Judging by the bustling crowd at Scottsdale Stadium on Thursday evening, it's safe to say the second annual Burger Battle at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival was quite the success. I know I had a great time. But then, when you can smell the aroma of sizzling burgers from almost a quarter-mile away, it's a good sign that you're heading in to something good.
The field was a little smaller this year with 11 competitors, plus two dessert peddlers and two corporate sampling stations (Jennie-O turkey burgers and Simplot frozen fries). Live music was provided by The Walkens (just like last year), and the fine folks at Leinenkugel's ensured everyone's whistles were thoroughly wet.
A number of returning contestants brought the same burgers they made last year. My absolute favorite of the bunch was North Scottsdale's Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers, whose Steakhouse Truffle Burger was everything I want in a burger, turned Up To Eleven. The patty was seared and seasoned, the bacon was crisp, and a light drizzle of truffle oil sent the whole thing over the top.
I was greatly amused that CB&CB brought along its mascot, a giant dancing cheeseburger. The hapless guy inside was hyperkinetic the entire evening, dancing in that costume for close to three hours solid. As someone who has been in one of those suits (don't ask), I have no idea how he did it; it's like going out dancing while wrapped up in several warm blankets. I can only hope that in his spare time, he's a marathon runner.
El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria once again brought its Signature Burger. I can't blame them for the repeat; it won People's Choice last year. Their jalapeño marmalade brings the whole thing together. Since I'm a born-and-bred desert rat, it's only natural I'd enjoy something smothered with jalapeño.
One burger that I thought stood out was the Korean-Style Short Rib Burger from Culinary Dropout. In a field that mostly played it safe, the sweet-and-salty glazed burger with pickled vegetables really shined.
But who won the whole shebang?
The Judges' Choice winner this year was RnR's Brussels Burger (pictured at the top of Page 1), a bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions and Brussels sprouts on a pretzel bun. I thought it was a darn fine burger. There was something about it that was a little off-balance to me, keeping it just shy of true burger greatness. Still, I may have to go try a full-size one some time soon.
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People's Choice went to last year's Judges' Choice, the Kobe Beef Burger from Zinburger. I went contrary to popular opinion; this one was my least favorite of the lot. While the Zinfandel-braised onions and sautéed exotic mushrooms were a nice (if slightly meek) touch, I thought the base burger just sucked. The meat was overworked into a blob that more resembled pâté. Then, in an effort to keep the burger juicy, the cooks didn't sear the patty at all. I don't know about you, but I'll take the occasional overcooked but properly seared burger over a gray medium-rare any day. A burger like this is proof positive to me that Kobe burgers are only better for restaurateurs' pocketbooks. And, if you think that was real Kobe beef, I have a bridge to sell you.
All told, the Burger Battle made a great prelude to this weekend's Great Arizona Picnic. The night was gorgeous, and it was obvious that competitors and diners alike were all having a really swell time. My only hope for next year is that some of the repeat players change things up a little bit instead of doing the exact same thing three years in a row. Oh, speaking of next year, burger maestri: It's okay to serve tiny slices of burgers. Eighths instead of this year's quarters are fine. I'm grateful for your generosity, but the only way most people can sample every burger is to take one bite (maybe a bite and a half), ditch the rest, and move on. If people want more, they can come back for seconds.
And now, if you'll excuse me, after sampling almost a dozen burgers washed down with copious amounts of Leinenkugel's beer, I'm going to go lie down and roll around like a python that just swallowed a whole hippo.