Snapshots and Deep Thoughts from the New York City Burger Bash

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[Photographs: Nick Solares, unless otherwise noted. Above photo, Robyn Lee]

The 2nd Annual Burger Bash, one of the hottest tickets at the New York City Wine & Food Festival (the event sold out almost as soon as tickets went on sale), went down on Friday night, and The AHT crew was in full effect with Adam, Robyn, Ed, and myself converging on the Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn to try to sample the offerings of numerous chefs and restaurants.

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The event will probably be described as "star-studded" by those who place a premium on television air time. Personally, I thought the more impressive personalities were doing the cooking rather than leading around press junkets. I am referring to some of New York City's most talented chefs, such as Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson of Minetta Tavern, Michael Psilakis of Gus and Gabriel, Josh Capon from Lure, and April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, among others.

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The event was won by Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery and Top Chef fame.

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Josh Capon took the People's Choice Award for his burger from Lure (AHT review).

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Nick Solares: "Can I get a picture of you holding the burger?"

Lee Hanson: "F**k off!"

Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr brought the vaunted Black Label burger in miniature form—a perfectly scaled down version of the one served in the restaurant. I tried to avoid eating one as I make a monthly pilgrimage to Minetta for a Black Label fix, and with so many unfamiliar burgers to try at the Bash I was trying to pick my battles. "Eat it, it's rare," Nasr said as he thrust one into my hands. I complied, the stated temperature eliciting a Pavlovian response.

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Serious Eats founder Ed Levine makes the case for a reservation for the AHT crew at Minetta Tavern. Nasr is not convinced.

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Local hero DuMont Burger (AHT review).

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Burger from Fatty Crab. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

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Big Lou, Wildwood Barbecue (AHT review). [Hamburger photograph: Robyn Lee]

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Bobby Flay's crunchburger (AHT review) received high praise from all who tried it, including Adam and Ed who found it had "an incredible tang and was cooked a proper medium-rare."

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Michael Psilakis from Gus and Gabriel (Gus and Gabriel) was on hand with a juicy custom blend that was sensational. Psilakis described it as a French dipped burger and it tasted, uncannily, exactly like a French dipped sandwich. One punter asked, "Where is the dip?" expecting a cup of au jus. "It's in the burger" countered the chef. Indeed, the blend was supremely juicy.

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Josh Capon won the People's Choice Awards, and I suspect it was as much for his personality as his burger. The irrepressive Capon shouted out the the Yankees score in between rooting for and serving his burger. To be fair, the burger was superb, slathered in mustard and griddle cooked in manner of an In-N-Out animal style burger. It tasted, in the words of Adam, "like a sloppy Joe, but that's not necessarily bad."

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George Motz and Martha Stewart enjoy a Minetta Black Label and Minetta pickle, respectively.

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April Bloomfield brought her celebrated Roquefort-topped Spotted Pig burger (AHT review), which I had never had before. I know that's an almost unforgivable flaw in my experience, but there are a lot of burgers out there, and since it has received so much coverage both at AHT and elsewhere I never felt an overwhelming need top try it, besides that I am blue cheese– and brioche-phobic. However, I actually liked it—I didn't think it necessarily needed the blue cheese, but the beef blend, a blend heavy on the short rib, was simply superb.

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Shake Shack (AHT review) produced a burger that was identical to every one that I have had at the original location. I am pretty sure that Randy Garutti and his crew could get dropped in the middle of a desert or the polar ice cap with a griddle, potato rolls, and a sack of La Frieda beef and turn out the same burger they serve in the park.

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I was delighted to see Smith and Wollensky, one of my favorite steakhouses, grinding steak on site for their dry aged burger. This was my favorite burger of the night and the rest of the AHT crew—Adam, Robyn, and Ed—all named it as one of their favorites as well.

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I am used to seeing chef Victor Chavez decked out in chef whites with a tall toque as he coolly commands his kitchen. At the bash he was working feverishly assembling the burgers while Danny Kissanewas was grinding up the steer.

If the Burger Bash continues to grow at the same rate as it did from last year, it will have to be held in a larger venue. It literally seemed to be twice as crowded this time around. At times, one could barely get through the throng. I would like to see the event attract contestants from farther a field, making the event more national in scope. I think it will inevitably happen, and I concur with Ed that the event "seems to get better every year."

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