BY LAURA REILEY
The following article appeared in the tbt section of The St. Petersburg Times on February 3, 2010. To read the entire article/review, visit www.tampabay.com.
Hamburger Mary’s was the rebuttal to the fern bars of the late 1970′s and early 80′s. Born in San Fransisco, it was gay-friendly, divey and free-spirited. At Mary’s, ruby slippers were planters, baby bottles served as coffee reamers and lots of people with suspiciously big feet dressed as women. It was a cross-dressing and gay hangout in which straight folk felt just fine, a late-night destination where a messy burger and slightly sodden fries were the inevitable capper to carousing.
There never was a Mary, but in the 1990s her cheeky concept was franchised… Tampa’s Centro Ybor got one in December, then shambling 240-seat burger emporium settling into the space once occupied by Dish. Managing partner Mike Higgins has hit the ground running, with female impersonator shows on Saturday night, “Maryoke” on Tuesdays and charity bingo gearing up on Wednesdays. The check comes in a red stiletto, the fried Twinkies and tabletop s’mores are a hoot, the soundtrack an eye-rolling trip down 1970s memory lane.
The basic burger is a half-pound Mary ($9, $9.50 with cheese), but things get zestier with the Buffy the Hamburger Slayer ($9.75) – pierced with garlic cloves and doused in red wine – or the Queen Mary Burger ($9.75) with its grilled onions, bacon strips and a slather of Thousand Island. They all come on a bun that needs a stiffer upper lip (and lower), but with frilly-green leaf lettuce and rounds of real-tasting tomato. Choose your side, with special props going to the sweet potato fries and onion rings (those are $1 additional), seasoned fries or crisp, sweet coleslaw.
A half-pound burger and fries don’t leave lots of room for appetizers, but if you can manage, an order of jalapeño poppers stuffed with cream cheese ($7)or a San Fran Shanghai salad ($10.50) make for nice shared nibbles, the latter a peculiar but satisfying assemblage of chicken, mandarins, strawberries, radish sprouts, greens and crunchy wonton strips in a perky soy-ginger-sesame dressing.
A full array of cocktails (gay innuendo names!) and beers and wines offered at fair prices (bottles of wine between $24.50 and $31) peg Hamburger Mary’s as a whoop-it-up kind of place. That’s a feeling cemented by Mary Tyler S’Mores ($7.50), a huge metal rack outfitted with an open flame and slots for marshmallows, graham crackers and whole Hershey bars. Bringing out the Girl Scout in everybody, it’s a kooky DIY dessert that can’t help but make you Mary.