The kickoff event to the Chicago Gourmet weekend was a fun way to begin the weekend food festival. As I walked up the steps to the Harris Theatre rooftop, you could smell the burgers grilling and see the hints of smoke coming off the grills! Your senses were teased before you even saw what was to behold. Milling about the crowd were celebrity Chefs, food enthusiasts, local food writers and invited sponsors. As famous as some locals are, they were trumped by Chefs Thomas Keller and Jacques Torres.
The chefs were arranged under the main tent and you were able to walk up say hello and grab a plate. The burgers varied from quartered bites of a whole burger to miniature versions. I'll list the chefs/restaurants at the bottom in attendance with some thoughts on each. Considering all I hear about American's and their food diet being full of salt and fat you would think these professional chefs would use what most fast food places bank on! Shockingly basic mistakes were scene across the board - over cooked burgers, no salt, or an odd mix of toppings that didn't work. The meats also varied from angus beef, wagyu, bison, lamb and goat.
While I appreciate the creativity, reinventing this wheel shouldn't have been that hard and cooking at an event, in the restaurant or at home all comes down to execution! The experience was a lot of fun and people were generally enjoying themselves. With that a few things could have made the night more fun. First, add more garbage cans! You juggled a plate, and glass while trying to eat a bite or many best using both hands. I wish I were an octopus but after each bite it seemed like a Where's Waldo hunt to trash your last plate! Second, add more bars to shorten the lines. There was enough space but to get a cocktail or glass of wine it felt like it took longer than it should have. Speaking of wine someone needs to explain how Sutter Home is a part of anything labeled Gourmet! Three of the four wines were Sutter Home, one was labeled Sweet Red WTF?, the last wine was Joel Gott which I drank all night. Aside from my snobby opinion of contempt for Sutter Home, how were there no bubbles? Southern or Terlato couldn't toss out a Prosecco or Cava for the night? Seemed a little weak in my opinion, I warned my friends if I start drinking "Sweet Red" send me home immediately!
Anyway, on to the burgers and how I would have ranked my top three. My first choice was the Surf and Turf from the 4 Seasons, fan favorite of the night. Kevin Hickey's Bison Burger with truffle cheese and lobster love was really good. Plus he served two sides, cherry chocolate milkshake shooter and chips with cheese and bacon. I could have sat here ALL night. Second was a total toss-up between Sola and Aria. Carol Wallack at Sola had a Wagyu burger cooked rare with cambazola cheese and bacon. Really tasty and the saltiness of the cheese added a great element to the burger. Aria put an Asian bent to their burger by adding kimchi. The pickled acidity lifted the other flavors well especially the duck egg. My honorable mention of the night goes to Dirk Flannigan at The Gage. I liked that his burger was a miniature of what he currently serves, Burger on pretzel bun with Brie and grilled onions. Aside from being engaging and saying hello, his team brought salt along and didn't rely on cheese or bacon to deliver that flavor. It just seemed to lack acidity to make it top three for me.
It was great to see some old friends and make new ones. The crowd lingered in to the night enjoying Haagen-Dazs and More cupcakes - red velvet was good! I would like to see how this improves next year and perhaps making the challenge something more Chicago like a hot dog or pizza challenge. Some may say pizza would be too hard but if Chef Tony Mantuano can grill it and Chef Grant Achatz can get it to the size of a postage stamp, I'll entertain no excuses! Oh, one last suggestion - music could have been more hip and less like listening to what my parents would have wanted.
Here's the order of the burgers I ate:
D.S. Tequila - Ok burger, needed salt - the corn side was way better
Rosebud Restaurants - 100% USDA Prime Rib beef equals creepy sausage look and falvor, no FAT!
Sola - tasty
Aria - shockingly tasty
Palmer Place - ok but overcooked
NoMI - bun was better than the burger (Judges winner)
Edzo's - forgettable for how basic it was should have been better
Girl & The Goat - Goat burger was cooked ok but no flavor from salt or cheese
Keefer's - 3 Beef burger, huh??? Bland no acid just fat on fat on fat, horseradish was non-existent
4 Seasons - YUM!
The Gage - Such a nice guy and good burger
English - lamb and feta tasted more like a gyro but not in a good way
437 Rush - ok but again execution could have made it stand out
Terzo Piano - lamb burger with goat cheese and fennel apple - way lighter than it sounds
Quartino - messy and I hate to say being the last I was exhausted!
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Tags: 437 rush, aria, carol wallack, chicago food blogs, Chicago Food Snob, chicago gourmet, chifoodsnob, d.s.tequila co., dirk flannigan, edzo's burger shop, english, four seasons, hamburger hop, Joe Campagna, joel gott, keefer's, kevin hickey, NoMi, Palmer PLace restaurant, quartino, rosebud restaurants, sola, southern wines and spririts, sutter home, terlato, terzo piano, the gage, the girl and the goat, thomas keller