Burger/Taco/Inflatable Donut.)

So what purpose do these Best lists actually serve? Well, I believe rather than a single "best," there are multiple places that operate on a very high level -- a sort of pantheon, if you will. The phrase I would use is "among the best," and I think that's fairer and safer to say on the whole. As readers, writers, thinkers, and people, I would hope that what we take from this sometimes crass and often unnecessary discussion is an opportunity to learn more about our food scene -- what drives it, what makes it grow and succeed, and what doesn't. Maybe you think it's sad that talking about what burger is best is the driving force of South Florida food blog traffic. Or maybe it's a good thing that we're even getting people involved in a discussion about food -- especially in this restaurant scene, which quite honestly is about as deep as a kiddy pool at Six Flags.

On a simpler level, maybe people might just learn about a cool new place they never heard about before. There's always that too.

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The Sentinel reader's poll Best Burger in South Florida.
So from that vantage point, I took little interest in the Sun Sentinel's "Best Of South Florida, Burgers" that ran in July. To me, it was just another list that was in place simply to generate traffic (been there, done that), and had no chance of actually settling once and for all what is in fact the best burger (impossible). But still, I hoped there might be something interesting and unique brought to the table. And there was.

The Sentinel had apparently based its winners solely on reader votes. The winner, Gilbert's 17th St. Grill, was a restaurant I'd actually heard little about. It was a dark horse win, beating out much beloved Charm City Burgers and relative newcomer, Relish (which I have to say makes a fine incarnation of the form). The restaurant is less than two years old, makes thick, one-inch patties on an actual grill, and constructs them from Angus-certified beef. I was intrigued. 

Granted, it does seem spurious to me that the Sentinel never published the actual voting results. Say what you will about New Times' Readers Poll (and you could say a lot, believe me). But at least the results are transparent. In all the best burger conversations going on around the blog-o-sphere, Gilbert's is simply not a place that is mentioned often. So to imagine so many readers voted it in over say, Charm City, which has an extensive viral and online presence, is a bit far fetched.

(On a side note, the Sentinel followed up with a Best Pizza poll and article in August, and promises Best Chicken Wings next month. The pizza winner, Anthony's Coal Fired, is an obvious and lamentable choice.)

Regardless, I resolved to check out Gilbert's for myself and put its burger to the test. Not to see if it was in fact the best (impossible, right?). But to see if it's worthy of discussion. The results of that process? Expect a detailed dissection on Monday.

Location Info

Gilbert's 17th Street Grill

1821 Cordova Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Category: Restaurant


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