Whether you’re hankering for a simple, blue-collar burger or a patty with a bit more flair, you’ll find something to suit your taste in “Flipping for Florida Burgers,” VISIT FLORIDA’s occasional series exploring the state’s burger joints. Check out the first installment in the series here. Hungry for some meat? Let’s eat!
Beers in hand, Ron Patenaude, Claudia and Rich Jenkins, and Dave Bardo sit basking in lounge chairs in the parking lot of the only remaining Biff Burger in the United States.
Just a few feet away are their pride and joys – three lovingly restored vintage vehicles gleaming in the setting sun.
A Mustang revs its engine as the aroma of smoked pork wafts through the 80-degree air at this St. Petersburg institution.
So goes a typical spring Friday night.
“We’ve been coming here for 15 to 20 years,” said Bardo, who lives in nearby Belleair Bluffs.
“We come for the friends, cars and food,” Claudia Jenkins said. “We met a lot of friends here.”
This classic-car cruise-in isn’t just the domain of Baby Boomers. Families with young children stop by for milkshakes, floats or sundaes. Teenagers and 20-somethings hang out and show off their muscle cars.
“We come at least once a week,” said Brandon Sexton, an 18-year-old from Largo who is the proud owner of The Black Hammer, a shiny Mustang.
“We like the atmosphere. It’s the coolest burger joint.”
Todd Osborn, a neighbor of Biff Burger, said he loves to talk shop with passersby gazing at his black 1969 chrome-detailed El Camino.
About 25 to 30 classic cars line the parking lot each week on Friday night. Bike Night takes place Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“I like the whole car scene,” said Osborn, whose been coming to Biff Burger on Fridays for five years.
The cars by no means overshadow the food.
“The burgers are fresh and big,” Osborn said. “You actually get full when you eat them.”
The story of Biff Burger is as old as some of these cars.
At one point, the Biff Burger chain had 168 stores nationwide. In the early 1970s, Burger King Corporation bought all but 15 of the stores, converting them to Burger Kings. The St. Petersburg store, built in 1958 as the chain’s third restaurant, was among the 15 remaining Biff Burger locations. Most fell into disrepair. (The only other remnant of Biff Burger is a restaurant in Greensboro, N.C., that changed its name to Beef Burger.)
Biff Burger in St. Petersburg fell into the right hands when George and Sandy Musser and their son Troy Musser got involved, preserving a piece of culinary history.
“A lot of people still remember Biff Burger,” said Troy Musser, who tries to celebrate that nostalgia with the bike and car nights and by playing oldies music.
The original restaurant has been kept intact, with a large order window, cigarette vending machine and cafeteria-style Formica booths — complemented by cooks with wit and attitude manning the grill and pick-up window.
Musser said he stays true to the ketchup-based Biff Sauce made with nine ingredients.
“We use the original sauce that was on the burger from Day One.”
The burgers are still the most popular item on the menu, and you can choose from smaller Biff Burgers (with or without cheese, bacon or chili) or half-pound gourmet burgers, such as the Roqueford Burger with bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato and Swiss cheese.
Burgers are made from 100 percent ground beef mixed with a signature blend of seasonings by a local butcher three times a week. The patties are served on a 4-inch unseeded bun.
The pulled barbecue pork runs a close second as a favorite with diners. The menu has grown over the years to include sandwiches and wraps, salads and appetizers such as wings and jalapeno poppers. Most sandwiches and burgers can be turned into a meal with tater tots or fries and baked beans and cole slaw. The brew menu features eight craft beers as well as the usual Budweiser and Michelob.
On a recent Friday night, at least 100 people trolled the parking lot areas in front and back, while another 100 enjoyed the food and music in the adjoining tented bar and sit-down area added in the ‘80s. Overflow parking is offered at a nearby church, where Biff Burger parking attendants will help you find a spot. Buffy’s Southern Pit Bar-B-Que was added on the other side of the covered sitting area in 1989. On both sides, ice cream is a big draw, with flurries, malteds, milkshakes and floats made out of such ice cream flavors as strawberry cheesecake, butter pecan, Rocky Road and Bunny Tracks.
Musser credits the longevity of the St. Petersburg Biff Burger to his management style and a willingness to evolve and attract a younger generations of burger lovers.
“We’re family-owned. We’re very hands-on and have been since Day One,” Musser said.
Cooking up some kickin’ burgers helps, of course. Orders take an average of 15 minutes and are called, old-style, by microphone. Putting burgers under warming lamps is not Biff’s style.
“Our goal is to put out a product that is better than our competition,” Musser said. “We’re fast food, but we’re also a bar and grill.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Biff Burger
WHERE: 3939 49th St. North, St. Petersburg
CONTACT: Visit biffburgers.com or call 727-527-5297