Those who attended Wednesday night’s sold-out Sacramento Burger Battle are certainly relishing in a hamburger hangover today, and we mean that in the best possible way. Clouds of savory smelling smoke rose from Raley Field, signaling the 15 competitors were cooking feverishly for the crowd of 800 and judging panel which would deem the night’s best burgers. The field of Cow Town competitors included some of Sacramento’s signature burgers, including those from Formoli’s Bistro, Krush Burger, Willie’s Burgers and The Chef’s Table, which was the 2012 Sacramento Burger Battle champion.
But two restaurants reigned supreme: Broderick Roadhouse earned the people’s choice pick with a spicy and sweet “Johnny Cash” burger layered with pickled peppers, bbq sauce and smoked cheddar cheese; and Ettore’s European Bakery and Restaurant won the judges’ vote with a beefy burger that was sandwiched between a jalapeno-scallion-cheddar bun plus mushrooms, fresh local tomatoes and more. Following the win, Ettore’s executive chef, Pedro Depina, paraded around the crowd like Hulk Hogan with the Sacramento Burger Battle grand champion belt.
“That bun rocks,” said Depina, following the win. “Thanks to my bakers who worked really hard on that. It goes to sourcing the best ingredients. I worked closely with some farmers in town who grew some herbs for me. We did a medley of three different mushrooms. We put a nice heirloom tomato on there and sprayed it with a little balsamic, and we let it speak for itself.”
I sat on the judge’s panel, an especially discriminating bunch which included Russ Parsons, food editor of the Los Angeles Times, Corti Brothers store manager Rick Mindermann and Erin Jackson of San Diego, who contributes to the A Hamburger Today blog for Serious Eats. Two of Sacramento’s signature chefs and burger aficionados, Randall Selland and Patrick Mulvaney, also leant their palates.
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The burgers, which we all tasted blind, featured a range of flavors and interpretations, to varying degrees of success. One aimed for sweet Asian flavors with hoisin sauce, another piled pastrami on top of the patty and many opted for onion strings as a condiment. The panel groaned over one cutesy burger that used a not-soft-enough biscuit as a bun, which led Parsons to declare, “A biscuit is not a hamburger bun!” Spicy was also a prominent theme, and plenty of burgers were slathered with some form of barbecue sauce.
What the judging panel truly craved was a burger that showcased the quality and flavor of the beef, not a protein-wich that was drowning in sweet and spicy condiments. A quality bun that could handle the juiciness of a patty while offering a pleasant chew also received high marks. That said, we appreciated the overall creativity and attention to detail brought forth by the cooks. These teams were certainly in it to win it.
The Sacramento Burger Battle, now in its second year, is quickly becoming a favorite local food event. Unlike many large scale food events, nobody walked away feeling even slightly hungry and the overall vibe felt festive on a perfect late-summer Sacramento evening. Sacramento is certainly a hamburger town, and we’ll definitely be back next year.
Here are the final results:
2. Restaurant Thir13en
3. Willie’s Burgers/Iron Steak
1. Broderick Roadhouse
2. de Vere’s Irish Pub
3. Formoli’s Bistro