Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Inaugural Burger Beast Miami Burger Tour

Sunday night, I participated in the inaugural Burger Beast Miami Burger Tour, organized by the big guy himself.  It was a gluttonously good time.  When I got home, I posted a hilarious video of what the tour reminded me of, a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time - Hamburger: the Motion Picture.  Today I'm getting a little more serious and providing my commentary on the restaurants that participated and the burgers themselves.

But first, a song to get you in the mood.  Hamburgers for America!

If you aren't familiar with the Burger Beast, take a minute and check out his blog where he writes about burgers 'round the clock.  I first met the Beast a few weeks ago at the Latin Burger & Taco Truck.  I had purchased a ticket to the Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Fest but then booked a business trip that overlapped, rendering my ticket useless.  I knew if anyone would be able to help me sell my ticket it was the Burger Beast himself.  He took the ticket off of my hands as a surprise gift to his wife, Marcela.  Yup, he's a real Softee.  We chatted while I beasted a Latin Macho Burger and I asked if he really eats burgers every day.  Much to my surprise, he doesn't actually eat burgers every day.  Ok, so it wasn't a big surprise and I commented that had he answered, "yes", my follow up question was going to be, "So, are you and your plumber on a first name basis?"  The Beast told me he was in the process of organizing a Miami Street Food Fest, inspired by all the mobile eats that had popped up all of the city as of late and later on he informed me that there was a lone seat left on the Burger Tour he had organized and asked if I wanted in.  Luckily, I was in between business trips and was able to attend.

The lineup for the Burger Beast Miami Burger Tour consisted of The Taurus in the Grove, The Filling Station in downtown Miami, and Burger & Beer Joint on Miami Beach.  Transportation to and from each stop on the tour was provided by Gus and Michelle of the Miami Tour Company who also run the blog, Miami Beach 411.  I was happy to finally meet Gus in person as he and I have exchanged comments on a few blog topics in the SoFL blogosphere and I've always thought he was a standup guy.  I was right.  Both he and Michelle are great and it's no surprise that their tour business is booming.

I met the group at The Taurus in the Grove, a mere couple of blocks from my home in Coconut Grove.  I had had tried their burger previously and recommended it to the Burger Beast while noting that the fries are the best I'd ever had.  The Taurus did a great job as leadoff hitter for the Burger Tour, setting each of us up with a 1/2 portion of their burger and a bunch of baskets of their truffle fries.  The burger was cooked medium without being too dry.  I usually don't like toppings on my burger but they didn't overdo it by piling toppings on too high so I scarfed down the burger, tomato, lettuce, and all.  It was a good burger but nothing to rant and rave about.  The fries, however, were a huge hit.  Fried super crispy and coated with truffle oil and a blend of seasonings, these fries were not long for this world.  Jen, from Dine Magazine, made the mistake of sharing a little basket with me.  I think she maybe got 4 fries.  I inhaled the rest. 

We loaded the tour bus and began our trek to the next stop - The Filling Station.  It was pretty cool that the bus had the tour audio going, dropping little nuggets of Miami history on us as it chugged through Coconut Grove and into downtown.  I was surprised to see that the Filling Station was located right around the corner from where I used to work when I had a job downtown.  We walked in and were greeted by a very friendly staff and this sign.

This burger was obviously gonna be awesome based on name alone

The Filling Station is a tiny joint with a menu that packs quite the variety of sandwiches and burgers along with some apps and salads.  The burgers all have auto-associated names like Julie's T-Bird (turkey burger), and more interesting burger combos like the Speed Racer (burger with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, jalapeno jack cheese, bacon and a fried egg) and the Super Sport (burger w/ creamy peanut butter(??!!??), peppered bacon, red onion and lettuce).  Steve's "Respect" Mobile sure earned my respect.  The burger was cooked to a nice medium and topped with a nice jerk-sauced pulled pork.  I had just had this combo at a bar in Minneapolis recently and loved it and the Filling Station's version was even better with the buttermilk ranch served on the side for burger dunking.  They also served up some tater tots with the burger along with some iced tea.  I thought the burger was very good and I'm definitely going to make plans to go back and try the Super Sport sometime as I'm dying to know what peanut butter on a burger with bacon tastes like.  More than anything though, I was really impressed at how friendly the staff was, from the owner on down the line.  Everyone seemed really pumped to be a part of the Burger Tour.  Hell, they aren't even open on Sunday night and opened just for the Burger Tour!

Once again, we boarded the tour bus and traversed over the causeway to Miami Beach to the last stop on the Burger Tour - Burger & Beer Joint.  I was already a huge fan of B&BJ, with my first experience detailed here.  Because of that, I wasn't too worried about the fact that I was already pretty full after 1.5 burgers, tots, and truffle fries.  I had been there, done that.  Burger & Beer Joint served up a slider version of what we thought was supposed to be their Thunder Road burger (burger, cheese, bacon, bbq sauce) along with some gigantic onion rings.  The burger was not the Thunder Road and instead was just a tiny patty with a little lettuce on top.  It was also cold which sucked.  If I wasn't already full and if this burger wasn't magnificently seasoned, I'd have been majorly disappointed.  But, even cold and sad looking, it was still pretty good.  The burger was cooked to a perfectly pink medium and the meat tasted fantastic and melted on the tongue.  The onion ring was impressive in size but just ok in taste.

Jacob Katel, from the Miami New Times Short Order blog, asked me what I thought about the tour and if I'd do it again.  I said that it was a great time and that they were probably going to have to wheel me outta there because I was so full!  I think I would definitely do the Burger Tour again but I think it would be better if it started a little earlier.  We got delayed a bit at the first stop which resulted in the last burger being consumed at 10pm at night, not very conducive to the whole digestive process.  All in all though, I thought the Burger Beast Miami Burger Tour was planned properly and executed well.  The Beast did a great job making sure everyone was set up for a good time and the value for the dollar was phenomenal.  Big thanks to the Burger Beast and the Miami Tour Company!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cobaya - The Social Experiment

A few weeks ago, the Cobaya group assembled for a killer Mardi Gras party dubbed "Cobaya Gras".  Since my good friends at Food for Thought and Mango & Lime already wrote up some nice recaps, I won't go "me too" and basically rehash the same experience from my point of view.  Instead, I'd like to share what I find to be the best and most fascinating part of these dinners outside of the food itself: the social aspect.

The first dinner event I attended with total strangers happened in October of 2008 at what was once called Paradigm: The Test Kitchen, a restaurant within a restaurant at the Trump Hotel in Sunny Isles.  Fired up by a post I'd read on Chowhound where Mr. Frodnesor described a previous Paradigm dinner he attended where no menu was offered and different techniques were used to create an interesting meal, I was eager to check it out.  It was also an opportunity to meet some of the folks who exchange ideas and info on the Chowhound board under their various screen names like lax2mia, jmdsmiami, and 2top.

The meal was an experience more than it was a meal.  The chefs came out between each course and explained their source of inspiration behind each dish along with its' ingredients and - in some cases like the banana pho where we formed our own noodles via squeeze bottle into hot broth - how we would become part of creating the dish.  I thought the food was great but the exchange of knowledge was the best part for me.  It seemed that the rest of the group felt the same way.  The other part of the meal that I enjoyed was the company.  I had met some really cool people that I probably would not have had the chance to meet otherwise.  We were a motley crew indeed - a bartender with a bevy of good stories, a lawyer and a judge, a cruise liner employee and his girlfriend.  All of this made possible by an insatiable appetite and a willingness to blindly put our taste buds and hard earned dollars into the hands of a group of chefs, trusting that they would create something memorable for us to enjoy.  The conversation throughout the night rarely left the culinary realm.  It was awesome in a completely nerdy kinda way. 

After another get together with some Chowhound folks at Sra Martinez and a few rounds of a "pizza crawl" to determine the best pizza in Miami (where I was blown away when splitting the check between 15-25 strangers was no problem at all), a smaller group of us gathered again at the Trump to serve as "guinea pigs" for some menu changes that were to be made.  It was here, at the valet stand, that the concept of Cobaya was born, offering chefs a creative outlet to cook what they wanted to cook for an audience that trusted the professional chef and eat whatever was placed in front of them.  The first dinner was a smashing success, one that I dubbed the best meal that I consumed in 2009.  Once again, the company made for a great night and everyone seemed fired up to talk food all night long.

Fast forward to present day Miami.  I still find myself sitting at a communal table eating dinner with the folks who were once strangers but who I now call friends.  That original group of eleven strangers has ballooned to a head-scratching 281 people!  Thirty-six people attended Cobaya Gras, undoubtedly our most entertaining and fun event yet, with plenty more wanting in on the action.  Once again I was in awe of the spirit of the attendees and the chefs who traveled to Hollywood from as far as Pinecrest(!!) to eat, drink, and be merry.  And in a rainstorm nonetheless!  I spent a decent amount of time getting to know everyone I hadn't met yet and occasionally stepped back for a quiet moment by myself where I watched everyone interacting with one another.  People of different ages, genders, and backgrounds interacting with one another, all united by the need for sustenance and the passion to obtain it as creatively as possible.  I watched as the chefs talked about each dish, its' origin, and the twist they were putting on it to make it a true Cobaya experience.  The crowd listened like students in a lecture hall, except instead of looks of confusion they wore smiles from ear to ear.  It was a funny observation that I had discussed with the Burger Beast the first time I met him in a parking lot where the Latin Burger & Taco Truck had setup shop for the afternoon - the smiles and looks of excitement and happiness on the faces of people about to experience a meal in a different way than they were used to.

I once told Chef K and Chadzilla that their grilled green onion dip was so awesome it could end wars.  Based on the way that the Cobaya dinners have brought people of all different backgrounds together and resulted in some epically great times, perhaps that is not such a far-fetched idea.

To get in on the action, join the Cobaya Miami Google Group here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Exclusive Footage From the Inaugural Burger Beast Burger Tour!!

Just finished up the Inaugural Burger Beast Burger Tour and thought I'd share some exclusive footage of our last stop on the tour while I take a few days to compile my thoughts on the tour stops and burgers themselves.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bourbon of the Month - February 2010

You heard about my Bourbon of the Year for 2009 back in January, so I thought I'd continue the series and deliver my Bourbon of the Month each month.

This month I'm highlighting one of my favorite every day* bourbons - Eagle Rare.  Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is bottled from a single charred oak barrel and not blended with other barrels.  This creates a unique flavor for each barrel from which bottles are filled and then marked with their barrel number and the dates in which they were aged (in many cases though not all).  

Eagle Rare was first introduced by Seagrams in 1975 as a 101-proof bourbon before it was sold to the Sazerac Company in 1989, eventually ending up at the Buffalo Trace Distillery (what I also call Bourbon "Mecca") where it is produced today in two varieties.  The first variety is aged for 10 years and bottled at 90 proof.  This is the one you can find at many liquor stores and sitting on many bar shelves across the country.  The bourbon has a nose that begins with a grainy note to it and then quickly transforms into bourbon notes of charcoal and hints of banana.  The palate starts toasty and oak-y, then explodes with flavors of dried fruit, char, and spice.  The finish is a pleasant alcohol burn sweet with caramel undertones.  This is likely the sweetness of the corn shining through.  It's a surprisingly smooth finish to what begins as a spicy explosion on the palate.  This isn't a sissy-boy bourbon but it's no ass kicker either.  I like to sip it neat or with a single ice cube but I also will occasionally have one on the rocks as the flavors are strong enough to put up with a little watering down.  Eagle Rare 10 year is a phenomenal value bourbon that I've found anywhere between $25 and $30 per 750ml bottle.

The second variety of Eagle Rare is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and is bottled at the same 90 proof as the 10 year variety.  The difference is that this bourbon is aged for 17 years.  The extra 7 years in the barrel really allows the contents to pick up more of the flavor from the charred oak and results in a much darker amber color to the bourbon rather than the lighter honey color of the 10 year variety.**  The nose of the 17 year variety of Eagle Rare starts dry with that familiar note of grain and then opens up a bit, revealing leather, char, caramel, and spice.  The palate begins the same way - slightly dry before giving way to an explosion of dried fruit, almond, char, leather, and caramel.  The finish has a bit more pep than the 10 year variety but remains smooth with a nice warming feel from the alcohol as it heads down the throat.  I enjoy this bourbon neat.  It's flavors are more delicate and I find ice to have too much of a dulling effect on the taste.  Eagle Rare 17 year is an very impressive bourbon that I like to save for special occasions.  This is largely due to its price being anywhere from $65 to $70 per 750ml bottle due to limited production and the length of the aging process.  The 2008 version, for example, used 62 hand selected 53 liquid gallon barrels that yielded just over 17 gallons per barrel of bourbon after the aging process was completed.  This results in an availability of about 5400 bottles, that's it folks.  I was lucky enough to score a bottle this past fall at Total Wine & Spirits and that bottle still sits about half full on my bar today along with a bottle of the 10 year.

For the casual bourbon drinker, I definitely recommend giving Eagle Rare 10 year a shot next time you have the chance.  I know many bars in Miami are carrying it and, in fact, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink just made it their house bourbon.  Great move.  The more advanced bourbon drinker should keep an eye on the bourbon section of your favorite spirits store come fall to make sure you don't miss out on the 2010 variety of Eagle Rare 17 year bourbon.  That or see if you can buy online but be wary of pricing as online prices can and usually will be inflated. 

 * An every day bourbon is a bourbon that's price, flavor, and alcohol content are manageable enough that one could drink a glass every day
**the pics I'm displaying don't seem to showcase much of a difference in color most likely because I think they are trade renderings that I got from the Buffalo Trace website not actual product pics

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Killer Deal for Your Super Bowl Party

We all know a good deal when we see one but every once in awhile a killer deal comes around that makes the purchase decision a no brainer.  I happened to find out about a deal for a Super Bowl feast that very well may be the best food-related deal I've ever come across.  Ever.  I could go on and on about how incredible this deal is using words like sweet, rad, awesome, and other descriptive words of enjoyment I've held onto from the 80s but instead I'll just cut to the chase.

Check out this kickass menu that Chef Alan Hughes has created for you and your buds to scarf down on Super Bowl Sunday.  It feeds "10 hungry beasts" and there is enough food here to keep everyone satiated during pregame, midgame, and postgame beer drinking events.  And it's only $250.00!!  That's $25 a head!!  You will probably spend more on one case of beer that only you and one other dude will enjoy (if you're doing it right)!!  All you need to be able to do is fire up a grill and get your 'cue on.

Taken from Chef Alan Hughes' website:

Attention Football Fans

This superbowl you can shine and impress your friends! Order the Menu To-Go which includes uncooked marinated steaks and chicken for your grilling to be easier and improve your culinary profile.

Superbowl Menu To-Go

  • 10 12oz Marinated Rib Eye Steaks
  • 12 16oz Black Angus Burgers with complete set-up
  • 10 lbs of Chipotle-barbecue Marinated Chicken Legs
  • 12 Shrimp wrapped in Bacon skewers
  • 3 Dips and assorted Chips
  • Black Bean Salad
  • Classic Caesar’s Salad
  • Tequila-Lemon Bars with Maldon Salt

$ 250 Serves Ten hungry beasts!

Honestly, this is the deal of all deals for a total man feast of epic proportions.  Hit up the website to place an order!

You're welcome!