Burger Bliss: Despite pandemic, family-owned burger spot thrivesSep 30, 2020 12:46PM ● By Niz Proskocil
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
What makes a good burger? There’s the flavor of the meat, the meat-to-bun ratio, the meat-to-fat ratio, the freshness of the toppings, the cooking process, the type of bun, and many other factors.
But the owners of a recently opened Florence restaurant aren’t satisfied making a good burger. Best is what they’re after.
Omaha residents Ashlei Spivey and her partner, who goes simply by the name Universal, own and operate Best Burger. The restaurant opened in April across from Florence Park. Universal serves as chef, and Spivey helps out everywhere else.
Universal’s interest in food began early. His grandmothers both cooked for a living and passed down their cooking and baking skills to him. After high school, he attended a culinary arts program through Job Corps. Although his career path led to the manufacturing industry, where he worked at a warehouse for 15 years, he never stopped thinking about pursuing his passion for food.
“That’s my American dream. It always has been,” Universal said. “I enjoy seeing people enjoy my food. It feels good that people like something that you do.”
The couple, who live in Florence, saw a need in the community for a quick, casual spot that served a “homemade-style hamburger,” Universal said. It was also important to offer a healthier alternative to the typical fast-food burger and fries. They believe the way to a better burger is to focus on quality ingredients. That means fresh not frozen patties and using grass-fed beef.
My dining partner and I tried the restaurant in July. We called in an order for curbside pickup, and the food was ready 20 minutes later, neatly packaged and promptly delivered to our car. Customers can also order and pay online. Inside, there are a couple of tables for guests, but it was takeout only when we visited. Universal said it wasn’t hard adjusting to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic because the plan all along was to operate mainly as a takeout spot.
The menu is small, but it features a variety of toppings, sauces, and buns so diners can customize their own creations, whether it’s a classic burger or something more creative. Diners can choose a grilled chicken breast or one of three patty options: turkey, vegan, or grass-fed black Angus beef.
Also available are brioche and standard white buns, which are buttered and toasted. There’s a choice of cheese, ranging from cheddar to pepper jack. Sauces such as barbecue and garlic aioli are made in-house.
Instead of medium or medium well, all burgers are cooked done, Universal said. That’s slightly longer than I prefer, but I thought the 5-ounce patty was seasoned well and delivered a rich, beefy flavor. My one quibble with the burger is that it was a tad tough, perhaps due to a tightly packed patty.
Best Burger uses hormone- and antibiotic-free beef and turkey from a small, family farm in Kansas. Fresh produce and other ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible. Instead of standard french fries, the menu features sweet potato fries. The spuds are sliced thick, tossed with a garlic-based seasoning, and roasted with their skins on because “that’s where the nutrients are,” Universal said.
My dining partner, not normally a fan of anything sweet potato, enjoyed the fries and said he preferred them over traditional ones.
Universal puts a flavorful spin on a Thai-inspired vegan burger packed with black beans and other vegetables, spices, and breadcrumbs. The patty has a savory, slightly spicy, and satisfying flavor. Unlike some plant-based burgers that can have a mushy texture, this one holds together well and doesn’t fall apart when you take a bite. The vegan patties are prepared fresh each morning, Universal said.
All burgers come with lettuce, pickle, onion, and tomato, served on the side so the veggies stay crisp. There’s also a selection of “craft toppings” such as sautéed mushrooms, avocado, and Thai slaw for an additional charge. Popcorn and desserts from local businesses such as Still Poppin' Gourmet Popcorn and Crum Cakes Bakery are available, as well as Zapp’s chips. New menu items in the works include a gyro-inspired burger.
Before opening their restaurant, Spivey and Universal held a series of successful pop-ups at the nearby Cups Cafe, part of the No More Empty Pots food hub on North 30th Street. The Omaha-based nonprofit helps develop strong, food-secure communities through education, food distribution, entrepreneurial programs, and more.
The group, which promotes self-sufficiency, offers several programs that support their core values of education, stewardship, and sustainability, said Britney Gibilisco, startup and skills manager at No More Empty Pots. Caterers, cooks, and other food entrepreneurs can use commercial kitchen space, available for rent by the hour. The space has proven popular, Gibilisco said, and there are currently more than a dozen active food entrepreneurs using it.
Best Burger is among the businesses that rely on the kitchen. It’s equipped with a commercial oven that’s perfect for roasting big batches of sweet potatoes, Universal said. He appreciates all the support No More Empty Pots has given throughout the process of launching his restaurant. “They’re an invaluable resource,” he said.
This article was printed in the October 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.