While Katherine Shilcutt has posted the “official” story of the burger judging finale on Eating Our Words, I wanted to give my own impressions of last night’s contest.
As a member of one of the four judging teams, I’d been involved in the two previous rounds of burger judging. As befitted our lofty status, we were given reserved seating right in front of the four burger stations, which made for easy pick ups and allowed us the chance to observe the burger creators at work. The highlight for me was watching The Burger Guys use a blowtorch to get the cheese on their burgers melted just so.
In my opinion, all four teams went above and beyond to put their best foot forward. Each team definitely was playing to win. For example, all of the burgers that we had were pink in the middle. In a busy restaurant, it may not be possible to be quite as focused, but in a room full of die-hard burger fans, each team was going to give their best possible effort. Here’s my personal breakdown, just to offer a different perspective to those of you who weren’t there.
The Burger Guys – I’ve been to TBG many times and always liked it. Finally having it back to back with Hubcap convinced me that it’s my favorite Houston burger. Something about the combination of the crunchy pickled jalapenos, spicy mustard and cooked onion on the thick beefy patty that just works for me. Of the four burgers we tasted tonight, TBG’s toppings were the ones that most complimented the beefy flavor of the burger. Also, the fat content creates a wonderful ooze that had me reaching for multiple napkins. It may not be the perfect burger, but it’s damn close.
Hubcap Grill – Although HG wasn’t one of the places we went during our judging, I am eminently familiar with their burgers. Today’s product was everything Hubcap should be – it had a lovely char, it was pink in the middle, it oozed beautifully. Hubcap makes the definitive thin-patty style burger, and if you haven’t tried it, you really should. The only problem with the burger presented tonight is that one patty isn’t really enough meat to compliment the bun and toppings properly. At their location, that problem is easily solved by either ordering a double or one of the specialty burgers, such as the Philly Cheesesteak, that come with more meat. Given that I can only judge the burger in front of me and that I think I prefer thick patty burgers to thin patty burgers as a matter of taste, Hubcap was 2nd for me.
Petrol Station – The one thing that I think people should know about Petrol before they go for the first time is that it’s a lousy restaurant. It’s might be the best place to drink beer in Houston, but the combination of a small kitchen with an indifferent staff means that orders can sometimes get lost or take a long time to show up. For example, during one of visits to Petrol, two of my fellow judges ordered beef burgers, while I, having already eaten the regular burger earlier in the week, went with the lamb patty. They were literally done eating their burgers before mine arrived (so much for preferential treatment!). Petrol regulars accept this as par for the course, but newcomers might get disgusted and leave before being served if not properly warned. You may be wondering what any of that has to do with the burger judging. Well, freed from the small kitchen and the requirements of serving other entrees, the participants in tonight’s festivities got the best version of the Petrol burger I’ve ever had. The patty had more pink than any of my previous trips. What set it back for me were poor toppings, especially the tomato, and the excessive amount of mayonnaise. I don’t really like mayo to begin with, and there was a shitload of it on the burger.
Jonathan’s the Rub – If what I liked best about TBG was the way the toppings complimented the meat, then what I so strongly disliked about Jonanthan’s was the way the toppings completely covered the meat’s flavor. JtR’s burger had 2 kinds of cheese, and a salad-like veggie mix on the bottom that was also mayo-based. All told, these elements combined to completely bury any beefy flavor in the burger. The only good thing about the burger was the thick-sliced, crunchy pickle on top. My team was quick to relegate the burger to also-ran status, and those of us who had eaten the Vic & Anthony’s burger were left to wonder how V&A had lost to JtR. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t nearly as good as the other burgers I had during my judging (Plonk!) or recent burger eating (Bernie’s Burger Bus). I guess Houstonians (at least the ones who showed up) like a lot of cheese and mayo on their burgers.
While I’m disappointed in the outcome, I’m not angry. As Churchill said, Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. I think the crowd got it wrong tonight, but it was still fun. All it means is that people who like burgers should seek out new ones and form their own opinions.