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Bursting With Burgers

May 23, 2018

Part of me feels like I failed you. As a judge in the New York Beef Council’s Best Burger contest, I didn’t think it would be right for me to lobby for a particular burger in the nomination phase of the promotion.

So it’s possible you may not even have known that the contest was under way. Surely, if I had taken a more active role, you would have helped to make sure Swifty’s deep fried buffalo burger scored a spot in the top ten.

This contest took place in three phases.

Phase one was public nominations, which were then whittled down to ten. Then came the voting on the top ten, with glamor shots of each featured burger. And once the field was narrowed down to four, a team of Yelp Elites went out to sample each of the burgers, and evaluate them on taste, texture, and appearance.

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Actually, I got to be on a team with Steve N. who wrote up the experience on his newly redesigned blog. If you want pictures, or the details of the burgers, you’ll need to go to Steve’s site.

What I wanted to share was less the play by play, and more some of the deeper learnings.

1) Beef on Beef
Have you ever heard of putting roast beef on top of a hamburger? Because our final four had two of these, and the fact that both were from Central New York does not feel like an accident.

I think it’s a thing. And it’s delicious.

You shouldn’t think of this as deli roast beef. It’s more like cooked shaved ribeye. And that puts it in the realm of cheesesteak territory. So just imagine this for a minute. It’s beef on beef. But two different flavor profiles and textures. It’s kind of brilliant.

Seriously, why don’t we see more of this? And why did I never encounter anything like it during all my years in Philadelphia. Maybe it exists, and somehow the beef topped burger just never made it onto my radar.

2) Fatty McFatterson
There are two words that I never thought I would utter when it came to food, and those are “too fatty”. Give me some whipped lardo on chicharon and I’m a happy man. Fry me up some chicken skin in chicken fat, and use those to top a little chicken liver pate, and watch me bliss out in pure joy. Watch me spread butter on bread like it was a chunk of brie. Duck fat fries in bone marrow aioli? I think you get the picture.

I love my fats, but I met my match in the form of the Loose Caboose in Herkimer.

My suspicion is that it’s not called the “Loose Caboose” by accident. I think the greasy burger with oily cheese, fatty roast beef, streaked bacon, and a crispy fried egg might have a gastrointestinal impact on those who consume it.

For me, it was just too fatty. It needed something to break though and provide a little relief. Pickles, iceberg lettuce, raw onion… anything. It was just heavy on heavy. And it broke the man who love his hamburgers deep fried, slathered in a butter sauce, and topped with blue cheese dressing.

It’s delicious to be sure, but proceed with caution.

3) Well Done, Juicy, and Tender
Props to the good folks at Uncle’s Tavern in New York Mills. Their Bacon Infused Burger may not have lived up to its name—it was more stuffed and topped with bacon than infused with the smoked and cured pork belly—but that’s a small matter.

What I’m still impressed with was the tender texture, and juiciness of the well done burger we were presented. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and I can’t get it out of my mind. This is coming from someone who loves burgers pink all the way through with a warm red center.

I would love to come back to this neighborhood tavern for another more basic burger in the hopes that it might be cooked to the same temperature with the same care. This is what hand forming patties gets you. It’s worth the effort people. And cook those burgers gently.

4) The Devil’s Condiment
It’s worth noting that none of the top four burgers came with ketchup on them.

As judges, Steve and I ate them as presented. When asked about internal temperature, we specified medium rare. But even a perfect medium rare can’t make a 95% lean burger less dry. Fortunately, and avalanche of deep fried onion petals can help in that regard. However, then the fried onion flavor drowns out the taste of the beef.

Let me just tell you how happy that made me. I’m thrilled that better burger places aren’t drowning out the flavor of their food with an overly sweet tomato sauce.


In the end, the judges were unanimous. The roast-beef-topped Power Play burger from Ale ‘N’ Angus Pub in Syracuse won the day. Even more impressive, it was the last stop after we had been eating burgers for hours. More precisely, this was the burger that followed the fat bomb from Crazy Otto’s in Herkimer.

More than anything I want to return to most of these places. Maybe I can try and order a Loose Caboose with raw onions and pickles. Or perhaps some hot cherry peppers might help bring that bad boy into balance.

Whatever the case, this was a fantastic experience, and I’m thankful to Yelp and the NY Beef Council for the opportunity.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2018 5:10 pm

    I have, to a certain degree, grown weary of the over-stacked over-complicated hamburger. There is a time and a place, yes. But to me, there are few things better than a well cooked, medium-rare, 70/30 or so chuck burger with a slice of plastic cheese, a slice of raw white onion, lettuce and tomato.

  2. Dave permalink
    May 24, 2018 5:21 am

    We like Swifty’s on Everett Rd. for burgers

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