The James Beard Foundation is currently holding their second annual Blended Burger Project, a nationwide challenge and contest to make a healthier burger by combining ground meat with chopped mushrooms (the patty must be comprised of 25 percent mushrooms). The goal behind the project is to introduce a healthier and more sustainable version of America's favorite meal. The top five online vote getters will win a trip to the historic James Beard House in New York City, where they will prepare the winning burgers at the welcome reception for the annual James Beard Foundation Food Conference in October.
Three Houston area eateries have thrown their toques (or burgers) in the ring for the contest: Harold’s Restaurant, Bar & Terrace in the Heights, Bernie’s Burger Bus in Bellaire and the mobile Craft Burger Truck. We took it upon ourselves to try all three offerings. Why not? They’re healthy! It’s not too often you can eat burgers for lunch three days in a row and feel good (or at least not terrible) about it.
We started at Harold’s Restaurant, Bar & Terrace in the Heights. Resisting the temptation presented by the newly opened Tap Room, we beelined straight to the dining room where chef Antoine Ware prepared us his entry. Chef Ware is already deeply committed to sustainability, and it’s obvious when he describes his close relationships with his providers with pride. They’re not just suppliers, they’re his friends.
The burger is made from fresh mushrooms from Indian Creek Farms and beef from 44 Farms topped with just enough Texas cheddar cheese to know it’s there, and served on an herb salad from Oak Hollow Farms. Crowning it all and cheerfully greeting you when it’s presented is a sunny side up egg from Ole Dad Farms. You'd be right to exclaim, “A burger with no bun? On a salad? Blasphemy!” No, trust us, it’s delicious. As chef Ware said, save those calories and carbs for a couple of beers.
“Mission, vision, passion” are the words chef and owner Justin Turner of Bernie’s Burger Bus in Bellaire always keeps in mind when making any decision regarding his business. It’s what sparked his interest when he was introduced to the Blended Burger Project. He likes the way the challenge makes people aware that there are other ways to do things.
“Meat won’t be ‘meat’ in the future” he contends, so he feels the more ways we can be conscious towards sustainability now, the better. You wouldn’t think it from his lavish burgers, but chef Turner believes in simplicity. Inspired by a trip to Italy “where no meal contains more than seven ingredients…and it’s all about the quality,” chef Turner’s creation is a house-ground mix of brisket and chuck combined with 30 percent Kitchen Pride crimini mushrooms topped with goat cheese, oven dried tomatoes, baby arugula, charred green onion aioli and, as an homage to Turner’s childhood, crispy shoestring potatoes. The playful, crunchy addition made us wonder “Why is this not a thing?”
For the final entry, we tracked down the Craft Burger food truck during lunch in the Willowbrook area. Chef, owner, and Chopped champion Shannen Tune has transformed his Greek Burger to fit the requirements of the task. In a nice change of pace, the mushrooms called for in the challenge are mixed with lamb instead of beef. At this point, it was no surprise that the lamb didn’t lose a bit of its profound flavor when mixed with the now-familiar mushroom blend. A marinated salad of onions, olives, cucumbers and feta cheese tops the burger while a swipe of roasted garlic tzatziki finishes it off.
The Blended Burger Project ends on July 31st. As stated, the top five vote getters win a trip to New York City to prepare their Blended Burgers at the James Beard House. Although you can only vote once a day (cough, but different votes from different devices count, cough), we think we should go full force H-Town proud and send all three Houston area chefs to the Big Apple.