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Hilton Head Island’s Best Burger: Part 1

By • Jun 9th, 2009 • Category: Burger Blog

Looking for Hilton Head’s Best Burger?

Hilton Head Island dips its toes into the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean just off the South Carolina mainland.  It’s not a terribly large piece of land, but it is a huge vacation destination in this part of the country.  Every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, families flock to Hilton Head by the minivanful to flop on the beaches and sunburn themselves silly, soaking up as much island lifestyle as they can before heading back to their regular jobs in the real world.

I’ve been coming to Hilton Head for over 10 years now, so I like to consider myself a semi-local.  I take pride in complaining about the summer traffic, griping about the knucklehead tourists overrunning the bicycle paths, and bitching about the absurdly long wait times at seemingly every restaurant in town.

And what a lot of restaurants there are.  This place is known for a proliferation of restaurants.  Crammed onto the island’s 55 square miles – only 42 of which are dry land- are more than 250 places to eat.  For those of you doing the math, that’s almost 6 restaurants per square mile!  Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of them.  Some are world-class.  Many don’t make it very long.  But I’d never had a cheeseburger on Hilton Head Island (HHI, to us locals) that ever made much of an impression.  Statistically speaking, there HAD to be a great cheeseburger here.

This week, I set out to find it.

After taking an informal poll of family and friends and trusted islanders, two names kept popping up.  One was Jump and Phil’s Bar & Grill.  It’s a Hilton Head landmark, if for no other reason than sheer longevity. 

jump phill

Jump and Phil were college buddies in the 1970s.  Jump studied zoology, and Phil was a journalism major.  They graduated in 1975 and took a year off to open a little place on Hilton Head Island.  They never left.

Over 30 years later, theirs is still a great place to grab a cold beer, catch a game on the big screen, and sample some solidly tasty bar grub.  They serve as a home away from home for visiting Green Bay Packer fans, and are a perennial favorite with vacationers and locals alike.

And they claim to have Hilton Head’s Best Burger.

They serve half-pounders topped with your choice of American, Swiss, cheddar… or mozzarella cheese.  Mozzarella???  Interesting.  I ordered mine with the mozzarella and added bacon and sauteed mushrooms, the winner and runner-up in my recent Top Topping countdown.

jump phil burger

What came out of the kitchen looked awesome enough.  A heaping pile of beautifully-browned mushrooms, curly strips of bacon with just a smidgen of fat around the edges, and a gooey blanket of mozzarella.  The cheese looked like it had spent a few quality minutes under a broiler to get those quintessential carmel-colored spots like you find on a good pizza.  I added a crisp lettuce leaf, some raw onion slices, and a slathering of mayo.  So far, so good.  And then I added the top bun.

I knew right away that the bun would be trouble.  You can just tell when a bun won’t last through the whole burger.  Sure enough, by the midway bite, this one had soaked up a good portion of the meat’s juice and mushrooms’ moisture, and was just falling apart between my fingers.  By the last few bites, it was gone entirely and I was holding bare burger.

Don’t misunderstand.  Jump and Phil’s serves a great cheeseburger.  But they don’t have a bun that stands up to it.  Loved the mozzarella.  Nice twist, and something I’d like to try sometime at home on my own grill.  But they lose points with that disappearing bun. 

Best Burger in Hilton Head?  It’s too early to say.  There’s another place I have to get to this week before I re-pack the family van and hit the highway.  It’s a place that was mentioned by every single person I asked during my burger poll.  The locals swear by it.  Most of the tourists can’t even find it.  And I’ll bring it to you next time.

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