Cheeseburger Baby has opened a second location on NE 79th Street and NE Second Avenue. This stripped-down version of the South Beach burger joint, favored by everyone from club kids to Anthony Bourdain and a pre-vegan Beyonce, started serving yesterday. The 260-square-foot structure, formerly Yummy BBQ Grill Gourmet, is more a food truck without wheels than a full-service restaurant. Though Little Haiti and the MiMo District are undergoing a renaissance, with Panther Coffee and Sullivan St. Bakery moving in, the burger counter's immediate neighbors are small shops and broken-down buildings rather than trendy eateries.
Cheeseburger Baby owner Stephanie Vitori would have it no other way. She says she spotted the counter restaurant years back. "I've been looking at this place for a long time, telling my friends it would be perfect for a Cheeseburger Baby. My friends would say that there's nothing here. Developers have built up Brickell and Wynwood, and the next neighborhoods are Little Haiti and Little River, but there's no food around here. I couldn't believe it."
Vitori says she was driving on 79th Street on her way out of town when she saw a for rent sign on the little restaurant. "I called the owner right away and told him that I was going out of town but that I was serious about the space. When I returned it was still for rent, so I met the guy and signed the lease immediately. I didn't even know what was inside of the building. I just knew that it was the perfect size. I opened up 30 days later."
The restaurateur says that she was looking for a little hole-in-the-wall place for her second location. "I didn't need all the space and seating that we have in South Beach. I was looking for a dive with a low overhead — just a kitchen where we could make the burgers. I love being a dive. There's something all-American about it. It never goes out of style."
Vitori is looking to tap into the neighborhood for her client base, which includes both the middle-class village of Miami Shores and the funky neighborhoods of El Portal and Little Haiti. That includes the people who pick up the bus to South Beach at the stop directly outside the Cheeseburger Baby. Vitori is aware that these are mostly people who live in Little Haiti and work in South Beach and wants to reach out to them. "We're creating specials for bus-pass holders because people don't have a lot of money. We're going to be doing cortaditos and a breakfast sandwich. People are just hauling their butts to work, and now they can grab something to take with them."
Five bucks, for instance, buys a two-pack of Baby Burgers, each made with 2.5 ounces of Angus beef on a freshly baked bun. That comes out to $2.50 per burger — not much more than the price of a cheeseburger at the Wendy's just up the road. Vitori adds, "You're getting quality. We shop every day for the food that we have and we cook it to order. You can watch us make it for you."
Tipped off by Burger Beast, I stopped in for lunch yesterday. If you're not looking for the restaurant, you wouldn't necessarily know what it was — even with Lebo's jolly depictions of burgers gracing the walls of the institutional-looking structure. The tiny building is adjacent to a swath of green lawn — a perfect place for some picnic tables and umbrellas for shade. Seating, however, requires a different permit and will come later. (Vitori says that guests are more than welcome to bring their own blankets and chairs for a lawn picnic.)
The women behind the counter greeted me eagerly, handing me a menu card. Items are basically the same as at the flagship location, and calling in your order ahead of time is a smart move since the adjacent parking lot doesn't belong to them. (I was inform\ed that leaving my car long enough to place and receive an order would be OK.)
The menu features Cheeseburger Baby's famous 1/2 pound burgers and cheeseburgers, served with lettuce, tomato, onion, choice of cheese, and chopped pickles. Turkey and veggie burgers are also available (all are $7 each), as is a one pound double $11.50. Extras are $1 each and include bacon, chili, jalapeños, grilled onions, green peppers, grilled mushrooms, avocado, fried egg, blue cheese, honey mustard, honey barbecue sauce, buffalo sauce, and ranch. A two-pack of two-and-a-half-ounce Baby burgers are $5 for two and are also available in turkey and veggie burgers.
Other options include a Philly cheesesteak ($8), chicken Philly ($8), grilled chicken on Texas toast ($7),chicken finger sandwich ($7), double-decker BLT ($7), and double-decker grilled cheese ($7). Fries come in many forms, from plain spuds ($3.50) to topped with bacon, chili, and cheese ($6.50) are available, as are buffalo wings (six for $6), onion rings ($4.50), and hot dogs ($5).
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The burgers aren't fancy and you won't be handed the cow's lineage upon ordering. What Cheeseburger Baby is good at, though, is delivering a juicy patty on a fresh bun, laden with whatever fixings you might like. My burger, cooked medium rare, was pink and cool in the middle, with a nice char on the outside. In other words, exactly how I wanted it, which is more than I can say for more expensive burgers eaten in tonier trappings.
Cheeseburger Baby Little River is open daily from 10 a.m. to sunset. Call 786-536-2933 to place your order in advance for pickup until the picnic tables arrive. Or bring your own blanket and enjoy the afternoon.