Six Sacramento Burger Battle judges enjoyed Empress Tavern’s version of the American classic enough to give it the judges’ choice award Thursday at the sixth annual competition.
The burger Empress submitted to the judges was a recipe that has never been available at the K Street restaurant. But it will be soon.
For Empress’s first foray into the Burger Battle, executive chef Mike Thiemann decided to enter a burger that he’s been developing for the last few months and unveiled only at a couple of pop-up events.
“It’s kind of been this little secret that we had,” Thiemann said.
The recipe, which Thiemann crafted with Empress partner Ryan Donahue, is their take on a casual burger. It includes two three-ounce patties, a slice of sharp American cheese, onion relish, iceberg lettuce and, for a pork element on top, mortadella that’s been crisped up like fried baloney. The burger is topped with a remoulade sauce – the same one used at sister restaurant Mother for its mushroom po’ boy sandwich.
“It’s really kind of simplicity is the best,” Thiemann said. “We were just thinking like making fast-food burgers.”
Unsure of how to introduce the burger, Thiemann said he decided to just enter it into the Burger Battle. On the heels of its win, he said, the burger will appear on Empress’ menu – possibly by this weekend and no later than Monday. Thiemann said it will likely replace Empress’ current burger and be available at lunch, happy hour and potentially dinner.
The Sacramento Burger Battle, held at Cesar Chavez Plaza downtown, featured 15 chefs vying for the claim of making Sacramento’s best burger. Rounding out the judges’ top three were two other first-time entrants: La Cosecha and South. Dawson’s was the people’s choice winner – determined by a crowd that had bought tickets and noshed on burger samples – followed by South and LowBrau.
The judging panel included Rick Minderman of Corti Brothers, burger critic Kevin Alexander, British food writer Richard Comb, Food Network personality Sean Andre, Burbon Steak chef Pajo Bruich and chef Jane Anderson of Ella Dining Room and Bar.
Proceeds from the Sacramento Burger Battle, founded by Rodney Blackwell, go to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, which also provides backing for the event. Blackwell said this year’s battle sold out its 900 tickets and raised more than $55,000, bringing its six-year total to more than $200,000 raised for the foundation.