Call me old fashioned but my first reaction when Burger 21, an upscale burger diner located in Westchase, asked me to come to a tasting was "I'd love to try your fries and shakes but I won't be eating any burgers, I'm a vegetarian." I was quickly assured that this is the 21st century and they do offer two vegetarian options at their restaurant (as most places, except Applebees, do now). I quickly hopped in my horse and buggy and made the two day trip to the restaurant.
The first thing I noticed, probably the teacher in me, upon entering Burger 21 was the diner's charity board (picture on the left). One of the core beliefs of the restaurant is that they support neighborhood charity organizations and on the 21st of each month a portion of their proceeds go towards that month's charity. July's charity is Citrus Park Elementary (score one for them before I even sat down to eat).
Enough dilly dally let's talk food. Burger 21 offers 21 types of burgers (they also have salads, hot dogs, fries and shakes) including a "Burger of the Month" which changes each month on...you guessed it, the 21st. As I mentioned before, only two of these burgers are vegetarian. The first burger I tried was the Greek burger. It is a veggie burger topped with lettuce, tomato, roasted sweet peppers, feta spread and pickled cucumbers on a whole wheat roll.
My half of the Greek
Using Lynyrd Skynyrd style southern rock as a metaphor, this burger was sort of like "Simple Man." It was very plain, nothing really stood out about it and the sum of its parts seemed like it should add up to a whole lot more. I wasn't too thrilled by it. I think if they were going this approach, the veggie burger should've been made out of something closer to Falafel. I probably would've really dug it then. If the Greek is "Simple Man" then the second vegetarian option, the Black Bean Burger, is "Free Bird." This burger banged. It was thick, full of flavor and combined a number of interesting elements that each stood out while also meshing together to create an excellent burger.
The Black Bean Burger
For the record, the Black Bean Burger is lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, salsa, low-fat sun dried tomato aioli and cilantro sour cream on a whole wheat roll. I've mentioned many times on this blog how I hate mayo and cilantro. This burger could've easily gone wrong for me but, thanks to the subtleness of the flavors, it was oh so right.
While most other participants dined on fries, neither of my burgers came with them. I didn't say anything because I wanted to save room for the shakes and the fries were shoe string which I am not really a fan of. I did try one of Carlos' (Carlos Eats) sweet potato fries. He raved about the combination of sweet and salty how they perfectly supported each other. I don't like sweet potato so I thought they were only so-so, not enough to make me do somersaults. What I did like is that the restaurant offers a sauce bar with eight sauces for dipping. They have toasted marshmallow (too sweet), apple cider (refrained from trying), chipotle mayo (abstained), mango scotch bonnet ketchup (interesting, not sure if it was in a good way or not), ketchup, mustard, honey mustard and thai ketchup (my favorite as it had a hint of spiciness to it).
Burger 21 also offers a full selection of shakes. We sampled seven of them (I only had six missing out on the Tiramisu, the monthly special). I was really impressed that the shakes weren't overly sugary or artificial tasting like a lot of shakes can be. There was actual work that had to be done in order to top these, not just pouring from a bottle or scooping from a container. If you like to drink your milkshakes from a straw, these probably aren't for you. These are thick and chock full of goodies that requires some sort of spoon use. Even with the extra fat straws, I still couldn't get it all up.
The Chocolate Malted Milk Ball Shake
Not a big chocolate fan but I really liked this shake. It includes homemade chocolate syrup (made from dark Ghirardelli chocolate), half a malted milk ball, cocoa powder and blue bell ice cream. Despite all the sugary ingredients the overall taste is not overly sweet.
Strawberry Shortcake Shake
If you like shortcake, you'll like this shake. It tastes very close to the real thing. It uses real strawberries and includes a chunk of shortcake. Probably my second favorite shake.
Ybor City Double Espresso
The coffee drinkers raved about this one. It reminded me too much of a bad tofu rub I made a few weeks ago which also included espresso. If I liked coffee I might've enjoyed this one. As it was, it was way too strong for me.
Chocolate Peanut Butter
I was really excited about this one (I mean look at my krispies). Sadly it was a disappointment as it was way to peanut buttery and not enough chocolate. Even with the crumbled Reese's on top (which are the perfect balance) the result was not great.
Key Lime Shake
A pleasant surprise. I like key lime but most of the time it is cranked the artificial lime taste is cranked way too high. This shake had only a subtle bit of lime. It probably could've used even more. But, when working with key lime, it is better to err on the side of too little.
Bananas Foster Shake
I am so over bananas. I ate one every day for like a month and I haven't eaten them since. This shake included a hot, carmelized banana, cinnamon and sugar (just a touch) and a bit caramel on top. Considering that I am over bananas and I don't like caramel I figured this would be a one and done shake. I was wrong as I sucked it completely down. I turned to my partners to see if they had any left over that I could drink but most of them had put this away quickly too. My favorite shake that Burger 21 has to offer, hands down. Well, at least until the 21st when they offer a new flavor.
Burger 21 is well worth the two day buggy ride for the Black Bean Burger and Bananas Foster Shake alone. Add the thai ketchup and the additional shakes and you've got a place that I will be returning soon.
Riding off in the sunset, Burger 21 behind me, I heard the sounds of Alexander Ebert (leading man for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) and RZA. As J-Fur says "Truth" is a cowboy movie, the ending, where the hero is walking out of town with tumbleweeds and setting sun behind him. This is probably because she just watched Rango.
"Shoelaces" by the Submarines really has no logical tie in to Burger 21, I've just been listening to it a lot lately (including on the way to the tasting).