Al’s Burger Shack: The Best Burger I’ve Ever Eaten

Hello, Dear Readers! It’s been a long time, but we have reasons to reconnect and to celebrate. Having twins might have taken me out of the restaurant-visiting circuit for a bit, but this busy gluten-free mama is back in blogging action and ready to eat out.

As of November 3rd, 2017, this blog has received over 100,000 hits! I am honored and continually inspired to bring you delicious GF restaurant options in an easy-to-read format.

I am thrilled to finally present to you what I believe is the best burger I have ever eaten. Vegetarians, don’t think this post is not for you; read on for information on an incredible veggie burger option.

I’ve traveled the globe, but I recognize that the very best burger is right here at home – at Al’s Burger Shack in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

I’m not the only person who feels this way. Read more glowing reviews on their website’s “About” page. Al’s burgers were named one of the Best Burgers in the South in Garden & Gun magazine. According to WRAL.com, “Al’s has received “best burger and best fries” accolades in Indy Week and Chapel Hill Magazine and a #1 burger listing on Yelp.” Chapel Hill Magazine calls Al’s Burger Shack “an obsession”. I completely agree.

Where: Al’s Burger Shack, 516 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 and a second location at 708 Market Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 in Southern Village.

GF Menu: No. However, Kevin, at the Franklin St. location, explained that everything at Al’s is made-to-order.

Al’s carries delicious GF hamburger buns from Mountain Farm,  which are toasted on the grill prior to serving.

Additionally, the sweet potato and the crispy crinkle cut fries are prepared in their own vats, and are not fried with anything else containing gluten, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.

What I ate: On different visits, I have tried the Paco, the Sean, and the Aubrey burgers with GF buns + Fries.

How to order it: Select your burger from either the posted menu or the chalkboard daily special, place your order at the counter, and ask the server for the Gluten-free bun. As always, if you are ordering a burger that contains a sauce, be sure to check whether the sauce is gluten-free.

What it looks like:

Paco Burger

The Paco Burger is my perennial favorite. Guacamole, tomato slices, fresh jalapeño, jabanero jack cheese on a buttery, toasted GF bun. I ordered this one without the jalapenos. The cheese and guac still give it a nice kick.

The Aubrey BurgerThe Aubrey burger is from the Daily Special menu. Bacon, pimento cheese, avocado, roasted garlic aioli, lettuce, and red onion on a GF bun. Open wide!

SeanBurgerBestSean’s Bacon Cheeseburger is my Dad’s favorite. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and cheddar cheese on a terrific GF bun.

We often order the “half & half” Crispy Crinkle Cut and Sweet Potato Fries, because sometimes you can have it all. The Crinkle Cut fries come with sea salt and rosemary and the Sweet Potato fries come with sea salt and brown sugar, but as these are made to order, you can request them with or without seasoning.

Green Note: Owner Al Bowers is clever (UNC alum, ’88), and so his restaurant is thoughtfully designed, from the physical construction of the original building to the philosophy behind the food. From the “About” page on Al’s website:

Our mission is to provide local, fresh, sustainable food and drink with a hefty dose of southern hospitality. Our all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef is from North Carolina pasture-raised cattle. We serve craft beers brewed in North Carolina and produce from as many local farmers as possible. We make all of our specialty toppings and dressings in the Shack.

The Shack itself was built on the same local and sustainable principles. Almost 100% of the interior was recycled from the existing space, our picnic tables and bar tops are made from reclaimed wood and some of the bricks for the patio steps are over 200 years old.

Additionally, the cheese is from the nearby hormone-and-antibiotic free Holstein cows at Maple View Dairy, a short 15-minute drive from Al’s Burger Shack. Their milk shakes are also made with Maple View ice cream.

Okay, Vegetarian Friends, this is for you. Al’s Burger Shack offers the Kaarin, a vegetarian burger, which is a sweet potato, black bean & oat burger with guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and sliced red onion. A carnivorous friend of mine visits Al’s weekly and says that the Kaarin (vegetarian) is his favorite burger.

On my first visit to Al’s Burger Shack in the new Southern Village location, I heard a woman say to her friend, “I wish I had a second stomach so I could eat another one. They’re so tasty.”

I’ll see you there!
Al's Burger Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Posana Restaurant: Hyperlocal. Sustainable. Dedicated Gluten-Free Kitchen.

Where: Posana Restaurant. 1 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801

GF Menu: YES! No “GF” markings are necessary; the entire food menu is Gluten-Free.

From the bar, they also offer several bottled “Gluten-Reduced Beer” options. (For a good explanation on the distinction between labeling beers Gluten-Free vs. Gluten-Reduced, visit this page from Craft Brewing Business.)

What I ate: We enjoyed appetizers of fried green tomatoes and mussels, and shared entrees of seared scallops and NC trout.

How to order it: Posana Restaurant makes ordering GF dishes a breeze. The menu asks you to inform your server of any food allergies so they can clarify if and when the menu does not list all of the ingredients in a menu item.

Posana has gone the extra mile to dedicate their kitchen “Gluten-Free”. (If you don’t know, getting this kind of certification is an extremely rigorous process and requires a high level of commitment from the owners and staff.) From the “Gluten-Free” page on their website:

At Posana, we work very hard to provide our guests who must avoid gluten with the same exceptional dining experience as all our other guests.  We want you to be able to eat the exact same dishes as those around you, and at Posana, you can.  Awarded the Gluten-Free Food Service Accreditation – Posana Restaurant earned an Excellent rating for our commitment to Best Practices in safe gluten-free food service through the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America’s (GIG) accreditation program.  Posana features a dedicated gluten free kitchen.

What it looks like:

FriedGreenTomatoes Fried green tomatoes were battered and crispy-fried, and then topped with pimento cheese, smoked tomatoes, and thin slices of pickled okra for garnish. These refreshingly crisp tomatoes were a perfect salty treat to warm up the taste buds before a meal. I enjoyed the surprising tang of the pickled okra on top, which echoed the fresh green tomato underneath.

MusselsPEI mussels served in lemongrass curry with charred scallions and kimchi. This was a gorgeous combination of flavors. I was tempted to treat the curry like a soup and slurp it all up with a spoon. However, this is a nice restaurant and I needed to maintain some decorum…

ScallopsSea scallops were seared and set atop grilled asparagus, charred eggplant puree, smoked salsify and tomato jam.

NCTroutBBQ spiced trout from Sunburst Farms was gently placed atop cheese grits from Crooked Creek Mills. Shaved fennel and jalapeno-tomato butter rounded out the flavors and completed the dish.

Green Note: Prior to visiting Posana, I was not familiar with the term “hyperlocal“, but this is what they are: the co-owners of the restaurant have created urban gardens in order to grow additional ingredients they need nearby.

Here is their philosophy from the About Us page on their website:

We are fortunate to have strong relationships with local growers and producers that enable us to offer the freshest ingredients available in every season. In addition, we went hyper-local in 2015 by introducing to our own urban gardens in West Asheville to supplement some of what we are serving.  Moreover, we continue our support of the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project (ASAP) and the wider WNC growing and food producing industry to emphasize the importance of operating in an ecologically-conscious manner.

Posana also makes a point of featuring their Local Partners on their menu and on their website, increasing visibility for these farms and local suppliers of fine ingredients.
Posana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Primal Food & Spirits: 100% Gluten-Free Kitchen

Where: Primal Food & Spirits,  202 West Highway 54, Suite 107, Durham, NC 27713. Primal is located in the Southpoint Crossing Shopping Center, on the corner of Highway 54 and Fayetteville Road, in Durham.

GF Menu: Yes! The entire menu is Gluten-Free, with the exception of a handful of drinks served only at the bar in designated glasses. On the evening I visited the restaurant, there were four GF beers on the menu, as well as local hard ciders.

What I ate: Wood-fired shrimp as a starter, grilled salmon and a side of curried cauliflower as the entree, and lemon pound cake and chocolate flourless torte for dessert.

How to order it: Select any food on the menu and order with confidence. The server explained that everything that goes into and comes out of the kitchen is 100% gluten-free.

Just think of it. Dishes and glassware are all dedicated gluten-free (with the exception of the aforementioned small set of glasses held only at the bar for the purpose of serving non-gluten-free beers).

Chef Tim Lyons, also chef/owner of the award-winning Blu Seafood & Bar in Durham, writes on the Kitchen page of the Primal website:

At Primal we take gluten sensitivities seriously, and representing the needs of the gluten-free community is very important to us. Simply put, it is part of our identity, and it is exactly what makes us different from everyone else. Our kitchen is 100% gluten-free, meaning there is no possibility of cross-contamination.

What it looks like:

primalshrimpThe wood-fired shrimp were seasoned with a maple bourbon bbq sauce, hot out of the wood-burning oven, and bursting with sweet and smoky flavors. The spicy cole slaw comprised of crisp cabbage, red onions, and green peppers complemented the sweet shrimp.

primalcauliflowerThe curried cauliflower was served in an oven-proof pottery bowl, which kept it warm as we ate.

primalsalmonTrust me when I tell you that this grilled salmon was gorgeous. If you’re wondering what was so generously heaped on top of the hot-off-the-wood-grill-salmon, it was lump crab meat! It was a scrumptious, decadent addition to the savory salmon and the fresh greens drizzled with an apple shallot relish.

primalalmondcake2We ordered two desserts to share.  An unusually moist lemony pound cake with its browned burnt-sugary edge rested on mascarpone and was topped with a rum-date compote, almonds, vanilla syrup, and a fresh mint leaf.

primalchoctorteThe second dessert was the chocolate flourless torte. Rich and smooth, each dark chocolatey bite contained the surprise flavor of caramel rising to the surface from the caramel crème anglaise underneath. It was garnished with a fresh strawberry, red grapes, whipped cream, and a mint leaf.

 Green Note: Chef Tim Lyons works with local farmers as much as possible, and promotes them on the Primal website. He explains his reasoning here:

Primal is about getting back to the basics and eating as our ancestors did, offering unprocessed, home grown foods, served unpretentiously. You can literally taste the delicious difference when you bite into a piece of pasture-raised meat that was cooked over a wood fire. It gives the meat that light, smoky natural flavor simply not found with alternative cooking methods. At Primal, we work tirelessly to ensure that everything coming out of our kitchen showcases the fresh ingredients we are using from our local farmer partners. Farm-to-Fire-to-Fork. That is our way. That is Primal.

Some of the Local Farmers listed on the website include:

Primal Food & Spirits Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Blue Ribbon Diner: Shop & Stop

When you visit the new Tanger Outlets in Mebane and need Gluten-Free nourishment to power your bargain hunting, drive across the street to the Blue Ribbon Diner, just off I-85 South (Exit 154).

Where: Blue Ribbon Diner, 1004 Mebane Oaks Road, Mebane, NC 27302

GF Menu: Yes! As soon as we told our sweet waitress, Julie A., that we needed to eat our burgers without the buns because we are gluten-intolerant, she offered us this menu. Brilliant! They also cater to Vegetarians and those with Dairy, Egg, and Peanut/Treenut Allergies. Thank you, Blue Ribbon!

What I ate: Bun-less Black Angus Cheddar Cheeseburger & Fries

How to order it: Ask for the Gluten-Free menu. Select. Enjoy.

What it looks like:

A classic diner experience (minus the classic bun) – a thick and juicy black angus cheeseburger, served with lettuce, tomato, and a side of what the Blue Ribbon Diner calls “Endless Fries.” After a morning of shopping, we couldn’t have been happier to find a hot, worry-free meal like this one.

Green Note: Locally owned and operated, Blue Ribbon Diner is part of a collection of restaurants which include The Village Grill and another Blue Ribbon Diner location in Burlington, NC.

I noticed that the very friendly staff at Blue Ribbon were wearing t-shirts featuring an earth logo. When I asked Julie about the shirts, she explained that the shirts come from a company called Cotton of the Carolinas. As the CotC website elaborates:

CotC is a collaboration of farmers and manufacturers across the Carolinas dedicated to growing, making, and selling its t-shirts in the Carolinas.

North Carolina is the United States’ fourth largest producer of cotton. But 50% of that cotton is shipped overseas to be manufactured into finished products, then much of it is shipped back here to be sold to consumers.

Thanks to both Blue Ribbon and CotC for keepin’ it local!

Blue Ribbon Diner on Urbanspoon

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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