It’s the place you drive by a hundred times before you decide to stop. It’s in that awkward-to-get-to little strip mall, wedged in between a DQ and a mattress shop. It doesn’t have any parking to speak of, or a view of any kind, unless you’re fond of the heavy traffic on the road that leads from the edge of the city into the heart of the ‘burbs. What it does have is a solid burger.
It’s a little hole in the wall that might too clean and not be dive-y enough for Guy Fieri to visit, with the new car smell still on it despite already being in business two year. We dropped in quite early on a Monday evening and the place was empty. We were met by the excited-to-be-in-business Keith Oakley, owner/proprietor, who mentioned that they were just cleaning up after a very busy lunch. Glad to see the little guy busy.
The sign out front read “Best Burger in New Tampa.” To be fair, the competition isn’t fierce. There are a lot of burger joints, to include Five Guys, Burger 21, Burger Monger, Red Robin, and all the fast-food places, but I wouldn’t call any of them high-quality burger. Five Guys is about the only fast food I eat, probably hitting it twice a month. I love eating the burger and amazing fries, but I wouldn’t confuse the burger itself with greatness.
The menu is straightforward, and we went for straightforward choices. I had the patty melt and Gretchyn had the chicken fingers, which were on special. We decided to split an order of fries and an order of slaw. The main reason I had the patty melt is I wanted to see how they’d do with grilling the bread, since there are other grilled sandwiches on the menu. Keith assured me that the same high quality beef was used in the patty melt, so I ran with it.
It was indeed a fine burger, with good quality meal, nicely seasoned, and cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The onions were grilled how l like them: enough to have deep flavor but not so much as to be too limp. A little texture goes a long way.The chicken fingers were also tasty, having obviously been cut fresh before being dipped in homemade buttermilk batter. The fries were good but unexceptional (and it’s always a tall order to live up to Five Guys’ fries), as was the slaw. I’m fine with the sides supporting the sandwich, not being the feature.
As you can see in the picture, the rye bread is perfectly-grilled and the beef is a nice color. The one thing I worry about a patty melt is the thinner bread getting soggy faster than a bun might. This bread held up pretty well—and it didn’t take that long for me to finish it.
I’ll agree that it’s the best burger so far in New Tampa. In a landscape that’s littered with cookie-cutter corporate places (if I stood outside the front door of Oakley’s, I could hit a golf ball to Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Panera Bread, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Applebee’s, and I don’t think I’d need anything more than a long iron), it’s refreshing to see a mom-and-pop operation doing reasonably well. I look forward to going back and working my way through the rest of the menu.