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Burger 21: How It’s Going to Be?

Burger 21, which opened this week in Tampa, Fla., might cause burger purists’ eyebrows to arch with skepticism because of its lineage. Yes, it was created and is owned by fondue-menu casual-dining chain The Melting Pot. But hang on because this is a burger joint whose menu looks to do burgers proud. It has ambition and personality and with fine-dining touches that sound all the right trend notes coupled with fast-casual pricing it just may provide a glimpse of the burger category’s future.

The Shroom Burger

True to its name, the 2,800-square-foot joint’s menu includes 21 burgers, priced from $5.50 to $9.95, and many are different from what you’ve found elsewhere. For example, a Steak Frites burger piles on lettuce, tomato, red-onion jam, fries and garlic butter.

Ten of the 21 are USDA Choice beef burgers, three are chicken, there’s a tuna and two each of shrimp, veggie and turkey. The final choice, named Burger 21, is a special that changes monthly. Appropriately for November, the first special is a Turkey Decadence burger topped with Brie cheese, lettuce, tomato, cranberry chutney and honey mustard. Like all beef, seafood and most chicken burgers, this special is served on a brioche bun. The only other option is a whole-wheat roll that’s used for veggie burgers.

There’s a respectable assortment of cheeses assigned to various burgers, including fontina, smoked Cheddar, feta (on The Greek veggie burger) and blue. House-made sauces include chipotle-jalapeño, hickory barbecue, chive mayo, miso-mustard, Cajun (on the Po’Boy Shrimp Burger), red-pepper mayo and tomato.

Chef-partner Chris Ponte

The menu extends to four variations on Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs, including a Reuben Dog with sauerkraut, Blue Moon cheese sauce and remoulade. There are regular fries plus sweet potato fries and Blue Moon Bacon Cheese Fries. Six salad choices include a Sonoma Valley with raspberry-walnut vinaigrette and a Super Burger Bowl (choice of burger patty on Romaine with tomatoes, carrots, onions, bacon and dressing). Seven hand-dipped milk shakes (including a Chocolate Cherry Bomb) are offered.

Perhaps tipping off its corporate backing, Burger 21 comes complete with a mission statement: “To deliver chef-created taste without the chef price.” But that’s OK because the place actually does have a chef. Chef-partner Chris Ponte is a Johnson & Wales University culinary grad who has worked a kitchen with Daniel Boulud and apprenticed at three-Michelin-star Taillevent in Paris. That’s how he can get away with putting rémoulade on a hot dog.

The corporate parent company will rechristen itself as Front Burner Brands comes January 2011. Its portfolio will include The Melting Pot and GrillSmith, a six-location concept that defines itself as offering “New American Cuisine.” The company reportedly also plans to create Peel, a restaurant concept featuring pizza, sandwiches and pastas.

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