I just love a challenge. Actually, it's fairer to say I love being the guest judge at a challenge when other people have to cook for me. Who wouldn't want that gig? I not only get a free meal (or the equivalent of three or four meals, which is most often the case), but I also have the fate of someone who knows how to cook much better than I in my hands.
So it was with great pleasure that I accepted South Florida Today's offer to serve as one of three judges for a Burger Challenge last Friday. The cook-off, which took place around 11 a.m., was held outside, and each of the four contenders was given a barbecue from The BBQ Depot in Hollywood. Chefs from Burger & Beer Joint's Brickell location, South Beach's 8 oz. Burger Bar, Coral Springs' Big Bear Brewing Company, and Georgie's Alibi from Wilton Manors wrestled with chilly, high winds that kept blowing out their precious flames while I sat back and wondered who was going to bring out my most carnal carnivorous desires. Just to make sure I wasn't going to be tricked with tofu, prunes, or any other "mysterious" or laxative-type ingredient, I walked grill to grill and confirmed yes, indeed, there was real meat to be had. My stomach was psyched.
Fellow judges Sef "Burger Beast" Gonzalez and BBQ Depot's prez, Michael Hollander, discussed what they sought from the chefs, but then somebody on the periphery outed Hollander, proclaiming him a guy with a preference for the plain Jane variety. Gonzalez had tougher criteria, of course, since the man has swallowed more meat in our fair city than anyone, patties down. He wanted to be wowed. No small feat. Yours truly wanted to be surprised, amazed, and inspired. I required soft bun, zippy toppings, savory beef, and that certain je ne sais quois that would make me want to shove the whole thing in my handbag and run for a nice, quite place to engulf my treasure in peace...
I thought I had found it in 8 oz.'s entry, the Bison burger topped with garlic-roasted tomato, blue cheese, bacon crumbles, and fried onions. The other judges agreed, especially after deeming Georgie's Champ burger, a beef patty topped with American cheese, caramelized onions, and a not-kicky-enough chipotle aioli, kinda boring. [That's not saying much for the folks in Fort Lauderdale, either, who voted it the 2010 winner of the Riverwalk Trust Burger Battle.] Then Big Bear's Bistro burger with bacon, garlic-mustard mayo, brie, and balsamic caramelized onions came out of the gate strong, surprising us with a sesame seed bun, to boot. Yet when B&B's Mustang Sally rode in with her wagyu, red onion marmalade, brie, sliced prosciutto, and brioche bun stamped with the restaurant's logo, the male judges made up their minds. This sweet, salty, rich entry was too much to resist. I still leaned toward 8 oz.'s bison, but conceded realizing the clock was ticking and only one winner could walk away with the coveted trophy which, strangely enough, was a ripped and sunglass-wearing gold guy in flip-flops, pointer finger raised to the sky.
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Congrats to executive chef Carlos Barillas for becoming our burger-making bestie. And thanks for showing that other county north of here who's got the beef. Booyah!