RE: The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die
Tue, 07/26/05 9:07 PM
An interesting column by Michael Mayo in the South Florida Sun-Sentinal (7/7/05):
At Hollywood’s Le Tub, the livin’ is no longer easy
The parking lot was full, the grill was at capacity and John Petrie grunted to nobody in particular, "Out of meat -- again." He grabbed a bowl of chopped sirloin from a cooler and started mixing another batch of burgers for a lunch crowd that just wouldn't quit. Behind the bar, Kellie Pilgreen kept slicing Vidalia onions, but it looked like he might take the knife to his wrist at any moment. "This used to be a nice little hideaway bar," Pilgreen said Wednesday. "The summers used to belong to us. Not any more." Waves of customers kept crashing in, sweat poured from harried waiters, a newly scrawled Help Wanted sign hung near the front entrance.
This is what happens when GQ magazine names you the best burger in the country. Most places would be thrilled by the honor. Le Tub isn't most places. They don't take credit cards, don't have tap beer, don't want to hear your complaints about the flies, roaches or wharf rats that might come your way. Here, on the lapping waters of the Intracoastal in Hollywood, cool has always meant indifference bordering on rudeness, not hipness or trendiness. Here, you still have a better chance finding the sign warning, "Unattended children will be used as fish bait," than any self-aggrandizing banners proclaiming, "As seen in GQ!"
"Excuse me, if we sit out on the patio, can we bring in our puppy?" one hapless newcomer asked Wednesday. "No pets," Pilgreen said. "Oh, then can we look at a takeout menu?" he asked. "No takeout," Pilgreen said. "Guess we're not going to be able to give you our business," he said, as if anyone would care. "See ya," Pilgreen said. The brusqueness is part of the charm, one reason why I've been coming here for 16 years, since moving to South Florida. That, and the view, the jukebox, pool tables, rum runners and 4 a.m. closing time. Oh, and those burgers ain't bad either.
In a land of fleeting transience, Le Tub has endured. So, the regulars and staff can only hope that this too shall pass. The attention. The hubbub. The tourists in their rented convertibles and the businessmen with their Oxford shirts and cell phones. "Someone just came in and asked where the air-conditioned section was," laughed John Quinn, a waiter who's worked the outdoor wooden decks here for over a decade. "It's getting ridiculous." Said Pilgreen, an 18-year veteran: "We had people come in here on the Fourth all dressed up with makeup. It was 100 degrees outside and they were melting. Hilarious." Snorted Petrie, who has worked here for two decades: "We're getting people from Boca. ... We're getting people calling from South Beach who want directions. I say, `You don't want to come here today. Really.'"
Le Tub, on A1A near Johnson Street, is decorated in High Tacky Porcelain Commode Mode, with toilets and tubs filled with plants throughout the restaurant. It has snagged its share of local honors through its 25 years, but this is the biggest and potentially most ruinous fame, yet. "I feel bad for these guys," said Chris Caudle of Miami, a first-timer who proclaimed his $8.50 cheeseburger "fantastic." "I've worked in this area for years but never knew this place existed. Now, everyone will know about it." Caudle, who sells pacemakers and defibrillators for a medical supply firm ("I really shouldn't be eating cheeseburgers -- not too heart healthy"), saw the GQ write-up when he went for his last haircut.
In his national survey of 93 establishments, GQ's food writer Alan Richman called Le Tub "a dream of a dump," and its pincushion-shaped burger "magnificent…crusty on the outside, juicy inside, always perfectly cooked. ... I don't understand how this spot came to have the best burger in America, but it does." It's even more miraculous considering Petrie and the other cooks work from a cramped makeshift kitchen the size of a closet, with a gas grill no bigger than those found in most back yards. That the results are so consistently excellent is a testament to the staff's experience and dedication, even if they like to pretend they don't care. Petrie said he knew the GQ honor was coming, because the magazine shot a photo spread in advance, but he "didn't realize everyone in the world would come here and say, `I have to try that hamburger.'"
On Wednesday, with patrons waiting 1 ½ hours for their burgers, I asked if I could write some nasty things to dampen demand. "Won't help," Pilgreen said. Did I mention the bugs, roaches, killer sharks roaming the docks and the human finger I found in my seafood gumbo? So whatever you do, please stay away from Le Tub. It's overrated. Really.