Battle of the Burger: Not a Price War
Boston's Battle of the Burger Winner: The Hot Mess by Boston Burger
Carnivores in Boston had a field day last week at the First Annual Battle of the Burger. Though I'm often skeptical of magazine-produced contests, this Boston Magazine event seemed to truly be based on popular vote, rather than advertising spend. Granted, those who take the time to vote online or spend the money to attend are a self-selecting group, but let's not get hung up on technicalities. While most attendees reveled in the joy of biting into a wide selection of burgers, I also dug into price as I sought my favorite burger. And I learned that this contest mirrors the burgersphere at large: regardless of whether a burger is a bargain or a splurge, it's bound to bring a smile to your face, along with the cheese, bacon, or even foie gras.
Burger Price Trends
Most Common Price Point
Eight of the 20 finalists price their burgers in the $13 to $16 price range; nine if you count $12.95 as $13. The most common price: $14, at three or four of the restaurants, depending on how you count. This can be confusing stuff. The 80 Thoreau Burger from 80 Thoreau is just plain old $14, as is The Blue Ox's Sin Burger, a runner-up in the contest. If you order Bond's Bahn Mi Burger, you also pay $14, but this is a 4 oz. slider, so if it were an 8-ouncer, like most competing patties, it might be a $28 burger, unless it was slightly discounted. The Fireplace's namesake burger is $16 at dinner, but $14 at lunch, so it's on this list half the time. As chef Jim Solomon pointed out, they make the english muffin from scratch. Now that's special.
Okay, so it's a new spin on a value menu, but among this crowd, the clear bargains were Tasty Burger's Turkey Burger, which carries a dainty price tag of just $5.50. This 1/3 pound sandwich held its own among all the fancy entries on display. The most impressive value was the Locally Sourced Grass Fed Beef Burger from Four Burgers. With all it's got going for it, I'd expect to pay plenty for this one, but it weighs in at 5 oz. and costs $7.75. Mighty tasty, and with similar calories to chicken or turkey, the health factor is a bonus. If you are interested in full-service dining, you can get it at Tasty Burger, but not at Four Burgers, which no doubt helps the lower price vs. other grass-fed beef in the battle.
If we go on pure price points and leave the Banh Mi Burger aside, Smith and Wollensky's Foie Gras Mushroom Ragout Burger was the highest-priced of the crowd, at $19. The foie gras is mixed in with the beef, so it's geared towards those who favor a gamey concoction. Not far behind it is Stephanie's Oversized Stephi Burger, a Boston classic. This cheddar/bacon/caramelized onion and sauteed mushroom combination is $18, and I know I dated myself when I told the Stephanie's team that I remembered when it was $14.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the menu was the creativity behind some entries. I typically don't go for double meat, or too much sauce, and now I'm not sure why. Big points for inventiveness go to the following:
- The Hillbilly Burger by Olde Magoun's Saloon: Topped with house smoked pulled pork, North Carolina coleslaw, American cheese, pepper vinegar BBQ sauce, served in a buttered and grilled artisanal brioche roll. All that for $10.95.
- The Saloon Burger by Saloon: Grass-fed Maine ground chuck, roasted bone marrow, pickled shallots and hen of the woods mushrooms. These delicacies on a bun won't set you back much at $13.
- The Banh Mi Burger by Bond: Angus beef with Vietnamese flavors of nuoc nam, soy, slivered garlic, scallion, jalapeno and lime zest. Served on a black sesame roll with Vietnamese pork pate, srirachi aioli, cilantro leaves, basil, mint and pickled vegetables. Okay, it may be a $14 slider but it's amazingly unique.
- The Twin Peaks by Brew City: Black angus burger with braised short ribs, Amstel wheat braised onions and berkshire blue aioli on a ciabatta roll. They had me at short ribs. They had me again at berkshire blue. You can have it for $15.
- The Localvore Burger by Church: Grass-fed Maine beef, IPA whipped Cloumage, arugula, grilled red onion, applewood smoked bacon. Melts in your mouth for $15.
The Hot Mess by Boston Burger Company is Certified Angus beef, American Cheese, mixture of jalapenos, red onion, pickle, bacon, homemade 1000 island dressing, shredded lettuce and sweet potato fries. It was a hot mess, but where I come from, "you're a mess" is a term of endearment. And this burger, at a reasonable, middle-of-the-road $9.75, won the endearment of the judges.
Bottom Line: Price Insensitivity
Surely, no self-respecting burger battle judge would choose a burger based on price - in fact, it was worth $75 for attendees ($95 for VIP attendees) to cast their votes and sample these works of art. It's heartening to know that the bargains are out there as well as the cadillacs. It was extremely difficult to narrow down the favorites and select just one, but duty called, and mine eyes have seen the glory of a whole new set of burger creations thanks to Boston's Battle of the Burger.