By Eric Tranovich
This past summer I took a trip with my family to the East coast, staying in fabulous Virginia Beach. This being our first vacation since our honeymoon, an eternity ago, I was looking forward to enjoying the time away with my wife and daughter. At the same time, I was anticipating all the great food I’d be able to partake in on my excursion. Weighing heavily on my mind was all the fresh seafood I’d be able to enjoy, but I also knew that this was going to be a fantastic opportunity to sample some burgers from the area. So, when I wasn’t stuffing my face with seafood during the 8 days away, I took the time to try three burgers from three separate locations.
First up on the list was Nautilus (3208 Atlantic Avenue, Virginia Beach, VA, http://nautilusvb.com), which boasts a great menu highlighted with an impressive fresh seafood buffet. That is a story for another group, though, I’m here to talk about burgers. The menu has six burgers to choose from; the Classic Angus Cheeseburger (1/2 lb. char-grilled Angus cheeseburger and jumbo onion ring), the Southwest Burger (1/2 lb. char-grilled Angus burger with bacon, topped with smoky barbecue sauce and a jumbo onion ring), the Jalapeno Cheddar Burger (1/2 lb. char-grilled Angus burger topped with jalapenos, melted cheddar cheese and a jumbo onion ring), the Blue Burger (1/2 char-grilled Angus burger with bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, and a jumbo onion ring), the “Nauti” Burger (a full pound if Angus beef with cheese, bacon, a fried egg and a jumbo onion ring), and the Salmon burger (fresh salmon with bacon, avocado, and dill mayo). After careful consideration, I selected the Jalapeno Cheddar Burger. My burger came cooked medium well as requested, and the beef maintained an excellent flavor. The toppings did not disappoint either, as when the menu stated jumbo onion ring, it was definitely an understatement. This thing eclipsed the bun. From first bite to last, I couldn’t complain once. The bun held together all throughout my meal, and even as juicy as the beef was, my hands kept remarkably unscathed.
Next up on my adventure was Abbey Road Pub & Restaurant (203 22nd St., Virginia Beach, VA http://abbeyroadpub.com). I first eyed this restaurant in our hotel room while perusing through the local dining listings. Seeing that it was a Beatles’ themed establishment, I knew I owed it to both my dad and myself to stop in and see what it was all about. Pulling into the parking lot, the first thing I saw was some great hand painted murals of the Fab Four in their Sgt. Pepper costumes, the Abbey Road album cover, and the Yellow Submarine from the animated film. Walking inside, and the Beatles memorabilia is wall to wall, ceiling to floor. I took a few minutes to look over what was all here and was blown away by the collection. Upon being seated at our table, we were first handed a menu of specialty drinks, most of all had Beatles’ themed names. I selected the Lucy in the Sky (With Diamonds), a mix of Coconut Rum, Blue Curacao, Pineapple juice and Sprite. As someone who usually sticks with just beer, I can say this was one of the best mixed drinks I’ve ever had. They went down a little too easy, and I may have spilled one in my excitement, but on to the burgers. Reviewing the menu, I found a selection of five, again with Beatles’ themed names; The Abbey Burger (your choice of toppings), the Sgt. Pepper (with onion, mushroom, ham and cheese), Bungalow Bill’s BBQ Burger (with spicy BBQ sauce, sautéed onions, bacon, & Swiss), the Abbey Black & Bleu Burger (blackened and covered in bleu cheese), and the Veggie Burger (grilled with your choice of cheese). This round I selected the Bungalow Bill’s BBQ Burger. I went back to my standard and requested this burger cooked medium, and again it came to my plate as ordered. The beef had a smoky flavor to it, something that I make sure to do when I cook on the grill in my own backyard. The bun had a harder time holding up, but I expected as much with the spicy BBQ sauce topping an already amazing meal. The bacon also stood out, as I could taste it was very fresh and cooked very crispy with no hint of the rubbery texture one sometimes comes across in dining out. Unlike the last burger, this time around I did not have the luxury of keeping my hands so clean. Thankfully I could make use of the stack of napkins our waitress had brought to the table, almost as if she anticipated me making a mess and fool of myself.
The final location on my journey brought me to Lagerheads (3315 Atlantic Avenue at the Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront, http://lagerheads.com7). This was the big one that we had been told about before our trip, a definite must go. Once we arrived, we quickly realized we were not misled. Looking around, I anticipated the menu pricing to be on par with that of swanky, 5 start restaurants on Rodeo Drive. Upon taking our seats and reviewing the menu, however, I saw that pricing was in line with just about every other restaurant we had been to during our trip. The menu hosted 14 distinct types of burgers: The Black & Blue Burger, Green Chili Burger, Texas Brisket Burger, Cowboy Burger, Big Bacon Burger, Grinder Burger, Hangover Burger, The Mobley Cheeseburger, Crab Benedict Burger, Surf & Turf Burger, Patty Melt, Hawaii 5-0 Burger, Award Winning Triple Ale Turkey Burger, and Chef Chris’ Veggie Burger. With this overwhelming selection, it took a while for me to settle on the perfect choice for me that warm night. After much inner turmoil, I went with the Triple Ale Turkey Burger as I wanted an idea of what made it award winning. This beast came loaded, made with Wheat Ale Ground Turkey, Fried Red Ale Zucchini, Brown Ale BBQ, Lettuce, Tomato, and Swiss cheese on a toasted Brioche Roll. As our waitress brought our order to the table my eyes lit up. Just the sight of this work of art made me wistful that I was going to have to eat it. Surely something like this belongs in a food museum. As I readied myself for my first taste, I caught a scent of all the flavors and had to pause. Never had my nose been in the presence of such a wonderful aroma. I bit down and the flavors knocked me back. I had never had a Turkey Burger that didn’t make me want to toss my food in the trash. That streak ended as I chewed on. Was I truly eating the world’s greatest non-beef hamburger? While that is not for me to decide, I will be a strong advocate to put this in at least the top 5. After 2 bites, I truly understood why this burger was labelled award winning. I dare say I would put it against some of our previous Burger of the Year recipients and expect it to come out on top just about every time. The three ales all made their presence known between the ground turkey, zucchini and BBQ sauce. With that triumvirate in play, the other toppings were there as an afterthought. Once I finished my burger, which I of course paired with quite a few of the many beers on tap (for purely scientific reasons, of course) I found myself sad that such an amazing meal was gone.
At of the end of the trip, as we made our way back home I reminisced on all that we had done. I hope to make it back to Virginia Beach again soon, as there were quite a few burgers at these places that I insist on trying. Plus there are other restaurants that I would like to sample that we didn’t make it to. I’ll just be sure to pack extra antacid next time!