Despite the threat of rain, the relentless humidity and the heat of a thousand suns a dozen grills turning out burger after beautiful burger, last night's second annual Burger Bash was a sold-out success, with hundreds of Houstonians enjoying some of the best burgers the city has to offer—and all in one, convenient place: the grassy lawn at CityCentre.
In between bites of burgers, guests sipped on No Label beer, Messina Hof wine and cocktails from TX Whiskey and Deep Eddy (the mint-infused lemon smash being a personal favorite). And for those who still had room after sampling all 13 burgers, dessert was served in the form of crepes from Sweet Paris and cool, creamy gelato from Gelazzi. Prizes including tickets to the Houston Ballet's Taming of the Shrew and big baskets of steak from 44 Farms (the Cameron, TX-based cattle ranch which also supplied much of the beef for the competition) were raffled off, with proceeds going to benefit Memorial Assistance Ministries.
The main attraction, however, was the massive cross-section of burgers from every end of the city: JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers in Bellaire brought a pineapple-topped Big Kahuna to the competition, while Stanton's City Bites in the First Ward kept it simple with straightforward cheeseburger sliders. Sammy's Wild Game Grill on Washington Avenue served elk burgers, true to its name, while Cook & Collins in Midtown served a vegetarian quinoa-based burger that blew more than a few minds. (Overheard: "I just ate three of those veggie sliders! I know, but they were really good!") Local Tex-Mex chain Cyclone Anaya's and pan-Asian restaurant Straits—both located in CityCentre—opted for zesty toppings on their burgers, while The Tasting Room went with classic chargrilled patties.
In a clear bid to win the Best Presentation medal, the Houston Texans Grille went all-out with their burger, featuring foie gras, black truffles and a dusting of gold on top of each pert bun. Not to be outdone, Grub Burger Bar served not one but two burgers: the Lockhart, topped with barbecue sauce and an onion ring, and a killer turkey burger with avocado. But it was The Capital Grille who took home the Best Presentation prize, with an outstanding entry topped by jumbo lump crab and a silky Béarnaise sauce.
Chef Jose Hernandez of Radio Milano went the extra mile with his burgers, which were stuffed with headcheese and served on buns he baked himself. For his efforts, Radio Milano handily won the Peoples' Choice trophy by a wide margin. Meanwhile, the panel of judges—which included Andrew Vaserfirer, head butcher at Revival Market; Jonathan Levine, owner of Jonathan's the Rub; Cindy Husband, resale shop director of operations at Memorial Assistance Ministries; Bill Baldwin, owner of Boulevard Realty; and myself—were torn between the entries presented by BuffBurger and Harwood Grill.
Both newcomers to the Houston restaurant scene, BuffBurger and Harwood Grill nevertheless showed they're not novices when it comes to making a great burger. BuffBurger topped its entry with goat cheese from Pure Luck Farms and sweet, slow-roasted tomatoes, but it was the classic all-American burger from Harwood Grill on a griddled bun with plenty of crispy produce on top of a gently seasoned patty that won over the judging panel at the end of the evening, taking home the big prize to their new digs on Westheimer.
For those wishing to try the prize-winning burger themselves, great news: Harwood Grill is celebrating its win by offering two-for-one Steak Burgers at lunch. Each $14 burger is made with 100 percent Akaushi beef, Sriracha mayo, plenty of crunch vegetables (red onion, pickle, lettuce, etc.) and your choice of cheese, all on buns that are baked in-house daily. Unlike Houstonia's big Burger Bash, the River Oaks restaurant likely won't sell out, but you still need to act soon—the deal is only good through July 3.