This year's Amstel Light Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival was a free for all, a go-for-broke takedown of three-time champion Iron Chef Michael Symon, who it has seemed nobody could come close to dethroning no matter how hard they tried over the course of the past few years. Take for instance comments from just a few of the chefs gunning for Symon's title. Guy Fieri, called him, "a bad ass," and then Chopped judge and Landmarc chef Marc Murphy said, "Today, it's all about beating the bald guy."
View Slides: Amstel Light Burger Bash 2013 Slideshow
Other chefs were less competitive. Laurent Tourendel of New York's LT Burger sounded just happy to be there noting, "I love zee hamburgers. I like zee challenge. I like zee people. I like zee whole thing." Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, who participated last year and was on this year's judges' panel, took a more jovial approach, stopping by Symon's table to offer a one-liner riffing off of his fellow Iron Chef's burger joint the B Spot. "Michael Symion and I are opening up another burger joint for an older demographic," he noted. "It's going to be called The Bald Spot."
Others like three-time champ of the New York City Wine & Food Festival chef Josh Capon of New York's Burger & Barrel had his trophies out and his confidence on display. There were some 34 burgers on the offer under the tents beachside behind The Ritz-Carlton Hotel. If you didn't have early access to the event... good luck. It was a long wait for the event attendees — no surprise — down the block from the beach all the way to the entrance of the Ritz (but over on the DecoPlage Condominium side).
Michael Symon brought a French onion burger out of Cleveland to try for his fourth straight win. The man he said he was looking over his shoulder for, friend and fellow Food Network Iron Chef Bobby Flay, brought a very strong green chile burger from his growing chain Bobby's Burger Palace. Josh Capon's B&B Bash Burger brought it, taking his side (rosemary garlic Parmesan tater tots) and putting them on his burger instead, and Quality Meats' bacon and blue dry-aged burger was another strong contender. Ford's Filling Station out of Culver City, Calif., served a juicy lamb burger, and Guy Fieri didn't blink, serving a Jell-O shot with his crispy sourdough pressed chili cheeseburger. Shake Shack (one of The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants for 2013) once again took no prisoners, grilling a heritage hamburger with American cheese and pickled green tomatoes — for a taste that could only be called the ultimate breakfast burger.
There were 11,000 pounds of beef on hand, but there could only be one true champion. It wasn't a complete shock that Michael Symon didn't win — his French onion burger wasn't the strongest of the burgers he'd won with the past three years, but the judge's choice, the likeable Sandwich King Jeff Mauro was a curious choice. His burger, "The Greatest Patty Melt in the History of AMERICA" when tasted by this reporter was cold and served on mushy bread, not anywhere near as good as the New York City Wine & Food Festival Sandwich Showdown winner Marble Lane.
Dissenters can take it up with the judges (Anne Burrell, Andrew Zimmern, Jeffrey Chodorow, and Spike Mendelsohn), who must have had some super prime specimens straight off the griddle. At least chef Bobby Flay finally got some satisfaction. He finally got the South Beach burger monkey off his back by winning the People's Choice Award with a riff on the New Mexico classic green chile cheeseburger, but crunchified.