Neely's BBQ Parlor
The Neelys probably shouldn't have named this the "WTF Burger." It's really just too easy. A cacophony of toppings—pepper jack and American cheeses, smokehouse bacon, pulled pork, chipotle barbecue sauce, and cole slaw—left me overwhelmed and confused, clutching a soggy, dripping bun. So yeah...Patrick, Gina, WTF?!
North End Grill
North End had me at "short rib." Some pickled grilled onions and chipotle mayo added spice and creaminess, but these guys kept it pretty simple and let the juicy meat speak for itself. A side of twice-fried potato skins were spicy, crisp, and all around addictive.
Schnipper's Classic Burger was exactly that. Well-charred, with a special cheese blend, caramelized onions, thick cut bacon, baby arugula, and Schnipper sauce. Served with thick cut potato chips and a chipotle-ranch dipping sauce, it left me contented and a few steps closer to stuffed.
Related: Schnipper's review »
It's no surprise that Shake Shack seemed to be one of the only restaurants truly equipped to churn out burgers at such high volume. Doling out their latest menu addition, the Smoke Shack, they were as reliable as ever. Would that I'd had the room for their tantalizing side of Pumpkin Pie, Oh My concrete.
Related: Smoke Shack review »
Old Homestead Steakhouse at Bortega Hotel Casino & Spa
A prime chuck and brisket blend made for a nice fatty, beefy patty. Unfortunately, alarming events unfolded. Glancing at my burger, I was intrigued to see that it contained a hard boiled egg yolk; it was a difficult bite to swallow when I discovered it was in fact a giant ball of congealed American cheese. What can I say? It was dark and that definitely should not have happened.
Related: Old Homestead review »
Sons of Essex
Descriptions for this burger were all over the place. Bacon-crusted, blue-cheese stuffed, an unidentified sauce. At the end of the day, it wasn't really important. Smoky and moist, with a blue-cheese induced punch, this burger meant business, and it did its business well. The side of truffle mac 'n cheese with Gruyère was pleasantly creamy, but I could've done without the cloying artificial truffle flavoring, which overpowered the cheese.
Cast Iron advertised toppings of cheddar, pickles, fried onions, and special sauce. Sadly, their proportions were way off the mark. The bun dwarfed the patty, and the only other notable component was the pickles. All was not lost—their bacon tator tots with chives and sour cream powder had a crisp shell and soft, fluffy core.
The Capital Grille
I was ready to call it a night when I spotted this wagyu cheeseburger. With a glistening quail egg and translucent fried onions, it looked too good to pass up. Far and away my favorite burger of the evening, it was served with a side of crispy, cloud-like white cheddar and chive tater tots.
The French pastry chef manned one of the dessert tables, serving those intrepid eaters with enough space for dessert.
Michael White Accepts Judge's Choice Award
White joined Rachel Ray and Pat LaFrieda at the front of the stage to accept his $1000 check and shiny burger trophy. The other judges, including Anne Burrell and Adam Richman, voted for their favorite burgers after a blind taste test.
Josh Capon Accepts the People's Choice Award
Capon was crazy enthused to accept his third running people's choice win, giving a rousing speech interspersed with shout-outs to his fans (and the New York Yankees). In this picture, Rachael Ray gives him a congratulatory head rub.
Capon was happy to pose for a few photo ops with his heavyweight belt and trophy.
A real beauty, the winner's trophy comes with burger poised on top.
Burger & Barrel
Josh Capon wooed guests with his Bash Burger, which landed him the people's choice award and grand prize of $5,000. Unfortunately, my patty was dry and overcooked, though savory toppings of caramelized onions, bacon jam, shaved pickles, and American cheese helped redeem the experience.
Related: Burger & Barrel review »
This burger had balls! Like, literally (chuckle chuckle). Michael White took home the judge's first prize (and a person-sized check for $1000) for this miniaturized burger, which was paired with Nueske's bacon, white American cheese, McClure's pickles, and mustard. Two airy potato fritters were skewered directly onto the bun, keeping the whole creation nice and finger food-friendly.
Artisanal upped the cheeseburger ante on Friday, yielding one of my favorite bites of the night. A Romano cheese roll sandwiched twin patties: one, a special hamburger blend; the other, a melty cheese croquette. The generous serving of gooey, nutty cheese was a bold move; luckily the breading was crisp and the proportions were just right. A zesty side of pickled beef tongue coleslaw was the perfect partner for the rich burger.
Bobby's Burger Palace
Bobby Flay's was the first burger I ate, and also one of the most memorable. The patty had a beautiful char and crisp crust that yielded to a moist, rare center. Toppings of fresh goat cheese, watercress, and honey mustard added some pleasant tang, but the real winner was his signature Burger Bash addition of crisp, salty potato chips.
Related: Bobby's Burger Palace review »
Go Burger's Steakhouse Burger with caramelized onions looked so adorable that I really, really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, it was mealy, flavorless, and cooked to a sad, gray well-done.
Related: Go Burger review »
Gotham Bar and Grill
The judges gave Gotham's signature burger second place in their blind taste test. It was a solid burger, served with melty Gruyère cheese and spicy harissa aioli, with an added boost from pickled vegetables.
In a stroke of genius, Paul Denamiel switched out caramelized onions for caramelized onion soup. The difference? Hardly noticeable! But slathered on a gorgeous, medium rare burger with a slice of emmentaler, it didn't really matter. A side of dark chocolate-dipped potato chips sprinkled with sea salt were a delightful post-burger treat.
I was surprised that Molyvos was the only table to serve up lamb. Their house-ground patty had great Mediterranean seasoning, redolent of cumin and cinnamon. A spicy tomato sauce and Vlahotiri cheese finished off the flavorful burger. A side of tart tomato-feta salad was probably the only raw vegetable I ate all night.