By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated February 19, 2003 05:04 PM

Suddenly single Aaron Buerge, who scored his 15 minutes last fall as the man in the middle of ABC’s second installment of “The Bachelor,” is concentrating on his new Missouri restaurant now that he and Helene Eksterowicz have called off their engagement.

“I don’t have much of a personal life right now,” banker Buerge, 28, tells the Associated Press. “I’m still not caught up from being off the show. It’s been a wild ride, for sure.”

Rather than in Eksterowicz, Buerge has his heart in Trolley’s Downtown Bar and Grille in Springfield. He and three friends opened the eatery to a capacity crowd of 140 on Valentine’s Day — which, when you think about it, isn’t much, considering that the Nov. 20 “Bachelor” finale drew 29 million viewers.

But there is some residue to all that fame, fleeting as it might be.

“It’s kind of funny, because most people who approach me just want to tell me who their favorite was on the show,” Buerge told AP. “People are usually apologetic that it didn’t work out.”

But he remained tight-lipped on what went wrong with his relationship with Eksterowicz, a New Jersey grade-school psychologist. He is due to appear on an ABC special Thursday, “The Bachelor: Aaron and Helene Tell All.”

Still, in an interview that aired Tuesday night on TV’s “Extra,” Buerge, who said Sandra Bullock told him that she had a crush on him (but that’s as far as things ever got), blamed tabloid rumors for the demise of his relationship with Eksterowicz.

“The tabloids set me up in bars sending attractive women to pick me up,” he said. “I felt I was guilty until I could prove my innocence.”

He claimed the drama drove a wedge between the two, he in Missouri and Helene in New Jersey.

“The one thing that brings you together, being on the show, could also be possibly the one thing that tears you apart,” he philosophized.