Tucker Duke's Lunchbox Offers Unpretentious, Small-Town Food
A burger fried in a pan and slapped together in timed competition helped get Brian Cartenuto his win on the first season of the Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen. Even though he stole his competitors' bread, hand-chopped beef into a course grind, and whipped up his signature onion rings, no one could tell it was a burger made under extreme circumstances.
Photos by CandaceWest.com
No one can argue the hamburger is not classic American comfort fare, but with one overbuilt burger after another, it's easy to forget how simple it needs to be. For those looking for a taste of Cartenuto's winning burger, a spectacular made-to-order version can be found at his newly opened Tucker Duke's Lunchbox in Deerfield.
At just 32, Cartenuto's 17-year career has brought him from Anthony Bourdain's Brasserie Les Halles in Miami to the French bistro Lavandou in Washington, D.C. Now a two-time winner of Cutthroat Kitchen, the Florida native is also known for his handmade pastas, which earned him a devoted crowd in Seattle, where he opened Tuscan restaurant Cantinetta. When business relations with his partner went sour, Cartenuto returned to his hometown of Niceville in the Panhandle, where he opened Tucker Duke's, named for his Great Dane/lab mix. Originally an eight-seat Southern-style lunch counter, the spot's opening menu was a short list of blue-plate specials, and he cooked with nothing but a Panini press, two toasters, and a home fryer.
In the beginning, it was just a few sandwiches, my favorite dishes between bread," says Cartenuto. "I never meant for Tucker Duke's to be a burger place. It just happened."
Disgusted with the perpetual line at a nearby McDonald's drive-through, one day Cartenuto decided to put a burger on the menu, everything he thought a Big Mac should be. He designed one ascribing to the same tenets his menu reflects, with a focus on only local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. Within a week, it had earned a cultish following, people waiting five-deep for the Tucker Duke.
Cartenuto's master creation is a half-pound patty of Florida Seminole Pride beef arranged in a multilayered Jenga pile of fried onion rings, melted American cheese, mixed baby greens, and celery-salted tomato on a toasted, onion-encrusted bun. Pink Tucker sauce -- Cartenuto's insanely addictive version of a Louisiana remoulade, AKA Comeback dressing -- is the glue that attempts to hold it all together ($10).
The Tucker Duke burger was so popular, in fact, that it prompted an overhaul of the menu and a relocation from Niceville to a larger space in nearby Valparaiso.