After waiting in meaty anticipation for 12 long months, burger enthusiasts from across the country converged upon Midtown Manhattan tonight to welcome the New York City Wine & Food Festival‘s much-beloved Burger Bash back to the Big Apple. This year’s fan-favorite event marked the eighth annual celebration of all things between the bun and the second time it took place on the roof of Pier 92, where the hundreds of hungry partygoers could enjoy sprawling city sights and glowing Hudson River views. Once again, Rachael Ray was on hand to host the sold-out bash, and she was joined by fellow Food Network favorite Robert Irvine, who was one of four of this year’s esteemed judges. Josh Capon, who’s won Burger Bash at both the New York City Wine & Food Festival and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, was on hand as well, but this year he wasn’t cranking out his now-famed Bash Burger. Instead, he joined Robert, Coolio and New York Jets player Nick Mangold as a judge of the entire menu of burgers up for grabs.
It was up to the partygoers to vote for the burger they thought was the best of all, and after the votes were tallied, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer scored the coveted people’s choice award, thanks to its blue cheese-laced Kobe beef burger. One of the team members from the restaurant joined Rachael on stage to collect the $1,500 prize.
As burger enthusiasts were making their way through the tents to sample the array of burgers, the judges, too, were tasting chefs’ offerings. At the end of the night, BBD’s Beers, Burgers, Desserts offering earned top honors to become the judges’ pick of the year. Slowly steamed on a bed of tender onions (pictured above), the eatery’s juicy patties came two per burger, layered with pickles and gooey cheese.
FN Dish was on hand as the judges settled into their seats on the panel, and we asked Robert, who knows what it takes to craft a successful menu on Restaurant: Impossible, about the making of a winning burger. “It has to be the best, the freshest [and] highly seasoned on a great bun with great whatever it is you’re going to put in it,” he said, explaining that no matter what toppings you opt for, it’s imperative that they complement each other. “Whether it’s lettuce [and] tomatoes, whether it’s onion rings, whether it’s potato chips, it has to all meld together. And when you eat it, it has to be the best burger.”
Shake Shack, which earned the judges’ favorite title at the 2014 South Beach festival, placed among the top three for fans’ picks tonight, but the restaurant didn’t do so with its tried-and-true Shack Burger. Instead they delivered the Crackle Shack (pictured above), piled high with crunchy pork cracklings, plus a sweet side of a whoopee-pie-inspired ShackWich.
Brooklyn’s Emily, a pizza-focused eatery, also cracked the top three in people’s choice votes, but it wasn’t with saucy pies. The restaurant’s EMMY burger (pictured above), complete with its signature tangy-spicy EMMY sauce brought lines of fans to the booth where owner Emily was on hand to dish out her burger and waffle-cut fries.
While classic toppings like lettuce and tomato indeed made a showing at the Bash, it was caramelized onions — or similar sauteed onions or onion marmalade — that showed up on more than a few burgers tonight. The Beatrice Inn’s beefy burger (pictured above) was finished with creamy d’Affinois cheese, plus red wine-laced caramelized onions to create a sweet, salty finished bite.
When it comes to classic burger condiments, which were offered at guest tables throughout the tents, there was no need for ketchup or mustard on Lachey’s Hair of the Dog Burger (pictured above). This more-is-more burger featured a blend of brisket and short rib meats, and it was finished with a crispy-edged fried egg that dripped a golden yolk onto the patty when served up in quarters.
Most chefs offered small accompaniments to their burgers (think all manner of chips, fries and tots), but this year the festival unveiled what may be the ultimate in side-dish indulgence: macaroni and cheese. The new “Smack Down” featured no shortage of ooey-gooey mac and cheese options, including the Buffalo chicken-inspired offering from S’mac, Catch NYC’s lobster-studded plate and the next-level-rich take on a classic version (pictured above) from Schiller’s Liquor Bar.
Keep coming back to FN Dish all weekend long for more insider coverage of the New York City Wine & Food Festival.