The heavy hitters were out at last night's Hamburger Hop, a friendly burger competition that serves as the kickoff event to this weekend's Chicago Gourmet food and wine festival.
But the little guys came out on top.
Bandera, a small restaurant on Michigan Avenue, won the judges' votes for best burger, and Palmer Place, a casual restaurant in La Grange, won the People's Choice award.
Judges were wowed by Bandera chef Colleen McHugh's Bandera Burger, made with prime chuck and adorned with hickory sauce and pickled relish (among other ingredients) on a homemade poppyseed roll.
Palmer Place chef Steven Lawhorn, who proved he could run with the big dogs with a strong performance at last year's Hamburger Hop, took the People's Choice prize with a different creation this year, the Benchmark Burger, consisting of a short rib, brisket and prime chuck patty (in a 1-1-2 ratio) topped with aged cheddar, smoked picante ketchup and red-pepper remoulade. Using Palmer Place's cute waitresses to pass out the burger samples and providing samples of the restaurant's Blue Moon bloody mary probably did not hurt his cause.
But a lot of chefs went above and beyond in their burger preps. Kevin Hickey of the Four Seasons, last year's People's Choice winner, whipped up a brunch burger that featured a ground beef and bacon patty, charred arugula and fried bearnaise (a crisp beignet of sorts, filled with hot bearnaise sauce), served along with a "Bellini shake" (peach milkshake with a prosecco float). It was pretty amazing.
Other impressive entries included Roger (Socca) Herring's Harvey Burger, made of wagyu beef and short rib, bacon and gorgonzola cream sauce; Beverly (Aria) Kim's red curry burger (short rib and pork shoulder) with sweet-and-sour cucumbers and tamarind ketchup; and Jeff (Sutter Home Vineyards) Starr's "spanish style" burger made with crispy jamon serrano, pickled red onions, goat cheese and a wonderful saffron-lemon aioli.
The good news is that the Bandera Burger and Benchmark Burger are on their respective restaurant's menus, so even if you missed the event, you can chow down on the winners.
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