Great Burgers in the Sandhills

07 Apr 2020

More than protein makes them mouth-watering

By RAY LINVILLE   Photos by Mollie Tobias

The Sandhills has a lot to enjoy, and a growing regional food culture is one of them. When you’re ready for a great burger, narrowing down the choices of where to go and picking just one can be a daunting challenge, and we’ve made it even greater by confounding you with ideas from traditional to gourmet that will take weeks to explore. No problem. Take your time. Enjoy each one. And let us know about your finds to share this time next year.


Ashten’s Restaurant & Pub

With globally inspired food from a Southern perspective, Ashten’s is a comfortable yet elegant place to dine in the main dining room. However, a well-known secret to most locals is the Pub, which features cozy couches, a rustic corner table by a fireplace and a vintage wooden English bar. There you can order burgers crafted with grass-fed Angus beef from Hilltop Farm in nearby Mt. Gilead. THE FOUNDATION BURGER, which is topped with oven-roasted tomato, smoked mozzarella and preserved lemon aioli, is a favorite for customers who appreciate Ashten’s approach for sourcing ingredients from about 20 local farmers who are listed in its “Hall of Farm.” Dinner.


The Bakehouse and Cafe    

At The Bakehouse, a sixth-generation bakery with Austrian and Spanish roots, Martin Brunner has wowed the Sandhills with his artisan breads and sweet treats. However, credit for the cafe’s amazing BARCELONA BURGER belongs to his mother-in-law Dolores. Made with a closely guarded family recipe that combines spinach, onion, and cheese, the burger is served on a freshly baked bun and accompanied with chips and salad. Its special ingredient is the house-made garlic sauce — be sure to ask for extra. As you enjoy your burger, watch the steady stream of customers as they come in and take home something sweet from the bakery cases — you’ll be tempted too. Lunch.



Well-known for its steak and seafood dinners, Beefeaters also features several superior burgers that are served in only the lounge, where the atmosphere is relaxed and casual attire is welcomed. Served on a hearty kaiser roll, the Pepper Jack Burger has just the right amount of tang and is one of six specialty burgers. At this favorite dining destination for generations, all burgers are handcrafted, perfectly grilled, and come with a side. A trip to the famous salad bar can also be included for only a modest charge. Try to save room for dessert. The coconut cream pie is the best seller. Dinner.


The Bell Tree

Drawing its inspiration from the taverns of yesterday, The Bell Tree creates an old-world charm with wooden tables and chairs, polished hardwood floors, an exposed brick wall, and a high-top dark wooden bar. But the most charming part of the restaurant is BETTY’S BLACK BEAN BURGER, which is an remarkable blend of black beans, garlic, roasted red peppers, fresh cilantro and spices. Served on a toasted kaiser roll, it is topped with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, red onion and tomato. (Don’t worry. Carnivores also have bison, lamb and beef burgers to consider.) Enjoy the dog-friendly outdoor patio and select one of the rotating draft beers to enjoy with your burger. Lunch, dinner.


Broad Street Bakery & Cafe

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The BISTRO BURGER is one of five specialty burgers that entice the lunch crowd at this popular and cozy cafe where great food, fantastic service and a friendly staff are its hallmarks. Topped with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and brie, this burger is the perfect choice to enjoy as you watch the bustling scene on Broad Street and appreciate the flavorful aromas of the bakery. Served with a fresh side salad, this burger is more than satisfying. Before you leave, check out the display cases for some of the best sweet treats in the area. Lunch.


Cagle’s Diner

If you’re traveling on Pottery Highway (NC 705) to browse among the pottery shops, stop halfway between Seagrove and Robbins at Cagle’s Dinner, which opened in 2019. A place so traditional you can still recognize its original role as a gas station, although the pumps have been removed, it now probably is the busiest non-chain burger place per square foot. Even with seven tables inside and two outside, you may have to wait if you arrive around noon. Although you may pick from among six choices, order the ample DOUBLE BACON CHEESEBURGER fixed “all the way”—which means chili, slaw, onions and mustard. Lunch, dinner.


Chapman’s Food & Spirits

THE HAMM BURGER is special for more reasons than being named for chef Peter Hamm, co-owner with Kitty Hopkins of Chapman’s, where extraordinary food is served in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. In a brioche bun with Hamm’s special blend of ground chuck, short rib and beef brisket, this burger is topped with caramelized onions, pork belly and a gorgonzola spread. Lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle complete this imaginative sandwich, one of several that are part of the chef-driven American fare at the restaurant. Like all sandwiches, the burger is served with a choice of fries, chips, coleslaw, mixed greens or the side of the day. Lunch, dinner.


CharBar No. 7

Did someone say, “Bison?” Although some people say they can’t taste a difference between bison and beef, with one bite of the BISON BURGER at CharBar No. 7, you’ll notice that it’s richer in flavor. Cooked with intense heat in a 1700-degree broiler to seal flavor and juices, this burger is the one to order on Game Day when you want to linger and watch sports on one of the multiple screens. Topped with tomato jam, mixed greens, bacon, smoked gouda and stout-braised onions, this burger comes with a house side. My recommendation: Upscale and pick one of the seven premium sides, such as sweet potato tater tots or cranberry kale slaw. Lunch, dinner.


Drum & Quill Public House

Did Arnold Palmer love a burger? As his wife Kit has said, he loved comfort food, and his favorite food adventure was finding a thick, juicy burger, such as the gourmet half-pound burgers prepared at Drum & Quill. Each is made from fresh (never frozen) certified Angus beef served on a Martin’s potato bun or a toasted English muffin and comes with lettuce, tomato and onion on the side — as well as the choice of a pub side. All 10 choices are spectacular, but don’t miss the ALPINE BURGER that is topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms, bacon and Swiss chess. Lunch, dinner.


Filly & Colt’s at Little River

Come hungry if you want to ride the COLT BURGER, one of the four specialty burgers at Filly & Colt’s where golfers, tourists, and local residents appreciate the beautiful waterfront country club property that has a rich equestrian history. All burgers are half-pounders that take two hands to hold and are served with a choice of coleslaw, French fries or sweet potato fries. With sautéed mushrooms, onions and swiss cheese, the Colt Burger is the perfect choice to enjoy indoors in the Black Horse Bar and Grille or outside on the patio. In either setting, it will more than satisfy. Lunch, dinner.


The Ice Cream Parlor

At The Ice Cream Parlor all burgers are made with six-ounces of lean ground chuck. Each one comes with a choice of toppings — lettuce, tomato, mayo, chili, slaw, mustard, ketchup and pickles — and are served with a side. But only the DIXIE BURGER comes with pimento cheese. Whether you sit outside or stay inside and look out the large windows, it’s the perfect burger to eat slowly as you watch the trains clatter on a fast pace and shoppers meander along Broad Street. If you order instead the BIG DADDY DOUBLE BURGER, you won’t have room for dessert — a terrible mistake to leave without any homemade ice cream. Lunch, dinner.


Lake House Bar and Grill

A place you feel at home the minute that you walk in, the Lake House is a favorite go-to place for fun and food. The amazing staff always treats you like family. DANNY’S HALF-POUND ANGUS BURGER is a popular choice and comes with lettuce, tomato and onion. Caution: The menu proclaims that it “might take both oars to wade thru” this and other sandwiches. The burger is served with French fries as are all sandwiches. With plenty of TV screens, the Lake House is a popular place to watch sports as you enjoy your burger and favorite beverage. Check out the full bar and the live music schedule. Lunch, dinner.


Maxie’s Grill & Tap Room

Are you ready for an eight-ounce burger handcrafted from a delicious blend of sirloin, chuck and ground? The chargrilled BLACK ANGUS BURGER at Maxie’s is waiting for you. It comes with a choice of up to six toppings (among nine cheeses, nine veggies and four meats) — add more if you wish for a modest charge — on a toasted bun. My secret: pick pimento as the cheese and add lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, avocado and mushroom (although leaving bacon off was a hard decision). With each burger, choose from four sides — my favorite is sweet potato fries. Although you may not have room for dessert, the key lime pie is mighty tempting. Lunch, dinner.


Nana & Papa’s Old-Fashioned Burgers

What about food trucks make them so popular and increasing? When Moore County natives Dwight and Lisa Young, began operating Nana & Papa’s Old-Fashioned Burgers in 2018, they joined a growing trend that makes food where the customers are. On Fridays, that means the main intersection of West End. On other days, they are elsewhere in the Sandhills. (Each day’s location is posted on Facebook.) The BACON CHEESEBURGER, which comes with a choice of nine toppings, is handcrafted with love that only a couple married for 40 years can provide. All meat is purchased fresh, never frozen. As the Youngs’ truck proclaims, “Good food, not fast food.” Lunch.


Pete’s Restaurant

With national exposure on cable TV during the morning after the State of Union address in February when its cheese grits were called “unbelievable,” Pete’s has been reveling in its new notoriety. Next time the broadcast crew needs to promote more than grits! When you need a GARBAGE BURGER, now you know where to go. Topped with an onion ring and loaded with chili, this burger stretches the imagination. It also comes with lettuce, onion and slaw. If you need a burger with a more enticing name for your significant other, try the PETE’S BURGER that comes with an egg prepared any style as well as cheese and bacon. Lunch, dinner.


The Railroad Deli

One of four specialty burgers at The Railroad Deli, the CAROLINA BURGER evokes many childhood memories for some of us who grew up in this state. Nothing is more traditional than this quarter-pound all-beef patty that is topped with chili, slaw, onions and mustard and served on a Bakehouse bun. Consider an old-fashioned milkshake made with Blue Bell ice cream. (The salted caramel shake is perfect with a burger.) Because the deli is carryout only, enjoy your burger on one of the outside red picnic tables or take it to Sandy Ramey Keith Park two blocks south where kids can have fun at the playground area. Lunch.


Ronnie’s Chuckwagon

An old-fashioned hamburger is best eaten in an old-fashioned place. Welcome to Ronnie’s, which has been a favorite of many Sandhills residents since they were children. With its relatively new addition and enclosed dining area, Ronnie’s is now satisfying more customers, including out-of-towners who’ve learned about it from a profile in Our State magazine for being among 70 places to stop for classic American food. What to order? A large appetite will be happier with the DOUBLE CHEESEBURGER rather than a smaller one. In this no-frills restaurant that is cash only, the staff is very friendly, and the low prices make it the best burger bargain in the Sandhills. Lunch, dinner.


The Squire’s Pub

Love lamb? At this British-American restaurant, don’t miss the LONDON LAMB BURGER. A six-ounce patty of chopped choice lamb is cooked to order, topped with bacon and melted cheddar cheese Welsh rarebit, and served on a whole wheat bun with mayonnaise with your choice of a side. In addition, the GRILLED LAMB BURGER with melted Boursin cheese and sautéed mushrooms is dredged in The Squire’s Irish spice seasoning rub that gives it a fantastic flavor, grilled to your liking and served on a whole wheat bun with mayo and lettuce. It also come with the choice of a side dish. Lunch, dinner.


Mark Elliott’s Lamb Burger with Tandoori cauliflower, bhaji onion rings & mint chimichurri  

A celebration of all that an imaginative interpretation of a burger can be, this culinary creation of regional chef Mark Elliott, proprietor of Elliott’s on Linden, Sly Fox Gastropub, Elliott’s Provision Co. and Elliott’s Catering Company, will be deliciously fun to make for a gathering a friends. Made from lamb raised by Living Well Farms, the idea for this Indian-inspired layered burger is rooted in this versatile chef’s English boyhood in Torquay where, in Elliott’s words, “it is a little known fact that in England there may be more Indian restaurants than fish-and-chip shops.” And since Indian cuisine is what he grew up with, it’s a fitting inspiration behind this recipe for one of America’s iconic comfort foods.

Lamb Burger:

2 pounds ground lamb

1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Mix and form your burgers. Prepare all the recipe components below before grilling the lamb burgers to your desired degree of doneness.

Tandoori Cauliflower:

Whole cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch slices

Tandoori Paste:

2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted

½ teaspoon ground pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 large shallots, peeled

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 jalapenos, seeds removed

1/4 cup water

Rub cauliflower slices with salt, and let sit for 30 minutes. To make the Tandoori Paste, place the toasted seeds in your food processor (Elliott uses a Vitamix blender) and process. Add remaining ingredients and puree until a smooth paste. Generously brush the paste on both sides of the cauliflower slices. Splash the cauliflower with a few dashes of olive oil. Place on parchment paper and roast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.

 Onion rings:

1 large onion

Bhaji batter:

1-cup chickpea flour

1 teaspoon hot chili powder (not the blend)

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon cumin powder

½ teaspoon salt


Slice onions into rings that are 1/8-inch thick. Make the batter, adding enough water to form a thick custard-like batter. Dip onion rings in the batter and deep fry in 350-degree oil following all safety precautions accommodated with deep frying.

Mint Chimichurri:

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

¼ teaspoon cumin powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon diced jalapeño

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar                      

1 ¼ cup olive oil        

1 red bell pepper, small diced    

Hand chop the fresh herbs, and then mix in the remaining ingredients.

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