After a LONG winter this was a sight for sore eyes:
85*, Sunny, with a nice ocean breeze was exactly what the doctor ordered after the long Chicago winter. I haven't been to the city of Miami for years, and I have never been to South Beach so I was excited to make it there later that night to attend the 2011 South Beach Food & Wine Festival's Amstel Light Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray presented by Allen Brothers Steaks...yes, that was the official title of the event. I'll just call it the "Burger Bash" for short.
The event was held on the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach's beach in a massive 250-300 yard long tent. When checking in for the event, they gave us a pair of flip flops (and told me I could check my loafers at the "shoe check" and gave us a map/menu of the different vendors. The unique portion of the event is that every attendee gets a small cork chip that represents his or her vote for their favorite burger of the night. Every competitor/vendor was really putting the sell on to attendees to get those chips!
Here is the front of the tent as you're walking in:
The 26 vendors offered some sort of burger, and if they were feeling ambitious, a side. The burgers were really slider size, of which I limited myself to two bites of each to prevent getting too stuffed too soon. I felt like a Top Chef judge!
We had "VIP" access which got us in about an hour earlier than the rest of the attendees. It was a lot like going to Six Flags Great America and not having to wait in line for any of the rides! I tried quite a few of the burgers (8-10 of the 26, I believe) in that hour. All the vendors were on the outside of the tent, and there were many table tops, tables, couches (burgers Miami lounge-style!) in the middle where you could take your burger and hang out. Here is a photo of the tent during the calm VIP hour:
And here is was once it got more crowded:
There were some great burgers here to taste. My plan of attack was to visit the vendors who had previously won awards first, and then visit some of the "celebrity" chefs and their creations, followed by any other vendors that had interesting offerings. Here are some of the notable burgers:
Shake Shack (Miami Beach, FL)
*2007 People's Choice Award Winner
Shack Burger - American Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, and Shack Sauce w/ a side of frozen custard and fries.
These guys were the first ones I saw when I walked through the door. It was a fine, traditional burger, but compared to most other's burgers...it tasted bland and was a bit boring.
Landmarc (New York, NY)
The Big Marc- All beef hamburger on a homemade black pepper and cheddar bun with spiked ketchup and house made pickles w/ a side of jalapeno tater tots.
This was a nice burger that on the outside looked traditional, but had some really complex flavors and was really good with the spicy tots on the side.
Morimoto (Boca Raton, FL)
Nikomi Burger - Wagyu beef patty stewed in Morimoto sauce and topped with a fried egg and a side of pickles.
Straight out of Iron Chef, this vendor had a huge line, even during the VIP hour so I had high expectations. However, I actually thought this was my least favorite burger of the night. It was dry, didn't taste like much, and overall blah.
B Spot (Cleveland, OH)
*2010 People's Choice Winner
Yo! Burger - Burger with fried salami, provolone, shasha sauce and pickled onion served with a nutella and hazelnut liqueur milkshake.
Wow...this was a great burger. The fried salami and picked onion did it for me. The shake on the side was pretty good, but very rich. Michael Symon was really cool and was introducing himself to everyone in line, really working the crowd for votes.
Love Shack (Fort Worth, TX)
Wild Love - Elk, foie gras, arugula & huckleberry jam w/ a manchego-serrano tater tot.
This was very unique and very tasty. The elk meat was incredible and the jam made the burger really tasty. Tim Love was up front talking about his burger and was happy to talk up Elk meat as a really unique burger meat and I told him there was a place in Chicago that pairs Elk Meat in a hot dog and serves it with similar jam.
Good Stuff Eatery (Washington D.C.)
*2009 People's Choice Winner
Colletti Smokehouse Burger - Beef burger topped with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, beer battered onion rings, chipotle BBQ sauce on a potato bun served with a toasted marshmallow milkshake.
This was my favorite burger of the night. TONS of flavor while unique, it was still a somewhat traditional burger. The shake it came with was a perfect compliment as well. Spike Mendelsohn from Top Chef All-Stars (dressed as the "hamburgler") was nice enough to talk about his burger and introduce himself to people in line.
Bobby's Burger Palace (Paramus, NJ)
Napa Valley Burger Crunchified - Fresh goat cheese, watercress, meyer lemon honey mustard, potato chips.
Bobby Flay has entered into the competition for the past 5+ years and hasn't yet sniffed the people's choice award. I'm not sure why, as this year's burger was very good, even if it was a little simple. The goat cheese was great on the burger, and the chips were actually pretty tasty. No idea why is was called the "Napa Valley" burger.
Village Whiskey (Philadelphia, PA)
Village Burger - Sesame roll, house made thousand island dressing, tomato, Boston bibb served with a side of Yellow Finn Poutineconfit and farmer's cheese.
Side dish of the night! Whoa mama those fries were amazing!
Bistro One LR at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach (Miami Beach, FL)
Bistro Burger - Beef patty, leeks, Hobb's bacon, and foie gras torchon on a potato bun w/ a side of a truffle tater tot.
The Ritz tried to out-class the rest by combining foie gras and a truffled tater tot. While the burger was fine, I have to admit the tater tot was incredible.
Here is RR and some other of the Food Network-types on stage talking about the event and their respecting charities. When they weren't there talking they had a great band playing some very fun but loud music:
A funny story from the night. During the VIP hour I was having a burger and talking to two nice Starcom employees when this guy who looks like a football player walks up and says hello to the table and introducing himself. I shake his hand and say "Hi, I'm P. Channon", and he goes, "Todd, nice to meet you." After some small talk one of the girls asked to have his picture taken with him. I was a little confused, and later asked the two ladies who he was "Todd English"..."ok...who is that?" I say to which a get in a DUH voice "a huge celebrity chef." This was later confirmed after I texted my foodie friend Nick asking who Todd English is and getting a response: "The Man!" After I turned around I noticed he was a judge (he's on the right), Art Smith (of Table 52 in Chicago) is on the left:
I snapped a picture of Bobby Flay, this was ironically one of the few times he wasn't standing in the corner fingering his blackberry. He didn't work the crowd at all:
Here is our host, walking around trying burgers with a legit 8-man security detail (that's the back of her head). I will admit she's pretty attractive in person:
A very fun event. Only in Miami can they turn a burger tasting into an "event!" The only downside to the event was that the only beer to drink was Amstel Light. I will say I don't plan on eating a burger for a couple weeks...