When I first began to write Road Tips almost 4 years ago, I didn't really have a plan, a direction or a voice as to how I wanted my entries to be. Most of the entries were choppy, short and didn't have a lot of info or pictures with them. I found over the past couple of years readers of my blog sort of like the background information, my descriptions of the place and the food, and my overall observations during my visit. One of my first entries had to do with The Burger Barge in East Peoria, IL. (You can read that entry here, if you like.) I don't feel that post gives The Burger Barge justice because they have some of the finest burgers I've come across.
The Burger Barge has been around since 1996 when it really was on a barge on the Illinois River. However, in 2002 it was dry-docked not far from the Par-a-dice Casino in East Peoria (see map). The owner, Gigi Irwin, can be found working the floor most every day. She's a nice, friendly and very personable lady.
(By the way, The Burger Barge in Peoria is not related in anyway to The Parrothead Burger Barge in Des Moines. I've heard some people say the one in Des Moines is pretty good. I may have to try it someday.)
The Burger Barge is what I would lovingly call a "dive bar". There's some nautical and south seas themes on display in the restaurant, but for the most part it's a shanty with a lot of stuff on the wall. My first trip to The Burger Barge was about six years ago when my buddy, Jim Kellogg, and the Hartzler brothers - Jonas and Jason - met me there for an afternoon burger when I was on my way back from Indianapolis. The burger was out of sight. Big (9 oz. patties), juicy (80-20 lean to fat ratio) and very flavorful (flame broiled) - The Burger Barge features over a dozen different types of burgers to choose from. (Check out their menu here.) When the cooks are on their game, they're tough to beat. When they're not, well...
A couple three years ago, I was traveling home from some point out east and decided to stop in for a burger at The Burger Barge. I ordered up my favorite, The Tavern Burger - a burger topped with grilled ham, onion, bacon, cheese and a fried egg. Yep, a fried egg. It's just wonderful, I'm tellin' ya. (Picture at left courtesy of "That's Butter".) Except for this one night. The burger was literally burnt to a crisp. I showed the bartender the burger and she took it back. I got another burger. It looked fine - on one side. The other side was just burnt to all get out. The cook was not having a good day. I ended up not eating there that night.
I knew it had to be an anomaly, so I tried The Burger Barge a couple months later. Same thing - the burgers were well done, not very juicy and not the same as I remembered. As I was leaving, I saw a sign on the door "Wanted - Experienced Cook".
The next time I went in, about six months later, well, they'd found their cook. The Tavern Burger was, once again, one heavenly bite after another. I was sold, once again.
Since then, I've turned a number of people onto The Burger Barge. Each time it hasn't disappointed. I'm glad they got their cook problems out of the way.
On our way back home from St. Louis earlier this summer, Cindy and I decided to stop in for dinner at The Burger Barge. We didn't know if it would be busy or not as it was toward the end of the day on a Sunday and normally they get a lot of boaters that come in for food and drinks. We didn't have to worry as the place was about half full and we were able to find a booth in which to sit.
In addition to burgers, The Burger Barge also features their "Barge" sandwiches. They serve the meat on something they call "Pelican Bread", but they use grilled steak, chicken or fried fish for the main food. This is a picture of the fried fish barge. I've never tried a Barge sandwich because the burgers are so good. But for the people who don't like burgers, or who are looking for something other than burgers, they actually have a pretty varied menu.
Well, I knew what I wanted. I didn't even have to look. It was another Tavern Burger for me. Cindy got just the basic cheese burger, topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. It also comes with what they call "Dock Sauce". It's The Burger Barge's homemade dijon-mustard/mayo sauce that they zip up with some Cajun seasonings. It's actually pretty good. If I get french fries, which isn't very often, I like to order a side of the dock sauce to dip the fries into. Cindy got fries with her meal, so I asked for a side of the dock sauce.
We waited a little over 10 minutes for our meal to show up at the table. From the first bite, it was "my complements to the chef". The burger was just wonderful. Tasty, juicy, thick, fresh, just wonderful. It had that great charbroiled taste that has made The Burger Barge a favorite with the locals in and around the Peoria area.
Cindy said her burger was "delicious", as well. The generous portions of french fries (one order is large enough for two or three people) went very well with the tangy and spicy dock sauce. The Burger Barge is a perfect example of how a good burger can suddenly brighten the decor in a restaurant. If it was a bad burger, The Burger Barge would be a dump. But because it's so good, the place is "exotic".
When I did my "Top Ten Burger List" a couple of years ago, The Burger Barge finished at the number 7 position of my favorite burgers. And that was only because of the not so great burgers I'd had on a couple three visits when they were having trouble with their cooks. Now that they seem to have the right cooks in place, The Burger Barge definitely has their act together. If I re-do my Top Ten Burger List at some point, it would be very difficult to say The Burger Barge is not a Top Five burger.