2011 Burger Bash Tent (photo: Paula Nino)
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival took place again this past weekend on Miami Beach and this year I snagged a ticket to go to the Burger Bash for the first time. Unlike last year where I purchased a ticket to this event and then booked a business trip that overlapped it, I was in Miami and ready to find some burgers and scarf 'em down!
For those not familiar with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SBWFF), it is an annual event held on Miami Beach that glorifies all that is gluttonous and able to be imbibed. Food Network is a sponsor so there's lots of famous chefs from that station doing cooking demos and signing boobs and stuff. Pretty cool but not really. Luckily there are lots of other chefs who descend on South Beach without the need for bodyguards (seriously??). Well, anyways, one of the events that is part of the festival is the Burger Bash where 26 culinary competitors man a booth underneath a giant tent on the sand, fire up their grills, and serve crazy amounts of burger awesomeness to a packed house. Amstel Light is a sponsor as well so there are also plenty of beers to fill you up even more. It was hot under the tent so it didn't take long to get a nice meat sweat going before being covered with smoke billowing from the grills. Let's just say I left there smelling like awesome topped with awesome and extra awesome sauce.
Burger Bash Menu & Map (Click to enlarge)
With 26 burgers to eat, there is no way you're gonna hit them all (effectively). My strategy was to eliminate some as soon as I saw the preview menu the day before. I eliminated 7 that I didn't want to try because I'd already had them, they're local and I can get them whenever, and/or they sound lame:
-Burger & Beer Joint (local)
-BLT Steak (local)
-Town Kitchen & Bar (how the hell were they in this thing????)
-QSine (cruise ship burger? lame...)
-South Beach Living (chicken burger? lame...)
-Simply Delicioso (unless Ingrid Hoffman is topless in the booth)
Charm City Burger Co's "Kurabuta Cowboy" (photo: Paula Nino)
That left me with 19 left to try and a sincere doubt I could handle that. After all, I'm no Burger Beast. To make a long story short (for once), I started feeling a little full after about the fourth burger I tried. They are served cut into fours or as mini-burgers and I was a little hungry so I almost finished 3 out of 4 instead of just taking a few bites and moving on. The tent was hot and choosing to drink a beer didn't help either. The best thing I did was bring a little Evan Williams Single Barrel in a flask so I sipped that instead of beer and told myself that the bourbon would help the digestive process. In the end, I had 12 burgers and a bite of a 13th. I was on a ground beef high.
Frita from El Mago de la Frita (photo: Paula Nino)
One of my favorite local Miami spots got a booth this year - El Mago de la Frita!! El Mago was there himself working his magic on the flat top, busting out fritas for the crowd. Everyone in the El Mago booth was friendly and energetic. They gave away bottle openers and beer coozies with the El Mago logo on it and I even scored a cigar! I was proud of them for really making an effort to maximize their exposure. If you haven't been to see El Mago, I demand that you do so soon. There you can get your frita with a fried egg and a little cheese if you're a gringo like me. Plus you can meet El Mago himself, the frita magician. I was pumped when I saw El Mago walking back to his booth after the winners were announced and got to shake his hand and say "good job". He didn't win but I'm not sure there were any other burger contestants who've cooked for the President!
The Schlow Burger from Radius (photo: Paula Nino)
My favorite burger overall was Michael Symon's "YO!" burger. It was topped with provolone and the chef's "ShaSha sauce" and had a thin slice of fried salami and a basil leaf that combined with the burger patty to form a really unique flavor. I finished that entire burger and it got my vote. I also enjoyed the burger from Radius, a Boston spot that had won a few years prior, and the burger from Charm City Burger Co who are a local SoFlo burger joint. Biggest disappointment was Morimoto's burger. The sauce overpowered the meat and it just tasted bland. Same with the one from Ritz Bistro One LR. It boasted of bacon and foie gras but somehow had no distinct flavor whatsoever which floored me. Also disappointing was how loud the goddamn music was. I couldn't hear anyone when they were trying to speak to me and most of the time me and whomever I was talking to would have to repeat ourselves 2-5 times before we finally understood each other.
B Spot's winning "YO!" Burger (photo: Paula Nino)
Michael Symon's burger ended up winning the People's Choice Award while Marc Murphy of Landmarc (which I wasn't able to try) won the Judge's Award. Chef Symon also won the award for "Best Dressed" Burger because of the ShaSha sauce.
You hear stories of SBWFF events with booths that run out of food/drink and/or get oversold but the Burger Bash seemed to get it right. It's always a good time hangin' with my great friends Paula, David, and Jackie at these events too. It was a fun night and I met a lot of great people and will most likely do it again next year.