The search for the Lowcountry’s best handmade burgers continues…
Story & photos by Mark Shaffer
“Man who invented the hamburger was smart; man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius.”
– Matthew McConaughey, Oscar-winning actor & cheeseburger aficionado
Hand crafted American burgers and craft beers
831 Parris Island Gateway
(Second location coming soon to 203 Bluffton Rd. in Old Town Bluffton)
Nick Borregine could have called his wildly popular Shell Point eatery Plan “B” Burgers. That’s kind of how Fat Patties happened. After years on the Beaufort waterfront, the chef/restaurateur sold his hugely successful Panini’s Café to develop another concept. For reasons we won’t go into here, that project didn’t happen and – in a nutshell – Fat Patties was conceived. Borregine’s original plan for his Shell Point property was to eventually convert it into a no-frills, walk up burger stand. Once the downtown project fell through though, Nick knew he had to “ramp things up.”
He describes the end result as “industrial chic,” a hybridized collection of corrugated metal, polished concrete, wood and glass. Garage doors roll up to create an open-air feel when the weather’s nice. There’s plenty of outdoor seating with umbrellas, fire pits and a walkup ice cream window. Inside the full service bar features an impressive array of flat screens and craft beers on tap. “We wanted to make it fun,” he says. “It’s more than just a place to go out to eat, it’s more of a hangout.”
The place has “franchise” written all over it.
“That’s the plan,” says Nick. “It’s more than just a burger joint. We appeal to everyone. Everyone who drives by is a potential customer.” He smiles. “Everybody likes burgers.”
Even so, as the concept evolved, the broad appeal took Borregine by surprise. “My whole career I’ve kind of cooked for one type of person,” he says. “I had to rethink that.” The sheer variety of burger possibilities is a direct response to that “rethinking.” For starters there are five different types of burgers: a100% grass fed beef, half beef & half bacon, turkey, wild caught shrimp and a black bean veggie burger.
The beef comes from the grass fed, hormone free steer herd at Southern Swiss Dairy of Waynesville, Georgia, the same source for the dairy used in the restaurant’s hand crafted ice cream.
“The flavor profile of the meat is something you can’t get anywhere else,” Nick points out. “It’s very special.”
Ordering up a burger at Fat Patties presents something of a delicious conundrum. In addition to the selection of the 5 patties (each is a half pound) you can choose from 10 cheeses, 18 toppings (sausage gravy and fried egg included) and 14 different sauces. Build your own – the combinations are nearly infinite – or choose one of the dozen specialty burgers made with the patty of your choice. The burgers come stacked on a house baked bun and Fat Pattie’s insidiously addictive Sea Salt Rosemary Fries – fresh cut, naturally. In fact, just about everything right down to the tangy 7 Spice Ketchup is locally sourced and made from scratch on site.
The ice cream flavors vary with the seasons and the available ingredients just like the beers.
“We have 20 taps. 19 are craft beers and 14 or more are local and regional,” he says. The Bluffton location will be a fully functioning brewpub complete with beer garden and 30 taps,10 of these will feature house brewed Salt Marsh Brewing crafts, Borregine’s new venture with veteran local brewer James Brown.
Hang on. We sense a pattern developing. Fat Patties, it seems, is not for the indecisive. If you’re easily flummoxed by a broad variety of choices – if having it your way is a daunting, vaguely alien concept – you may be a Fast Food Lemming. If the idea of leisurely consuming fresh, made-to-order burgers on homemade buns piled to the rafters with whatever you can possibly dream up frightens you, tweet us from Mickey D’s. That’s an extra seat for us.
This Burger Beat expedition turns out to be a guy thing. It just works out this way. But make no mistake: this is a serious crew. To a man we are harsh, even bitter cynics in a world where convenience trumps quality, especially when it comes to our burgers.
We all stick to the beef patty – although the shear mad genius of the 1/2 & 1/2 presents a massive temptation. Most of us order specialty burgers off the menu. Jeff goes with The Boot topped with the house black bean chili, cheddar cheese and onion crisps. Gary selects the Baby Blue with bleu cheese, caramelized onions and garlic mayo. I briefly consider the Who’s Your Pattie? – a monster heaped with pulled pork barbecue , apple wood bacon, smoked cheddar cheese, pickles and slaw. The only thing missing is a disclaimer. But as my life flashes before my eyes I pinch hit with the Fuhgetaboutit, a burger slathered in marinara sauce with pulled mozzarella and basil mayo. Jon – the purist among us – goes old school with a plain beef patty, lettuce, onion and American cheese, the classic.
The food comes out surprisingly fast and the presentations are impressive, prompting “wows” all around. The burgers are stacked high and cooked to perfection. I ordered mine rare – any rarer and it would be licking my face. The bakery style buns are substantial, soaking up the juice without falling apart. The bun to beef ratio gets high marks.
In a rare consensus, we’re all pleased with our choices. The quality of the beef is undeniably superior. The flavor shines through in every bite.
My Fuhgetaboutit is basically a giant meatball burger. The marinara sauce is just what you’d expect from a guy named Borregine. Gary’s Baby Blue is big on the bleu – huge crumbles of rich cheese melting into a sweet mass of caramelized onion. Next time it will be mine. I was puzzling over how The Boot got its name until it hit the table. Now I get it. This behemoth is a butt-kicker. Nevertheless, it is no match for Jeff prompting someone to observe, “Well, this was no boating accident.”
And what of Jon’s simple, basic, no-frills, God-bless-America burger? “It’s excellent,” he says. “Really tasty beef and the rest of the ingredients are nice and fresh.”
We flirt briefly with the idea of dessert.
“How about a little bacon ice cream,” asks our server.
Seriously? Really? Bacon? Ice cream?
She assures us that not only is this a reality but that it’s a huge best seller.
Why not? After all, it’s a known fact that pork makes everything better. What better way to cleanse one’s palate after a meal like this than with a little pig flavored ice cream?
“Sorry,” she returns. “We’re sold out.”
Damn. A moment of silent disappointment follows.
“You know, I wasn’t even expecting bacon ice cream. But now that I can’t have it, I’m a little pissed off about it. I feel suddenly deprived.”
That’s okay. It’s just another reason to come back.
Creative Lowcountry Cuisine
904 Bay Street
Historic Downtown Beaufort, SC
Plums has been popular with locals and tourists alike since 1986, and the restaurant’s famous soups have been scratch made every day since. Any restaurant still packing them in after more than a quarter of a century is doing something right – really right. A recent update and overhaul added a raw bar on Bay Street where we gather at the long plank table to sample the burgers.
The state-of-the-art, high tech Lowcountry Weekly offices overlook the restaurant’s rooftop. We eat here a lot. In fact, we could simplify things quite a bit if we could convince owner Lantz Price to install a rooftop entrance with a firehouse pole down to “special seating.” Really. We could work something out. But as usual, I digress.
So, Plums is three steps away. That makes it convenient, sure, but the real draw is the food – with an emphasis on fresh, local and seasonal. The dinner crowd comes for fresh seafood, pasta and steaks. The lunch menu is all about the soups, salads and sandwiches. Plums burgers are unique in the downtown area. “It’s kind of like Five Guys style,” says owner Lantz Price, “with the two patties you get more flavor from the beef and the toppings.”
Each burger starts with two quarter pound ground chuck patties served with a choice of fries – the restaurant’s signature sweet potato fries or regular fries and a pickle. No fries? No problem. Substitute a side salad of fresh mixed greens or the famous potato salad. The burgers include the Classic American Cheeseburger, a Bacon Swiss Burger and the Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Burger. (Editor’s Note: when we first published this in July, 2012 the menu also included a Pimento Burger. That choice is no longer “officially” on the menu, but if you ask your server nicely they’ll be happy to whip one up for you.)
We order everything but the Classic American, ironic considering it’s around the 4th of July. I feel perfectly justified with my choice of the Pimiento Burger. The homemade pimiento cheese oozes from between the patties. The buns don’t overwhelm the burger, nor do they fall apart. It’s a perfect bread-to-meat ratio. The toppings all around are superb. The thick cut, smoky bacon gets high marks and a slab of Sea Island tomato is an essential burger accoutrement in the Lowcountry. The pimiento cheese made with Cabot White Cheddar offers up a nice tangy sharpness while a hint of white pepper warms the palate. The potato salad with sweet pickle relish is the stuff of perfect picnics – cool, creamy comfort on a summer’s day – or anytime, for that matter.
The sweet potato fries (SPF’s) represent something of a conundrum. They’re sweet and salty, crunchy and soft, bursting with color and flavor. It is the side that divides. They’re gorgeous on the plate but if you prefer your ‘taters less orange and from Idaho – as does one of our party – try something else. Our resident SPF addict admits that along with the texture, crunch and mix of salty and sweet, “It makes you think you’re eating something healthy.” And as it turns out, they’re also really good dipped in mustard. Give it a try.
The late great journalist (and burger aficionado) Charles Kuralt once said, “You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.” Boldly, we go in search of intelligent life in the “burgerverse.”
JOIN THE BEAT
We’re in search of the best burgers in The Lowcountry. Email us at email@example.com and tell us about your favorite burger. The criteria’s simple: no national chains and all burgers must be handmade on site.