Last Thursday in Sacramento, 15 local restaurants put their best burger forward in the second annual Sacramento Burger Battle, held (appropriately enough) on National Cheeseburger Day (September 18th). Two awards were up for grabs: the judge's award (a custom-made wrestling belt), and the people's choice award (a trophy topped with a golden cheeseburger). The sold-out event was attended by 800 cheeseburger fans, and raised funds for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
Like last year, I was lucky enough to find myself on the esteemed panel of judges, which also included Chris Macias of the Sacramento Bee, Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times food editor and columnist, Rick Mindermann, store director of Corti Brothers, and two local chefs (Randall Selland and Patrick Mulvaney).
Our task was to score all 15 entries on presentation, creativity, bun choice, juciness, and flavor, for a total of 50 possible points. It was a blind tasting, meaning none of the judges knew which restaurant each burger came from until all of the scores were tallied.
Ettore's clinched the judges' award with their namesake burger, and was the only entry I awarded several perfect 10/10 scores. It was the first burger we tasted and I knew from one bite that it would be tough, if not impossible, to beat. The burger featured a Niman Ranch beef patty topped with caramelized onion and mushrooms, Swiss cheese, pancetta bacon, micro radish, heirloom tomato, smashed avocado, and basil aioli on a custom jalapeño, cheddar and scallion bun.
The flavors were complex, yet complementary, and—most importantly—still allowed the beef to shine through. The team from Ettore's will go on to compete in the World Food Championships in Las Vegas this November. Restaurant Thir13en took second place, and Willie's Burger placed third.
The judges all agreed that the mark of a delicious burger rests heavily on proper cooking of the beef (not over-, or under-done), having a good bun, and not overpowering it with sauces or additional proteins. The burgers that we scored the lowest included one topped with a too-sweet barbeque sauce, and another with home-made corned beef.
The People's Choice Award went to Broderick Roadhouse for their Johnny Cash burger, which was seasoned with black pepper, topped with a house-made barbeque sauce, and garnished with a Hungarian pickle. de Vere's Irish Pub and Formoli's Bistro took second and third place.
Overall, I thought the competing restaurants significantly upped their burger game versus last year. Chances were taken (some worked, others flopped), but one thing's for sure: no one went home hungry, especially me. After pounding beef for 3 hours, I had a 16th burger, topped with pepper bacon, roasted onions, and gruyere at Ella.