Monday, July 27, 2009

I can feel my arteries hardening...

Hello schlubfans!

Apologies for the dearth in blogging activity (I was away in Cape Cod last week). And although I have a lot to catch up on, I did want to post something about the hamburger orgy that I attended last night in Summit, N.J. as a part of the Summit Wine & Food Festival before my impressions leave me.

About 20 different hamburgers were on the judging table -- including Little Owl's super-hyped brisket and short-rib burger, and a slider version of Minetta Tavern's "Black Label" burger which sells for a grotesque $26 a pop. ("We outsell the [cheaper $14 Minetta burger] by three or four to one," Minetta's Riad Nasr told me.) Also included were several that I already knew (Stand) and/or loved (Harry's Water Taxi Beach).

And more than just sending a line-cook to rep the restaurant and follow the recipe, a number of big shots showed.

In addition to Nasr and Lee Hanson rep'ing Minetta, Joey Campanaro was there to make his Little Owl burger. And Mike Psilakis of Anthos and Kefi fame was flipping burgers, too. A number of celebrity chefs showed for different parts of the festival, too. Marco Canora of Insieme and Hearth did a pasta demonstration and Josh DeChellis did a steak demonstration. (David Pasternack of Esca and David Burke were also there on the first two days of the festival, but I didn't see them.)

Psilakis had probably the least burger-like burger. Which doesn't mean it was bad (not at all!) -- just very different. He cooked his hamburger in a smooth, cream-colored sauce which he told me was rendered beef fat. Which definitely sounds disgusting, but he made me stick my finger in and taste. There was no argument that it was delicious. (It tasted eeriely like a hamburger.) The burger was topped with slow roasted tomatoes (outrageously good!) and an orange-colored feta sauce. Messy -- and will probably kill you -- but delicious.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the Wildwood BBQ burger (which, apparently, was one of the judge's three favorites). It was your standard little slider with bacon and melted cheese, but the meat was extremely rich and nicely salty and the bacon was absolutely delicious. (It was my second favorite of the day.) I haven't been to Wildwood -- which is a relatively new BBQ place on Park Avenue South -- but it has definitely whetted my appetite.

But my favorite had to be Campanaro's Little Owl burger -- which was a hybrid of short-rib and brisket, with a slice of cheese and a slab or bacon. (Admittedly, the bacon was probably slightly better at Wildwood.) And it was served on a bun made out of pizza dough. (Which is, apparently, the same bread he uses on the meatball sliders he serves in his restaurant. Man -- he found the right customer with me!) Decadently rich meat, with just the right amount of salt.

The Little Owl burger ($16 at the restaurant) was so good, in fact, that I ate it without ketchup -- which is something (on principle) I refuse to do with a burger!

Bravo Joey. I crown you the winner in my schlubby heart. I might have a new favorite burger.


Just in case my mother is reading this, I would just like to state for the record: NO, I did NOT eat a half dozen burgers at this damned festival! Every burger I sampled I ate only a quarter of -- or less. (Unless the burger in question was a slider, like Wildwood's or Minetta's.) So while there's no question I made a complete pig of myself, I want it clear that I ate less than two full burgers when all was said and done. (One of the organizers, Josh Ozersky, claims that he visited each of the 20 burger stands twice -- a claim I find difficult to believe.)