Breaking Down the Burger at Gilbert's 17th St. Grill
"I don't know how I'll fit that into my mouth," I tell me friend joining me for lunch at Gilbert's 17th St. Grill.
This half-pound beef burger served at the two-year-old Gilbert's was recently voted "Best Burger" by the readers of the Sun-Sentinel. From first glance, it's easy to see why: It's presentation, on a tray lined with faux newspaper and finished off by crisp, grease-less fries, is phenomenal. It smells great and looks way more enticing than anything you might order at Five Guys. It's also cooked to order and delivered to your table with speed.
On Friday, I touched on why I think it's silly to attempt to name this, or any burger in South Florida, the best. But I will say this massive mound of meat is still a good version of the sandwich, at the very least deserving of some praise. With a few upgrades, I could even see this being one of the finest of its type around.
Gilbert's, which sits in the corner of the harbor shops in Fort Lauderdale, is a clean, sunny restaurant, with an all-glass facade and plenty of bright orange tables. It features a big list of nearly a dozen burgers, plus a list of fish, chicken, and steak sandwiches, some grilled entrees, and a daily rotating cadre of lunch specials. The restaurant is partial service, so to order you queue up along a counter that looks something a cafeteria line with big display cases and order from the register. If you get a burger, the cashier asks you what temperature you want it and hands you a plastic number card so the bus boys can bring it out to your table when it's done.
For my trip, I got the burger pictured in the Sentinel article, a brie burger with bacon and fried onions ($8.95). Like all the burgers at Gilbert's, it sports an 8 ounce patty made from 100% certified Angus beef and comes on a sesame seed bun with lettuce and tomato. Ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise all come from a self-service bar located by the soda fountains. All the sandwiches and entrees come with fries, sweet potato fries, or house-made cole slaw.
To tackle the grandiose burger, I decided to dress it and then cut it in half. The strategy helps. While big, it's far from difficult to eat. And even with all the fried onions and brie cheese, it's hardly messy.
I'll start with what I love about the burger: First, its thick patty is cooked perfectly. Gilbert's grill men turn a lot of these burgers out during lunch, and they can hit temperature with precision. The burger is charred just right on the outside. And when I cut into it, a circle of juicy, perfectly pink medium extends from the center out to the edges -- just the way I ordered it. The lettuce and tomato are fresh and high quality, and, along with the fried onions, add a great variance of texture. Along with the big flavors of the beef and crisp bacon, the brie adds a rich, creamy tang. It wasn't melted when it arrived (kind of a burger faux pas to me), but the heat of the onions and the beef melted it afterward.
I also loved the fries at Gilbert's. They're cut with the skin on, sort of like Five Guys fries, but have some sort of very faint and loose "batter" on them similar to Checker's. They're meltingly soft inside and crisp outside, and they're seasoned well too. Gilbert's cole slaw, a creamy variety with fresh cabbage and carrots, tastes great too.
I'd be ready to give Gilbert's my vote for a fantastic burger, but a few things do hold it back. For one, the burger isn't seasoned all that well. Even with the brie, bacon, and fried onion rings on top of it, I have to keep reaching for my salt shaker throughout the meal. Salting a burger before cooking is pretty important to me -- I always use a liberal shake of kosher or sea salt when grilling one at home. If Gilbert's seasoned its beef a little better, I think it would kick the all-Angus patty into the stratosphere.
Another area for improvement would be the bun. Gilbert's bun is soft and airy and studded with sesame seeds. But it's also lacking texturally since it's untoasted. If Gilbert's toasted the inside of each bun, that would add a crisp texture to the bread without making it difficult to bite through. A little warmth to the bun wouldn't hurt either.
If I was being extra picky, I'd also probably ask for a little more fat in Gilbert's blend of beef. The Angus certification is nice, but it tastes like the burger was made mostly with sirloin. The burger's already plenty juicy, but adding some more fat -- brisket, short rib, and chuck are all great for this -- would give the burger a heartier flavor.
Lastly, expect to walk out of Gilbert's paying about $15 per person after drink and (if you choose) tip. That's an expensive burger by any stretch.
All told, Gilbert's serves a very good burger bordering on great. I'd definitely go back and try more varieties, like their Cajun spice-rubbed burger with cheddar cheese or one with crumbled blue cheese stuffed inside the patty. With great service, sides, and a clean, sunny decor, it's a burger spot worth checking out.
The best? Well, you already know my feelings on that.
Gilbert's 17th St. Grill
1821 Cordova Rd. (Harbor Shops), Fort Lauderdale