The beach. Nearly every day, our family of five would pile into the car and head over the Belleair Causeway (a simple causeway bridge then) towards Indian Rocks Beach. We’d bodysurf until salty, sandy and famished. Then devour buckets of fried grouper fingers as the sun dipped into the water. But recently, I’ve observed how living away from the beach (even a few minutes), puts an imaginary barrier between locals and the Gulf, one broken too infrequently. There’s a lot of good on the beach, and that includes food, burgers to be exact.
It's been said by countless locals before: "Willy's Big Gooey cheeseburger is the best burger on the beach."
I'm hesitant to make any judgments because, after all, I'm just an objective third party here to survey the scene. But when it comes to burgers, especially ones in walking distance of my beloved Gulf of Mexico, there's a good chance I'll fall deep into burger lust before even taking a bite. See there are two things I am always in the mood for (okay, three), burgers and the beach.
St. Pete Beach’s Willy's Burger and Booze is the type of beach bar that should be seedier that it actually is. The surprisingly clean and respectable beach bar and eatery sports a lively crowd of seasonal beach-goers and diehard locals morning, noon, night and late-night. There are no draft beers, only bottles and cans. Of course, the mission is burgers, but that’s no reason to toss aside good bar food options, like a tasty basket of extra crispy fried chicken livers. Yum.
Legend has it, Willy's Big Gooey burger has perfectly melted cheese. Only moments after ordering, an artful but towering construction of classic burger toppings culminates in the most beautiful of burger cross-sections, revealed after a quick slice with the steak knife that comes stabbed through its mid-section. It's a fine-looking burger, and the cheese is, as foretold, perfectly melted. Did I mention the burger bun is toasted but not charred? Unbuttered, as nature intended. Too often, good burgers are ruined by bad buns. It happens, but that’s not the case with the Big Gooey.
One bite reveals a simple but delightfully juicy burger experience that has me unhinging my jaw like a python devouring its prey.
And even better, are the perfectly fried tater tots served alongside this magnanimous burger. Once again, the talk is right. Damn, if only my school cafeteria lunch lady had known how to work the deep fryer like this, school lunches would have been an entirely different narrative. Good frying technique goes a long way, with most people, I believe.
But wait, there's more! Did I mention this gooey burgerly confection is just $5 after midnight? If you’re in the market for drunken bites, or just a late-night snack after a day in the sun, look no further.
I'm sold. Completely sold. And considering how many folks are diving into the same glorious meal nearby, midday on a weekday no less, I'm convinced the hype was right. And that's quite rare.
Willy’s Burger and Booze, 675 Corey Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-329-8667.