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2013 Burger Brawl

I was so upset that I had to miss the Burger Brawl last year that I made sure that I did not miss it again this year! As soon as I found out, I got my tickets and waited (impatiently), plotting all the delicious burgers I was going to enjoy. In case you’re not familiar, the Burger Brawl was started in 2011 by Restauranteur Rob Wasserman of Rouge/500 Degrees fame (who I got the pleasure of meeting by accident while taking a much needed burger time-out), and the proceeds go to support local Philadelphia-area schools by constructing new technology labs. Past winners include London Grill and Bobby Flay (which just so happen to be two of my favs).

I’d already tried a handful of the competitors that were participating this year and my strategy was to cover the burger bases that I hadn’t touched on yet like Misconduct Tavern and Percy Street BBQ (whose burger topped with ham and a cured egg yolk just happened to be my favorite of the bunch).

Percy St BBQ’s burger entry

There were all kinds of burgers on display in the competition, in many different shapes and sizes. Some decided to go the “slider” (or “mini burger”, if you want to get technical) route like Rouge and 10 Arts.

Rouge “slider”

Others were grilling up full sized patties and then slicing them into halves (like Table 31) or quarters (like The Industry); a slightly better strategy and easier to get out to the masses.

Table 31’s Burger Entry

The Industry Burger

There were burgers with crazy toppings like South Philly Tap Room’s Ham-Hamburger with Scott Schroeder’s Super Ham Salad, and Silk City’s Banh Mi Burger, which on top of the Vietnamese influences, contained a layer of liver pate! (Plus they both had awesome, detailed burger illustrations!)

I made it about halfway through the burgers before I eventually gave up and decided to take a timeout for about an hour. But unfortunately by the time I was ready for Round 2, most of the burger stations left were all out of meat! Luckily, I didn’t miss too many that I hadn’t already had like Alla Spina, The Dandelion and London Grill. The one I was most disappointed about missing was George Sabatino’s burger (his station was near the entrance when I came in, but his grill wasn’t set up yet). Luckily, Morgan’s Pier re-opens this Thursday, so I’ll have all summer long to try out this crazy burger that is supposed to be dipped in liquid nitrogen and deep fried!

So who were the big winners? The People’s Choice award went to Lucky’s Last Chance of Manayunk for their Peanut Butter, Bacon & Jelly burger! (Nice to get some neighborhood pride going!) I know that combination of things on a burger sounds kind of scary, but it was actually really good – and I don’t even like jelly!

Lucky’s Last Chance

And the Judge’s Choice went to Fat Jack’s BBQ for their “Ultimate Memphis Mauler Burger” topped with… Well, just read the description below; it’s certainly a mouthful:

Ultimate Memphis Mauler Burger

My indigestion considered, the Burger Brawl was an amazing event with an even more amazing turn out. I definitely can’t wait to check it out again next year – Hopefully it will be even bigger and better! And while you’re waiting for next year’s Burger Brawl, check out the rest of this year’s awesome burger action on our new Facebook page (Don’t forget to “LIKE” us while you’re there!): Facebook.com/ASideOfKetchup

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Ommegang Presents: Hop Chef

Last night was the Second Annual Hop Chef competition in Philadelphia, hosted by Ommegang, where six local chefs go head to head creating dishes that incorporate and pair with various beers from the brewery. Competitions are held in various cities, with the winners from each city being granted the opportunity to compete at the brewery’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown beerfest. (Last year, Philly’s own George Sabatino took home the crown!) This year’s competitors were Mike Deganis of Alla Spina, Lucio Palazzo from La Calaca Feliz, Nick Macri of Southwark, Pat Szoke from The Industry, Eli Kulp of Fork and Yun Fuentes from JG Domestic.

Look at all those handsome dudes!

So let’s take a look at the dishes:

The first one I tried was Yun Fuentes’ dish: A duck arepa with duck confit, jamon, a cherry-fig marmalade and a glaze incorporating the beer, Rare Vos – which was pairing for the dish. I thought the duck was succulent, and the marmalade gave it just the right amount of sweetness. The Rare Vos glaze definitely brought everything together as well; it was definitely the most balanced dish I had all night. (I liked this dish so much, I snuck seconds!)

Next up, Mike from Alla Spina’s BPA braised lamb neck with fava bean, mint fregola (a tiny round Italian pasta similar to couscous), topped with a BPA vinaigrette. While I did enjoy the lamb, the fava beans and pasta didn’t really add anything special to the dish (but it sure looked nice on the plate!)

Third was a Foie Gras hot dog, topped with kimchee relish & Abbey Ale mustard on an Abbey Ale potato roll, paired with an Abbey Ale pretzel topped with Cracker Jack & mustard powder and a potato wedge seasoned with Old Bay – “Crab Fries” style – from Eli Kulp of Fork. Having just been to Fork on Saturday, I thought this dish was quite a contrast to the upscale items on the restaurant’s menu (but that’s part of the challenge when having to incorporate beer and have it pair well with the beer as well, right?). I really enjoyed the Foie dog, but the solo potato wedge just seemed like it was just thrown in and didn’t complement anything else on the plate.  I got that it was supposed to be a ballpark tribute since Cooperstown is where the Baseball Hall of Fame is, but maybe sometimes less is more.

Nick “Meat Man” Macri of Southwark cooked up a dish of Hennepin cured coppa, pickled chilies, “Ballpark” nuts with grains of Paradise bread crumbs and an orange & coriander sauce. Because you can’t win friends with salad, but you can win friends with a meat salad!

Pat Szoke of The Industry created a “slider” of Three Philosophers braised beef short ribs with pickled long hots and a Three Philosophers cheddar sauce. I thought this was the worst dish at the event. I think the cheddar sauce completely drowned out the flavor of the short ribs ( it was just kind of slathered on top). It just seemed very sloppy and I thought that a better job could have been done given the quality of the food at the restaurant itself (I mean, they have buffalo sweetbreads on their menu, for crying out loud!)

Lastly was a lamb barbacoa taco on a hominy tortilla topped with watercress, radishes and a Witte consommé, made by Lucio Palazzo of La Calaca Feliz. Again, this is another one of those dishes where I felt there was a lot of reaching going on. I wasn’t sure how the consommé was supposed to work with the taco (because honestly, who is eating consommé with a taco?) And I get that tacos are pretty easy to make and for people to eat when they have to walk around a giant room sampling a bunch of other finger foods, but seeing as the taco was the main part of the dish and it didn’t even incorporate the beer, that was kind of disappointing. (I was also disappointed because this was the only dish that I had to wait on line for a long time for and I wish I hadn’t.)

So, drumroll please…. The People’s Choice winner was Yun Fuentes of JG Domestic and the Judges’ pick was Nick Macri of Southwark! Overall, I had a great time at the event and can’t wait to check it out again next year!

Double Take

I’d been promising myself that I’d get back over to The Industry to give their burger a second chance since the first time I was totally underwhelmed; the bun was too big for the single patty I’d ordered and it left me sad and unfulfilled. So I had a burger a do-over, doubling my efforts – literally – by ordering two patties instead of one.

The burger is 1/4lb ground brisket topped with red onion, Cabbot cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and pickle mayo (no preference is asked on how you want it cooked since the patties are fairly slim). The double patties definitely made a difference this time around. The burger was much juicier and more meaty, completely filling out the bun. I did still find myself with a small bun heel left over despite all the meat that had been sandwiched between it, but it was a vast improvement over my first, single patty burger there last year where I felt like there was so much bread overshadowing the burger itself. It just goes to show that sometimes giving things a second chance can make a big difference!

And if you needed more of an incentive to get your buns over to The Industry to check this burger out, Eater Philly just made it one of the top 15 burgers to try in Philly right now as part of Philly Burger Week!

Burger Rating (two patties): “B+”

Feelin’ Seedy…

…Or “A good bun is hard to find.”

I’ve expressed my disdain in the past for brioche burger buns, mostly because people get thrown off about the quality of a burger if it’s wedged between two shiny pieces of bread. But the fact of the matter is: a burger’s bun can really make or break the burger sometimes.

For example, this burger from Farmer’s Cabinet:

Looks totally great right? The bun felt really soft and tasted buttery – which overwhelmed the taste of the burger, so it was kind of disappointing. (I felt like I was getting the Paula Deen special.) Plus, even though it was flavored like butter, it was definitely not as smooth as butter. The bun’s buttery softness actually made it a little dry and crumbly, and the burger wasn’t juicy enough to even it out. Even with the amount of ketchup I tried putting on it, I felt like it was hard to swallow at times.

Example #2: One Mile House‘s Bowery Burger
Photo credit: Bridges, Burgers & Beer
The bun was just your basic, supermarket-style hamburger bun. Plus, the burger-to-bun ratio was totally off here. Bet you can guess what happened when I picked it up to eat it. It promptly began to fall apart in my hands – especially after adding ketchup and burger juices flowing. A bad boy burger like this needs some backup. You can’t just throw it on a whimpy potato roll! (Especially since it’s loaded down with all those toppings.)
But the Parliament Burger at Pub & Kitchen gets it right:
Good burger-to-bun ratio, gets everything nestled under there nicely, plus the adorable pickles on top. It was a sturdy bun, it looked good and it tasted delicious. It didn’t add or take anything away from the burger itself; it was the perfect compliment. (And did I mention how cute it looks!?)

However, sometimes great buns happen to not-so-great burgers:
Photo credit: Bridges, Burgers & Beer
Oh yeah, I want you inside me.

Here’s that trick I was telling you about: Using a sexy looking bun to reel  you in and trick you, while secretly disguising a less than stellar patty underneath.
Photo credit: Bridges, Burgers & Beer
It’s like the morning after the bar and you wake up next to someone realizing you had total beer goggles on the night before. Look how small that burger is compared to the bun! Not to say the burger itself wasn’t tasty. But I was eating a lot of bread most of the time when I was wishing I was biting into a delicious, juicy patty. (Industry Burger – The Industry, Philadelphia)
Let’s recap: A good bun should be – firm yet soft, stand up to anything you pile on top of it, be willing to take in anything that’s thrown it’s way, never overwhelm, look cute, taste delicious and go down easy. (FYI, these are the same things I look for in a relationship.Hey-o!)
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