This hometown comfort-food version of the James Beard Awards began in 2009, when Burger Beast food blogger Sef Gonzalez decided to host his own awards celebrating the foods and restaurants that might have been overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of South Beach eateries.
"The blogosphere was a different world eight years ago," Gonzalez says. "A lot of stuff I started writing about was forgotten by the mainstream food media. People who lived in Coral Gables, Westchester, and Hialeah were familiar with the restaurants I went to, and I thought it was cool to give out awards to foods like croquetas and things that aren't talked about."
The first year of the Burgies, Gonzalez handed out nine awards. This year, there will be awards in 14 categories, ranging from "Best Chef" and "Best Burger" to "Best Pan con Lechón."
Gonzalez says that every summer, he chooses the categories for the awards, posts them on his site, and asks fans for nominations. He then chooses the final nominees from suggestions and adds a few essential nominees. "If I'm going to do a best burger award, I want some of my favorite people to be in the nomination process." The voting, however, is completely in the hands of the people. "The voters choose, hands down. It's legit." Voting ends three days before the awards ceremony. To make things fair, Gonzalez deletes multiple votes from the same IP address. "One of the difficult things is to keep the voting without any shenanigans going on. Whoever thinks I'm not going to check IP addresses is wrong. I do." Last year, there were about 4,000 unique votes, and this year's final count is expected to surpass that number.
What makes the Burgies unique is the blending of mom-and-pop joints that sell $4 meals with the big boys in the awards process. Gonzalez says his first inclination was to break down categories by price point, but his followers nixed that idea. "When I did my Top 25 burger list, I was going to break it down by price categories. I asked people what they thought, and they said I should just post best burgers overall." At the end of the day, it's all about the taste and not the price. "Take croquetas, for instance. They're like a dollar each, and some people would argue they're the best appetizer or snack in the world." The Burgies might be one of the few times when restaurants like Golden Fig and Islas Canarias could complete for the same title (best croqueta).
Gonzalez says the main reason for the Burgies is to call attention to parts of Miami that aren't the usual tourist destinations. "I love to see people from out of town Instagramming from different restaurants in other parts of Miami. I love to see them delve past the Beach and MiMo. Not that there aren't great restaurants there, but I'd like people to make their way to El Mago de las Fritas in West Miami, Finka, and Pincho Factory and find out what it's all about out here."
If you haven't voted, visit theburgies.com to have your say. The polls are open until January 13. Then head to Magic City Casino Saturday, January 16, from 5 to 10 p.m. for the Burgie Awards ceremony to see the winners live. Admission is free, and the evening will include live art and concerts by Mandrina and two other bands. Attendees will also have the opportunity to purchase fare from food trucks and nominated restaurants.
What to eat? Gonzalez recommends checking out Pincho Factory's Croquetesa. This burger/croqueta hybrid consists of a three-meat-blend patty breaded, fried, and then topped with Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo on a brioche roll. The sandwich, which won the people's choice award at Burger Bash during the 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, is available only a few times a year. "If you haven't had it before, you have to try it, and this is an opportunity for fans to eat it again, since it's currently not available at the restaurant."
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.