From Florida to South U
BurgerFi and World of Beer
by M.B. Lewis
From the May, 2014 issue
BurgerFi, on the storied corner of South Forest and South University, is the newest entry in Ann Arbor's growing segment of upscale burger joints using ingredients that have at least some story behind them, if not a full-fledged pedigree. Before we even placed our order, the man behind the walk-up counter assured us we'd love their "all-natural, no-antibiotic, hormone-free Angus" burgers.
The eponymous BurgerFi was OK, but not a revelation, especially after its bun smushed down completely, Wonder bread style. The VegFi burger actually seemed more notable. Oozing with cheese amid its deep-fried-to-a-crisp quinoa bulk, it's the kind of meal that makes you want to call up veggie friends and tell them to check it out, because it won't leave them hungry. The onion rings were gigantic, with perfectly al dente onions under a generous amount of breading, and like the fries were browned to a pleasing crisp but not beyond.
Like the appealing new Elevation Burger over on Washtenaw, BurgerFi boasts ecologically virtuous furnishings and made-to-order shakes with recognizable dairy ingredients; it also has a similar space-age multi-beverage push-button soda dashboard to tech things up. Even better, and somewhat reminiscent of R.U.B. BBQ over at another storied corner at Packard and State, BurgerFi has Michigan games on the big screens, beer on tap, and a few down-home menu picks, like a burger of ground dry-aged brisket and Texas-style chili to top your cheese dog.
Best of both worlds then? Not quite. On my second visit, we waited more than ten minutes for an incorrect order and undercooked fries. Though the dining area was less than half full, most of the empty tables hadn't been wiped clean, either. But there were pleasant surprises, too, including a tasty "Wagyu beef" hot dog and a coffee milkshake that was just right-sized, thick but not too thick, and generously full of coffee flavor.
Ordering a BurgerFi "frozen concrete" custard with candy/cookie/fruit/nut mix-ins was another exercise in indulgence (reflecting the chain's roots in southern
Florida, you can even get a Key Lime pie version). It's hard not to worry about Americans--on college campuses and anywhere else--who are eating like this all the time. But occasionally, as a treat, it can hit the spot just right.
World of Beer, diagonally across the street from BurgerFi, is also a franchise that originated in Florida, and it also serves beer. It does not, however, have a kitchen or food menu (the bartender says they usually have popcorn available, but the machine was broken on the day of our visit). Instead, they have a few area partner restaurants that will deliver food to you at your seat or stool (including Pizza House and Sadako, but not BurgerFi).
What World of Beer does have is an astounding variety of beer--we're talking 500 or so different kinds--at quite a range of prices. Sixty different bottled beers from Michigan alone accounted for just one of the lit glass-doored refrigerators lining the walls. I chose a rotating tap $3 special pint of Heavy Seas Black Cannon black ale from Maryland, mostly because of its name. Turns out I liked it better than my companion's similarly dark but too cloyingly chocolate pint at more than twice the price. Craft cocktails--including cosmos and margaritas with beer mixed in--cost even more.
Also in abundance is trivia--to play on many Sunday nights and to read anytime in the menu. Did you know Columbus discovered Native Americans making beer from corn and birch syrup in 1492? And that only eight of the 171 Trappist monasteries in the world brew beer--and you can compare a few of them at World of Beer? Come on a warm day when they raise the sliding door, and you can experience it all from sidewalk seating out front in the shade of the Landmark luxury student housing tower. Like BurgerFi across the street, it's something new--a little, Southern-born bit of Ann Arbor.
1235 South University
Sandwiches $3.97-$9.97, sides, $2.97-$5.97, shakes and desserts $3.77-$5.97
Daily 11 a.m.-3 a.m.
World of Beer
1300 South University
Daily noon-2 a.m.
[Originally published in May, 2014.]
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