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This man loves hamburgers so much he built a museum for them

The Burger Beast Museum at the Magic City Casino in Miami is full of burger memorabilia, with a nod to the history of Miami’s current and former burger places.
The Burger Beast Museum at the Magic City Casino in Miami is full of burger memorabilia, with a nod to the history of Miami’s current and former burger places. jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Miami Dinner at McDonald’s was a treat for Sef Gonzalez.

It meant it was Thursday night — the night his mother got out of work early from her job as a doctor’s office assistant, and his family could dine out together.

Not that they could splurge. His grandparents, his parents, his sister and he were packed together in their home in suburban Westchester just as they had been when he was a baby in upper Manhattan, where his grandparents settled after fleeing Cuba in the 1950s.

Thursdays, though, when Mom was home early and his father wasn’t delivering Wise potato chips on his Hialeah route, was family time.

“It was important that we got to spend that time together,” Gonzalez said. “The bonding of a family around a dinner table, I don’t know if it really happens anymore.”

It wasn’t always McDonald’s. Sometimes it was Lums or Latin American Cuban restaurant or Burger King. Only one thing was certain: Sef was having a burger.

“The rest of the family would eat things other than burgers,” he said. “Any place I saw a burger on the menu — and it’s still that way today — I have to have the burger.”

That’s a long way of answering the question of why Gonzalez, a St. Brendan grad who went on start a popular Miami food blog, titled The Burger Beast, decided to open a burger museum in Miami — the first of its kind in the United States.

The Burger Museum by Burger Beast opened in early December at the Magic City Casino, where Gonzalez hosts regular food truck rallies that bring street-food lovers from all parts of South Florida to this forgotten spot in central Miami. McDonald’s will serve burgers on site, including its new versions of the Big Mac.

The 1,200-square-foot museum houses more than 2,000 items that Gonzalez has collected over the past seven years. More than 500 other items in storage will be used to rotate the collection.

You'll find more than burgers represented here. That much is clear from the moment you step inside to find an oil painting of Alice Cooper sitting on a throne of White Castle hamburgers. The Burger Museum tells the story of the way Miami restaurants, from fast-food chains to beloved family-owned spots, have evolved in parallel with the city. And it’s not tchotchkes and bric-a-brac.

You'll find images and uniforms from Royal Castle, which was founded in South Florida and headquartered in Hialeah. Blueprints of the first Burger King in Miami. Pristine waitress uniforms from Krystal Hamburger, dating back to the 1940s. Styrofoam containers from the original Burger King Whopper and the double-headed container for the forgotten McDonald’s McDLT. (Remember? Hot on one side, cool on the other.)

There’s a classic stained-glass lamp and part of a Wendy’s salad bar next to a photo of Dave Thomas eating a salad under the very items, donated by the Ohio-based company.

“It was great to see so many of the old photos and memorabilia,” said McDonald’s franchisee Peter Menendez Jr., 37, who grew up in the business with this father and got a sneak peek of the museum. “It’s a really unique walk down food memory lane.”

And it all started with a sign from a Burger Chef restaurant a friend gave him years ago.

His collection grew, and not by design. Gonzalez has an appetite for history. His blog went from becoming strictly reviews of local burgers and restaurants to a place where Gonzalez could tell stories about Miami’s favorite or forgotten historical markers.

Gonzalez wants the Burger Museum to be something that the Miami in the glitzy brochure is not: authentic.

The museum is the kind of place where you could spend 10 minutes or four hours and walk out having learned something you never knew about Miami.

“We’re happy to hitch our wagon to him,” said Izzy Havenick, whose family owns the casino. “We’re happy to be the bacon to his cheeseburger.”

Gonzalez opened the doors for a few hours last week for friends and family, and he watched them recall their childhoods.

“I want something that evokes emotions in people, and that’s what the museum does,” Gonzalez said. “I want them to love this as much as I do.”

Gonzalez invested nearly $100,000 of his own money into the Burger Museum, taking no outside investors other than an online campaign that raised $10,000.

“I get asked a lot why would I open a burger museum. And my question to you is, why wouldn’t I?” he said. “I have an obsession with burgers. I have an obsession with history. This is the best of both worlds.”

The original slider

4 2-ounce balls of 80-20 ground chuck

1 yellow onion, sliced thinly on mandoline

4 slices American cheese

4 potato rolls

Kosher salt to taste

Dill pickle slices

Mustard

Grab the 2-ounce balls of 80-20 chuck and place them onto a flat-top or griddle on medium-high heat. Place thin onion slices on the ball, and smash into griddle until it resembles a beautifully deformed burger patty. Add a pinch of salt. After cooking for about four minutes, flip the burger with the onions against the griddle. As it’s approaching a medium-well temperature, about three minutes, place a slice of American cheese on it. When the cheese begins to melt, place the bottom bun on the patty followed by the top bun. This technique is used to steam the buns.

When the onions reach a brownish color, it’s ready. Set aside top bun. Flip the burger with a spatula with bottom bun on (where the cheese is now on the bottom, the browned onions on top). Add a couple of dill pickle slices and a dollop of yellow mustard. Place top bun onto the slider and serve. Makes 2 to 4 sliders.

Recipe by Sef Gonzalez, AKA The Burger Beast

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