One of New York’s more keenly fought food contests – the New York Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash – sizzled Friday night at a giant Tobacco Warehouse in a far-flung corner of Dumbo (“It’s near the F! It’s near the F!” a pr woman told us, helpfully.) The annual event features “More than 20 chefs serving 2,300 people about 50,000 burgers,” chef Bobby Flay boasted, grinning grill-side, then resumed doling out his unusual entry: an Southwest-themed burger topped with pickled jalepenos, queso sauce and crumbled corn chips.
The only thing more fun than the Bash is the back-biting afterwards: There was complaint for some camps that chefs who didn’t use Pat LaFrieda meat (co-sponsor of the event) didn’t get full consideration from the judges. There’s a history of such Sunday-morning quarterbacking. Three years ago, at the city’s first Burger Bash, Katie Lee Joel’s (Billy Joel’s ex) win with her cheeseburger-on-white-bread drew industry-wide screams of “Patty melt!” from the more famous sore losers she triumphed over.
Flay took the People’s Choice award this year but not the Judge’s pick, and the murmuring began. Flay’s business partner told The Feed blog it was “political” because Flay didn’t use LaFrieda meats. (The event’s mouthful of an official name is: The Blue Moon Burger Bash presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats, hosted by Rachael Ray.)
But we’re convinced the tequila milkshake Flay served in tandem with the beef helped garner some of the votes, as did the presence of what seemed like actual Flay groupies, who literally squealed when he spoke to them. But Flay lost it for us with soggy buns. His Santa Fe-style burger was richly flavorful, but the wet bun tasted like it had been sitting out in the rain — and it wasn’t raining.
The judge’s pick for best burger ended up being New York’s iconic (and exploding all over town) Shake Shack. Danny Meyer uses LaFrieda meats in all his restaurants. Coincidence? Maybe, but it is a very good burger.
But we at The Taste know you don’t care about the Burger Bash nearly as much as whether you, a New Yorker, are missing any important burgers. And you are. Our Burger Bash favorites:
Lure Fishbar Last year’s winner didn’t place this year, a result we couldn’t fathom, except perhaps for its poor location at the party and the fact that it’s too embarrassing to have a seafood restaurant win for its burger two years in a row. Chef Josh Capone’s burger with griddled patty, caramelized onions, bacon jam (!) on a sesame seed bun was one of the best.
Washington, D.C. Good Stuff Eatery chef (and former “Top Chef” contestant) Spike Mendelsohn is opening in New York next year, he promised. “I’m coming. Eight months, I’m coming.” He won Judge’s Choice last year and, this year, his Vietnamese banh-mi style burger deserved better than the shut-out it got. Of course, wearing a crown and royal cloak probably didn’t help him. Spike’s memorable take on the banh mi – it popped with flavor – had picked carrot and daikon, thai basil, cilantro, and sriracha sauce, and came with a delicious Vietnamese coffee milkshake.
Total strangers slid by us in the dense crowd and announced “Don’t miss Greenhouse Tavern’s.” That was good advice: Chef Kevin Sawyer’s lamb burger, coated with cheese, was big and solidly flavorful. A former New York (Kitchen 22) and Miami (Biltmore Hotel) chef now running the Tavern in Cleveland, he promised to return if he won the Bash. His wife eagerly confirmed this, as if Ohio was getting to her.
The burger from Back Forty, on Avenue B and 12th, was the best classic burger we tried. “Grass-fed beef!” cried out the server, dishing out the farmhouse cheddar-covered bites, and those were indeed some happy cows.
To be fair, we heard good thing’s about Rub’s, great one’s about the bacon cheeseburger from The Dutch, which opens in SoHo later this month from chef Andrew Carmellini (who was actually manning his own grill), and 67 Burger’s entry had some fans, though we needed 67 napkins for it. But at tastes of a dozen burgers, we surrendered.
Or, to be honest, we headed to the Sweet Street tower of treats, for dessert.