Do you remember backyard picnics and how good those hamburgers tasted?
Completely different than those hockey pucks between two mushy pieces of bread you’d get from fast food places. The meat actually had flavor and there was a little bit of char on the edge. You didn’t need a lot of toppings to make it sensational, just a little catsup and mustard and maybe some lettuce and tomato if you were feeling fancy.
Craig Carey felt the same way, so in 2005 he teamed up with chef Tom Racosky, and they started to mold their vision of a modern “burger joint” with a rotating selection of delicious burgers and craft beer that felt more like a backyard party than a restaurant. Two years later they opened their first Big Buns in Arlington, Virginia. Other locations in the D.C. area followed. They’ve just opened their first South Florida location along the riverfront just south of West Las Olas.
Big Buns offers a well-made burger, and its river-front patio adds to the backyard party atmosphere if you can find it. The restaurant’s address is 221 SW 1st avenue, but it is a block south of that in a storefront of the Society Las Olas and around the corner from 1st Ave. It may be difficult to find, but once there, you will be rewarded with tasty burgers and chicken sandwiches. In addition to colorful indoor dining, there’s a large patio with bright colors, murals, and bold sound (sometimes too bold, we often found ourselves shouting over the music and the trains passing by a few yards away).
There’s everything from the simply dressed classic burger to a wide array of specialty combos topped with anything from bacon and onion strings, to sauteed mushrooms, BBQ sauce, grilled poblanos, and serranos, and a variety of cheese options. The same goes for chicken sandwiches, which can come grilled or breaded and deep-fried, simply dressed or adorned with toppings. There are also the options of house-made veggie burgers and Impossible patties, which can be subbed in any sandwich or bowl. For those looking for a healthier alternative, bowls offer several varieties of bases, which can be topped with a patty of any sort or enjoyed simply as a salad. Among the options are; Beet Sprouts & Harmony (arugula, crispy brussels sprouts, barley, roasted beets, candied pecans, sea-salted sweet potato chips, with maple Dijon vinaigrette), the Hollaback Bowl (chopped kale, quinoa, house falafel, dried cranberries, shredded carrots, toasted almonds, and parmesan Caesar dressing), or the Southwest Smoke Show (napa, red cabbage, romaine, quinoa, avocado, shredded carrots, pico de gallo, and corn tortilla strips, topped with cilantro lime chipotle vinaigrette).
Side options are limited but just as tasty. Starting with simple fries to loaded versions. There are also fried Brussels sprouts topped with a spicy sriracha sauce. Be forewarned when things are listed on the menu as spicy, they aren’t kidding. We could barely eat the queso fries. The specialty milkshakes are good for putting out any fires. I was a tad disappointed when my peanut butter cup shake arrived. The picture on the website showed it adorned with Reese’s pieces and pieces of real peanut butter cups. My shake was merely peanut butter-flavored. Beverage options are a pleasant change of pace; fountain drinks are not the usual Coke or Pepsi products but more unusual Mexican colas, regional root beers and fresh juice blends (strawberry and watermelon taste artificial, but the pear and ginger combination was quite refreshing).
The prices are a bit higher than other fast-casual burger joints; about $12 for a plain burger and fries to more than $20 for the works on both. One of the reasons for the higher prices has to do with the quality of the ingredients. The beef is premium grass-fed, and the chicken is antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed from Nature's Sensation. Burgers are served on a brioche bun (a gluten-free version is available) and fries are prepared in a designated gluten-free fryer. The house-made veggie burger is vegan and gluten-free. In addition to quality ingredients, Big Buns pays its workers above the going rate. We all give lip service to paying people a living wage, but that comes at a cost. We’ll see if people are willing to pay that.
221 SW 1st Ave., Fort Lauderdale
New Spots to Check Out
Even as we wind down from season, we have dining destinations popping up in the area. Check these out.
Kava Jive, an “elite elixir bar,” will open in June in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors. 2242 Wilton Drive.
Mamma Mia Italian Bistro, an Italian bistro set to open in the former Via Vai space. 2043 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, Instagram.com/mammamia.bistro.
The Fitz Bar & Lounge, cocktail focused with food trucks. 503 SW 2nd. Ave., Fort Lauderdale, TheFitzFTL.
Gelato & Co., the 14th location of a high-end gelateria chain. 1201 E. Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, GelatoEco.com.
Wow Wing House, boasts 123 flavors of wings. 4231 W. Commercial; WowWingHouseTamarac.com.
Tacocraft opened a new location in the new Plantation Walk. 321 North University Dr., Plantation, Tacocraft.com.
I Heart Mac & Cheese, at Cypress Creek Station plaza. 6317 N. Andrews Ave., IHeartMacAndCheese.com.