Friday, August 12, 2016

Battle Of The Burger 2016: The Winners

Twenty-five Burgers fought each other in a battle royale, seeking to become the Champion, the people's Favorite Burger. Amidst all the carnivore carnage, who reigned supreme? Who created the Best Burger?

This past Wednesday, Boston Magazine hosted the 5th Annual Battle of the Burger, a grand competition and homage to the ever-popular burger. Twenty-five restaurants and chefs competed, each offering their own unique take on the burger. You can check out the list of competitors and see which burgers sounded appealing to you. I attended this event, as a media guest, sampling the many burgers, enjoying the beverage options, and selecting my own list of the Best Burgers.

Once again, the event was held at the Cruiseport Boston and as the weather cooperated, with the rain having stopped, it was pleasant to be able to stand outside by the water, sipping some wine or a cocktail. With all of the grills operating in the main dining area, it did get a little smoky and warm in there so it was great to have an area where you could get some fresh, cool air.

This year, after being the Battle of the Burger Champion for three years in a row, Chef Matt O’Neil of The Blue Ox in Lynn was retired as a competitor. This opened up the competition to a new Champion, making it even more competitive than usual. Who would prevail?

Inside the building, there were a number of booths offering beer, wine cocktails, pickles, ice cream, and more. Grillo's Pickles offered samples of their Italian Dill, Hot Italian Dill and Bread & Butter pickles. Rancatore's Ice Cream presented several different ice creams and sorbet, with a table of toppings, from nuts to chocolate sprinkles, you could pit atop your cup of ice cream. I enjoyed their creamy Coconut Sorbet. Georgetown Cupcakes offered numerous mini-cupcakes as a sweet treat after all the burgers.

In the burger section, there were a couple non-burger options too, from a pizza truck to fresh baguettes. I was impressed with the Late July Snacks Sweet Potato Multigrain Tortilla Chips. They were thick, crunchy and flavorful, with a nice spice to the taste. I'll have to seek these chips out at the local supermarket.

Barton & Gustier presented a few different wines, including a delicious Provence Rosé. Mount Gay Rum was one of the sponsors and you could sample their tasty Blended Rum Punch, which was made with Mount Gay Eclipse, Mount Gay Black Barrel, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice,  Grenadine and Angostura Bitters.

A Chef Ming Tsai Bobblehead? Chef Tsai is on the National Advisory Board of Family Reach, a charity whose mission is "to provide financial relief and heartfelt support to families fighting cancer. The majority of funds are dedicated to families with a child or young adult who is being treated for a pediatric or other type of cancer." Chef Tsai was present at the Burger Battle, helping to raise money for this worthy charity and a donation could get you one of those bobbleheads.

In the VIP area, the Chef Tsai and Family Reach booth also offered tastes of a Dark & Stormy Granita, made with Mount Gay Rum. This was a refreshing and delicious "slushy" and I wish I could have savored a large glass instead of these tiny paper cups. I'd already been contemplating making some frozen Dark & Stormy cocktails at home, and this solidified my decision.

Back to the Burgers....

This year, there weren't any Veggie Burgers, which might mean that maybe the chefs believe they can't compete on the same field as burgers made from meat. They might taste good but it seems that in a Burger Battle, with a diverse selection of attendees, meat is most likely to reign supreme. Nearly all of the entries were also made with beef patties with two primary exceptions, a ground Andouille Sausage & Beef patty from Burton's Grill/Red Heat Tavern and a Lamb burger from ArtBar. Most of the chefs provided sliders, though a few offered full-size burgers, like Tasty Burger, and others provided you a sliced section of a full-sized burger, like City Streets Restaurant. Some of the chefs also provided small sides with their burgers, such as popcorn, chips and mac n' cheese.

Attendees got to vote for their favorite burger. placing their voting token in their chosen Budweiser box. What makes a burger the Best? There is really no objective standard as it is very much a personal decision, based in part on your own definition of what constitutes a great burger, as well as your own personal preferences. For example, maybe you dislike brioche buns, onions, or mustard, and if a burger possesses any of those elements, it won't rank as your Best.

For myself, I feel that a Champion burger should be something you would savor and want to order on a regular basis. A one-trick pony burger might be exciting for the moment but it won't satisfy in the long run. It wouldn't be something you would order more than once. A champion needs to be able to stand the test of time, to continually deliver a delicious burger each and every time.

To illustrate this point, consider Chef Paul Malvone's, of the Boston Burger Company, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot burger. It is made with 80/20 certified Angus beef with homemade mac n' cheese, pulled pork, onion ring, homemade BBQ sauce, and Grillo's pickles. This is an over-the-top burger, and actually tasted very good, but it's not the type of burger I'd order on a regular basis. It is definitely worthy of a splurge when you are feeling especially decadent. The burger itself gains kudos for being thick, juicy and flavorful.

For myself, I also feel that a Champion burger needs balance! It is a delicate balancing act, to ensure all the different ingredients of the burger, from the bun to the condiments, contribute to the whole rather than become too dominant on their own. The burger itself needs to be the star, and everything else should play a supporting role, with none upstaging the others. My favorite burgers at this event all possessed a nice balance of ingredients.

This year, the attendees voted for Joe's American Bar & Grill to be the Battle of the Burger Champion. The winning entry, from Chef David Forbes, was their Smoking' Granny Burger, a beef burger topped with Nueske’s thick-cut maple-Cajun bacon, aged cheddar, smoked blue cheese, and Granny Smith apple relish, on a brioche bun. I enjoyed this burger, though felt that the tart apple pieces were a little overpowering to the whole. I should also note that they were offering attendees a free bag of swag for anyone who voted for their burger.

My choice for the Battle of the Burger Champion was A&B Burgers, where Chef Kwasi Kwaa offered the Sweet & Salty Cow, a beef burger with fig spread, Leidy's bacon, Burrata cheese, and arugula on a brioche bun. The burger was thick and juicy, and was definitely the star of the sandwich, enhanced by the balance of sweet, salty and creamy elements. At last year's Burger Battle, first tasted their burgers and felt that they would be a strong competitor this year too. During the past year, I've savored a number of burgers at their Beverly restaurant, and their Sweet & Salty is my favorite. If you haven't dined here yet, you need to make the trip to Beverly.

For Second Place, I have to give kudos to Chef Brian Dandro of ArtBar for his Lamb Burger, topped with whipped feta and chimichurri. I love lamb but know it is also a divisive meat, one that people usually either love or hate. There often seems to be little middle ground. Thus, in a competition like this, it is unlikely a lamb burger, no matter how well made, is going to win the popular vote cause of the number of people who dislike lamb. For a lamb lover though, this burger would impress. The burger itself was juicy and flavorful, with that distinctive lamb taste, a pleasing gamey/earthiness, enhanced by the feta and chimichurri which didn't overpower the sandwich. If anything, maybe there could have been a little more whipped feta atop the burger.

For Third Place, kudos go to Chef Shayne Nunes of Saloon with his Saloon Rodeo Burger, made with a USDA prime burger blend, maple smoked cheddar, whiskey BBQ, and crispy shallots on a brioche bun. The whiskey BBQ sauce was flavorful with a mild spicy kick and the crispy shallots added a nice crunchy texture to the burger. It would have been nice to have a couple fingers of whiskey, maybe a spicy Rye, with this burger.

What were your favorite burgers at the Battle?

1 comment:

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

Great seeing you! I voted for Davio's truffle burger - I can definitely eat that every day! :)