There's a certain freedom — joy, even — in the simple pleasure of ignoring dietary concerns and culinary constraints to revel in unrepentant gluttony. Some people find opportunities to engage in this behavior frequently, but like a drug, repeated abuse results in reduced pleasure. Better in small doses. Well, small doses of very big food.
The Burg Bar — snuggled next to the I-275 overpass at the border between Grand Central and downtown St. Pete — is the right place to go ahead and give in to temptation.
Start with a beer. The bar has about a dozen taps that change semi-regularly, most stocked with less typical mass-market beers and a couple of interesting craft brews, like the fragrant and hoppy Dogfish Head 60 Minute Pale Ale. There's more beer available by the bottle, a surprisingly decent little wine selection, and a dangerous happy hour when they offer deep 12-ounce pours of the house wines — in stemware that would be at home in a ritzy restaurant — for the price of a regular 5-ounce glass.
Despite a menu that appears at first glance to be standard bar fare, studded with some simple Greek standards, The Burg Bar takes a few extra steps that elevate it well beyond typical burgers and fries.
Those fries are beautiful, thick-cut and crisp, and can come topped with a scattering of feta cheese that adds a bright salty burst with each bite. Light and airy, paper-thin potato chips are cooked to order, chicken nuggets are breaded in back instead of poured from a freezer bag, and salads are constructed from basic but very fresh ingredients.
Burg Bar co-owner Bill Georgiou used to manage Maria's Greek Family Restaurant, where his mom cooked. She now helps her son out at his new spot, blending bright tzatziki to be sopped up by crisp grilled pita or tucked into souvlaki wraps, and silky smooth hummus rich with tahini.
The meat used in the Bar's gyros and salads is moist, salty and crisp at the edges, the perfect foil for that tzatziki. Chicken is less successful, big hunks of bland protein that provide little more than chewy texture when wrapped in a pita with lettuce and tomato.
In any case, it's not called the "Burg" Bar just because it's in St. Pete. Burgers are both the focus of the bar and its crowning glory. At their most basic, these burgers are perfect hand-formed patties griddled quick and crisp on the outside, the inside tender and dripping with just the right amount of rendered fat.
Good, even great, burgers, but the Burg Bar happily pushes the limits of beef and bun into the kind of absurd territory that you read about in food blogs and anti-obesity rhetoric. Most notably, this takes the form of a much lauded concoction that replaces the bun with two grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches. Yes, the burger is between the two sandwiches.
It's too much, but thoughtfully so. The bread in the two sandwich-bun sections is thin so that it doesn't feel like too much dough, too little meat. The quantities of bacon and American cheese inside are restrained enough to let the beef tucked into the center of this madness express itself. Each bite holds a bit of buttery-crisp bread, a bit of salty bacon, a bit of gooey cheese and a hefty dose of juicy burger. Satisfying and, surprisingly, smartly accomplished.
If you can deny yourself that gluttonous pleasure, the Burg Bar's namesake burger is a more refined pleasure. It's stacked with thin slices of crisp and tender gyro meat and dotted by a scattering of feta, each bite a burst of salt from two different sources that amplifies the flavor of the beef.
And for dessert, a deep-fried Twinkie, with ice cream dolloped on top and a slick of grease underneath the crisp and gooey snack cake. There's no better, or tastier, way to end a meal.
If you're worried about how it'll look when you down a mound of fries, a grilled cheese burger and a fried Twinkie, washed down by a few beers, don't fret. Georgiou and his partner James Laughorn are bartenders, first and foremost, there to support you in your choices with gusto instead of judgment. And, in the Bar's close and cozy quarters, you'll likely run into some friends or neighbors who are giving in to the same temptations.