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New Zealand's Fergburger may be the best burger joint on the planet

By Frances Cha, CNN
updated 9:54 PM EST, Mon February 24, 2014
Fergburger's Mr. Big Stuff. The name says it all.
Fergburger's Mr. Big Stuff. The name says it all.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fergburger's fresh handmade burgers are Queenstown's best known secret
  • So popular people often wait an hour for a burger
  • Despite success, Fergburger hasn't franchised or expanded into a chain

Editor's note: This month's CNNGo TV adventure explores the gourmet scene, wildlife and breathtaking natural wonders on New Zealand's South Island. More: www.cnn.com/cnngo

(CNN) -- It's a tough headline to swallow.

Best burger in the world?

Yeah, right.

Cue the commenters getting carried away "my burger joint is better than yours" rants.

Walk them past Fergbuger on the main street of New Zealand's adventure capital of Queenstown, however, and the doubters might quickly turn into believers.

Colloquially known as "Ferg's," the burger joint is swollen with customers who spill out every opening hour, happy to wait around an hour at peak times for a feed.

And "peak time" describes most of the store's 21-hour day.

International tourists can be seen emerging with their takeouts, delicately removing a Little Lamby (lamb burger) or Sweet Bambi (venison), reverently folding the brown paper bag with the treasured logo and carefully tucking it in a backpack.

Next step, burger selfie straight to Facebook.

"My mates in Taiwan/Sweden/Canada/wherever are gonna be jealous of this. Big check mark in that Kiwi trip must-do box."

Probably the last time the line didn\'t reach out the door.
Probably the last time the line didn't reach out the door.

Like checking out the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Ferg's has become the compulsory stop in Queenstown.

If Michelin stars were still dished out the way they originally were, Fergburger would bag at least a couple, arguably three. ("Exceptional food, well worth a special journey.")

Among burger lovers anyhow.

And on any given day (save Christmas when Ferg's closes for a breather) burger lovers pick from quite a big menu -- around 20 variants, ranging from the standard Fergburger to the Southern Swine (beef, bacon, avocado) to the Chief Wiggum (pork belly) to stuff for impurists like the Bun Laden (falafel), Codfather (cod) and Holier than Thou (tofu).

MORE: Queenstown and beyond: Adventure, beauty, muttonbirds

Tasty origins

Ferg's opened in 2001, a true hole in the wall, hard to find place that quickly rose in popularity -- especially among the ski/boarding, backpacker and adventure crowd.

It moved to its current location on Shotover Street a few years later.

Slightly more room but still pretty cramped with 10 cooks and servers in the kitchen and 50 employees total.

Close proximity burger-flipping and managing hangry (hungry meets angry) crowds makes for a tight and well-run bunch of employees.

"The staff has the philosophy that Ferg loves you -- we treat others the way they want to be treated, and I think that's really the key to our success," says Fergburger general manager Steve Bradley.

The success comes in spite of the challenges of operating a 24-hour (including the three hours of cleaning each day) restaurant in a small resort town, with a limited and transient staff and difficult food supply lines for fresh produce.

Where's Ferg?

The secret behind Queenstown must-visit restaurant doesn't sound like much of a secret -- hand-make everything with fresh produce every day.

The other secret isn't so well-guarded either.

After shelling out a fair bit of coin for a bungee jump, Shotover Jet boat ride or day on the slopes, NZ$10 to $15 for a hearty burger is extremely appetizing.

While Bradley is happy to discuss management-type stuff, he's less revealing when faced with tougher questions.

Like, who the hell is Ferg?

READ: NZ South Island's 13 most beautiful photo ops

"There are so many stories I don't even remember what the real legend is -- he may have been the first person to swim naked to Glenorchy or -- my favorite -- the first man to go down Shotover River in a barrel," says Bradley.

Ferg's owner prefers to remain hidden from the public, and management refuses to say anything about him/her.

"We're about the customer and the product, and providing great service and fresh, honest food," says Bradley.

While franchise offers have been coming thick and fast, Ferg management hasn't been swayed.

"We think we're in a really special, beautiful part of the world and that's been a nice part of our formula," says Bradley.

"It would have to take an extra special idea to entice us to go somewhere else."

The closest thing to another Ferg's is the opening of Fergbaker in 2011, a bakery next door that does a Kiwi favorite, the meat pie, proud.

For hungry visitors to Queenstown, this is the fallback when Fergburger crowd's prove too big a mountain to climb.

Fergburger, 42 Shotover St., Queenstown Town Center; +64 3-441 1232; open 8:30 a.m.-5 a.m., daily except Christmas Day.

Recommended burgers: Little Lamby (Prime New Zealand lamb, mint jelly, lettuce, tomato, red onion, alioli, tomato relish), NZ$12.50 ($10) and Sweet Bambi (Wild Fiordland deer with a Thai plum chutney, lettuce, tomato, red onion, alioli).

MORE: CNNGo in South Island, New Zealand

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