Inside every food critic, it's said, beats the trans fat-packed heart of a fast food junkie. Even serious foodies can consume only so much tomato confit before getting a yen for ketchup.
This point was underscored just last month at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's first Burger Bash. The event's winning creation was not Everyday with Rachel Ray magazine's chichi salsa verde turkey burger (accompanied by melon skewers with orange-lime marinade). It was the Shack Burger, from New York's Shake Shack, a basic, old-fashioned chuck burger. On the side: crinkle-cut fries. Score one for reality (the old-fashioned kind that's just lived, not televised).
At Woody's Famous Steak Sandwich, the burgers' beef isn't chuck. It's ground sirloin. Not to worry, though. Chuck burgers rule due to the unfashionably large percentage of flavorful fat present in this cheap cut of meat, but Woody's makes up for the leaner, cleaner taste of sirloin with the very good and, according to the menu, trans-fat-free griddle grease in which it's cooked. And yes, that's "griddle," not "grill." None of that healthy, fat-drip-off thing going on at this joint, whose retro look is no mere affectation. The griddle has been going since 1954.
Woody's Famous Steak Sandwich
13105 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami; 305-891-1451. Open Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
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About ten months ago (according to the two super-cordial servers behind the counter), new owners took over, and made a few changes. But they're all for the better, if the new "smoked" Woody burger is any indication. Ten ounces of beef, compared to the classic Woody burger's six, the patty (rare as ordered, with a spice-blackened outer crust) came slathered with provolone, fried onions and peppers, knockout pickled pepperoncini that were unusually crisp as well as fiery, and, best, a mix of fresh mushrooms that went well beyond button a mountainous topping as marvelous as it was messy. With the side and soft drink that's included in its price, the monster made two meals.
The famous Philly steak sandwich is tasty too. The beef is properly thin-sliced (to cook up fast and tender); the buttered Italian roll is righteously crusty (to contain the drippings). And the excellent but non-traditional house special sauce a sour cream and horseradish concoction comes on the side, out of respect for purists. The hardcore should also be warned that Woody's default cheese isn't the standard American, but provolone. As those from Sopranos country know, provolone is an acceptable variation, but makes a cheesesteak an "Eye-talian." For 29 cents each, diners can add fried peppers or mushrooms without fear of causing offense. Rubes can add lettuce or tomato.
As for sides, the list would put chain fast food joints to shame. Offerings start with a full range of fries (skinny, curly, or seasoned regular potato, plus sweet potato all available topped with cheese or decent housemade chili) but also include onion rings, fried mushrooms, calamari, and our favorites broccoli cheese bites or creamy corn nuggets. All come encased in a habit-forming thin, crisp beer batter, as do Woody's tasty fried fish sandwiches. For those who insist on crunch from a vegetable source, there's cole slaw and Caesar salad, the latter another recent innovation.
If there's a drawback here, it's that the fast food isn't really fast, since everything's cooked to order. But parking's free, as are root beer refills, and real beer, if not free, is cheap and free-flowing. Additionally, the new owners have extended the place's hours (to 9:00 p.m., from a former closing time of 5:00), so no need to rush off. Biscayne Boulevard traffic's probably as clogged as your arteries, anyway.