My wife and I had lunch at Burger 21 in Lakeland recently. We had been to Burger 21 several times in the past and enjoyed it. It’s a small chain that was founded in Florida. This particular Burger 21 is located in Lakeside Village, a pleasant place to stroll around and do some shopping, or just window-shopping. But due to a combination of disappointing service and – thanks to writing this blog – a greater appreciation of the restaurants available in Polk County, we have to admit this was not one of our better dining out experiences.
Burger 21 offers outdoor seating and generally has large awnings to provide shade and shelter to those seats. Apparently as a result of Hurricane Irma, the awnings are no longer there. This not only makes the outdoor seating impractical but causes the indoor seating to become more crowded. Since other businesses at Lakeside Village appear to have awnings intact – and while Burger 21 is a franchise, it is a national chain with the support of a large organization – we felt that a month after the hurricane was enough time for the restaurant to replace the missing awnings.
The interior is modern looking and spotless anytime we have been there. In the past, we’ve experienced friendly service at Burger 21. Not this time. At Burger 21, you place your order at a register near the entrance, then your food is brought out to your table. The young woman who took our order was surly and rushed taking our order, practically barking a rapid series of questions at us as quickly as she could.
This is a burger place, although there are some salads and sides on the menu. A variety of burgers are available, including veggie, turkey, and seafood burgers, plus hot dogs and chicken tenders. We ordered a basket of fries to share. I ordered a BBQ bacon burger and my wife ordered a black and bleu burger, which also came with bacon. Milkshakes to drink – espresso for my wife and salted caramel pretzel for me.
We were among the first customers to arrive, but the restaurant filled up quickly. By the time we were finished, a large group stood hovering over us waiting for a table, making it impossible for us to enjoy our meal or conversation. And the restaurant is not designed for acoustics, so conversation noise seems amplified.
The young woman working the shake bar, who brought our shakes to us, was pleasant, and she was the only employee to stop by our table during our meal to check on us (we’re both of the opinion that she should be managing the restaurant). The young man who brought our burgers also seemed pleasant, but we had no other interaction with him. The surly order-taker made an appearance later as she abruptly grabbed my wife’s basket off the table without asking.
The burgers were quite delicious and well prepared. My burger came with a heavy dose of fried onions, which I didn’t really want, but hadn’t had time to specify that with the rude order-taker. They were easy enough to remove. Both burgers came on brioche buns that didn’t overwhelm the burgers. The fries were also quite good. One thing I like about Burger 21 is the “ketchup bar.” A wide variety of ketchups is available to sample, and even non-ketchup options like ranch dressing and honey-mustard sauce. As for the milkshakes, they looked stunning, and the flavor was good, but they did taste a little watered down compared to milkshakes we’ve had at other restaurants.
With tip, our total came to $35. As much as we wanted to like Burger 21, we found ourselves thinking about other restaurants we’ve visited this year. Another burger place with great shakes in Lakeland? Try the Chop Shop. A restaurant with both delicious food and excellent service while you’re shopping at Lakeside Village? How about Pizzerria Valdiano. The food tasted good at Burger 21, but it didn’t justify the poor service.
If we have inspired you to visit Burger 21 (?), or if you have already been and want to share your experience, please do so via the comments section below. And if you have Polk County restaurant tips, we would love to hear from you via our Contact Us page. Thanks for stopping by and happy eating!