You know those cows from the Chick-fil-a commercials, the ones that want you to eat more chicken? This was so not their scene. Picture 13 of the best burgers in Phoenix, all gathered at Scottsdale Stadium for a gladiator-style showdown, and you've got Scottsdale Culinary Festival's annual Burger Battle.
This year's contestants: Ben and Jack's Steakhouse, Bootleggers Modern American Smokehouse, Casino Arizona, Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers, Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row, El Hefe, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Kazimierz World Wine Bar, Kelly's at Southbridge, Ingo's Tasty Food, RnR Gastropub, Tavern Americana and Zinburger. Also in attendance were Nothing Bundt Cakes, Petersen's Old Fashioned Ice Cream & Coffee, Jennie O and Simplot.
A new contender claimed the Judges' Choice Award this year - Austin-based Hopdoddy Burger Bar, which opened its Scottsdale location in 2013. Hopdoddy's winning entry was the Goodnight Burger with Bacon, and it is definitely worthy of the distinction. A juicy, flavorful beef patty is served on a dense egg bun, with hickory BBQ sauce, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, Tillamook cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce and the restaurant's signature Sassy Sauce. Sliced jalapeños provide just the right amount of kick. Hopdoddy always delivers, its hard-to-say name notwithstanding, but the Goodnight Burger is particularly great.
Meanwhile, longtime local favorite Zinburger took home the People's Choice award for the second year in a row. (This is Zinburger's third year winning a prize; in 2012, it won the Judges' Choice award.) This year Zinburger entered the "Chuck Norris" burger, created especially for the event. Like the Goodnight, the Chuck Norris had cheddar and applewood smoked bacon, but it was the perfectly fried onion ring (crispy but not greasy) and "Country Zin sauce" that set it apart.
We had another new contestant this year in Ingo's, a Central Phoenix burger joint from LGO Hospitality. Although it didn't claim either of the big prizes, I'm giving Ingo's Paris, Texas, Burger, an unofficial award for cutest buns. No bigger than a silver dollar, they encompassed a perfect bite of ground beef, apple BBQ sauce, pancetta, sharp cheddar, lettuce, and crunchy dill pickle.
In a thoroughly unscientific study conducted mostly by eavesdropping on other parties, I found that Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers was getting some buzz for its Old Town Burger. While the "garlic aioli" tasted like plain ol' mayo to me - and too much of it at that - the ground chuck beef really sang. This patty brought to mind the best, juiciest burger ever made at a backyard BBQ, and really, what more could you ask for?
Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row served up an Italian-inspired twist on the American burger, using ground veal, tomato marmalade, and melted smoked provolone, served on toasted garlic bread. While it definitely seemed more like a meatball sub than a Big Mac, the Meatball Burger was delicious, and a nice respite from the plethora of beef options on hand.
RnR Gastropub took home the 2013 Judges' Choice trophy with its Brussels sprouts bacon cheeseburger. This year, RnR brought an au gratin chorizo burger - a pork chorizo and beef patty with au gratin potatoes, New Mexico crema chili sauce, and caramelized onions. The au gratin potatoes were delicious, but the patty itself lacked kick and could even be called bland.
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Speaking of bland, one burger that wasn't came from Tavern Americana. The Niman Ranch beef in the Napa Burger was juicy and flavorful and came on a soft, fresh, flour-dusted buttermilk bun that tasted like a really good dinner roll. Points also go to Bootleggers for their delicious pretzel bun. (Although, like RnR, their patty was a bit underwhelming.)
The takeaway: this town is a great place for burger lovers. Don't tell those cows from Chick-fil-A, but I sampled all 13 options at this year's Burger Battle. (Yes, all 13.) I even found a few new favorites, some of which I will definitely eat again. Just give me a few weeks, or maybe months. Right now a little chicken doesn't sound so bad.