If you ever find yourself on New Zealand’s South Island, in the vicinity of Queenstown (a four season lake and alpine resort town), and within walking distance of 42 Shotover Street, you’d be foolish to overlook the taste bud-riveting experience that is Fergburger. Established in the year two thousand as a basic burger joint, Ferg has flourished so much that it’s now recognized on an international level. Though it’s yet to launch a chain of restaurants, Ferg has spawned a bakery that neighbors next door and provides burger buns made from scratch daily. Fergbaker specializes in meat pies, bagels, and ice cream. Kiwis take pride in their hometown phenomenon, and it’s no surprise that this restaurant is consistently prosperous throughout all twenty-one of its opening hours.
After a warm summer’s day in January filled with a Lord of the Rings helicopter tour, Moke Lake hiking, and our first hang-gliding excursion, my newlywed husband and I found ourselves bursting with euphoria but depleted of sustenance. It was nearly eight o’clock New Zealand Time, and the Lord only knew what time that meant back home in Colorado. As we strolled past the bustling shops filled with indigenous jade and kiwi bird and silver fern paraphernalia, Jared pointed to a swarm of people gathered across the way at a storefront. Judging by the line, it was safe to assume that either someone was giving away free iPads, or the food was extraordinary. Jared persisted, and I reluctantly got in line roughly half a block from Fergburger.
The line moved rapidly, and we were greeted halfway through by a friendly Fergling with a menu to aid in the decision-making process. The twenty-four item menu was simple enough to not overwhelm the guests, yet it had enough variety to please just about any diet—or to give one a desire to come back twenty-four times to try everything on said menu. Catchy names like “Chief Wiggum” and “Sweet Bambi” alluded to the elaborate burger contents while keeping a low-key edge on the ambiance. Within twenty minutes, we arrived at the entrance. We could scarcely hear the music above the bustle of the crowd, but we hardly noticed as we inhaled the aromatic duo of freshly baked bread and meat on the grill.
We were promptly greeted by attentive employees clad in uniforms branded with their company emblem: a vintage-looking man with a stoic expression and equally intense chops. The employees labored tirelessly but smiled at patrons all the while. The glass case below the register displayed a mini-store reminiscent of California’s In-N-Out Burger, complete with T-shirts and lanyards. Since New Zealand is known for its livestock, I gave “Little Lamby” ($12.90 NZD) a chance, and Jared took the plunge with “Big Al” ($17.90 NZD). Ferg served fries with a variety of sauces (like the Kiwi staple: aioli), along with onion rings and fried calamari. We settled on the classic fries ($4.50 NZD) and onion rings ($5.50 NZD). The larger menu posted inside also offered a breakfast and kids menu, complete with a full list of beers, wines, and non-alcoholic beverages ($2.50-$7.00 NZD).
Our order took another twenty minutes, but Queenstown’s quaint shops and astounding scenery hardly made us notice the time lapse. We spent a majority of our waiting time out by the wharf, watching the sunset over the pristine waters. Ferg bags in hand, we searched for a table to no avail and realized the seating was inadequate for the popularity of the small restaurant. The locals paid it no mind, however, and informed us that most people view it as a take-away (carry-out for us Americans) and simply eat it out by the waterfront or take it home. Eager to fit in, we skipped the crowded tables and dipped out with our paper bags as if we were smuggling hidden treasure.
If I had any qualms with the wait time or lack of seating, they were quickly laid to rest when I set eyes upon my burger in its full glory. Aside from being picture-perfect, my lamb burger was succulent, grilled to perfection, and between the tangy mint jelly and savory aioli sauce, its flavor palette was spot on. My husband’s burger held up to its name; Big Al’s double serving of char-broiled beef smothered in gooey cheese, thick slabs of bacon, and fried eggs slathered in aioli were almost too much for him to finish. Both burgers were bookended by soft, warm buns and layered with crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes alike, complete with a Kiwi favorite: pickled beetroot. The fries and onion rings were crispy and well-seasoned, and we were left with our money’s worth of full tummies and one of the highlights of our honeymoon.
And remember: Ferg loves you. If burger quality equals love, then he most certainly does.