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August 7, 2013

Battle of the burgers rages on in Eastern Market

Restaurants get their grills ready for the 2013 Detroit Burger Brawl

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Eric Morris, of Beau Jack’s in Bloomfield Hills, plates his restaurant’s signature burgers for the judges to enjoy at the inaugural Detroit Burger Brawl.
Dirty Dog Jazz Café, of Grosse Pointe Farms, will be heading to Eastern Market Aug. 10 to compete in the second annual Detroit Burger Brawl. Chef de Cuisine Eli Fox shared some of his favorite tips to make a great burger at home.

Start with a great grind
“Short ribs are a big favorite these days,” said Fox. “It’s a perfect medium of fat and flavor. Seems like a big go-to, and it’s a nice middle-of-the-road cost. On a budget, go with a nice chuck piece.”

Load it up
Fox’s favorite burger toppings, he said, are bleu cheese and bruléed, or caramelized, onions. Another combination, he said, could pair a fried egg with whole-grain mustard.

Put a lid on it
A good bun is essential to a great burger. Fox said he prefers homemade, yeasty butter-top bread. “Brioche is good, but it can get a little heavy,” he said, admitting that a pretzel bun can be a good option, as well.

Add some love
The more passion that goes into the patty, the better it will be, said Fox. “The best burger tip I have: add a little TLC.”

Just when you thought the fight was over, the chefs are at it again. The second annual Detroit Burger Brawl is going down Aug. 10, and cooks from around metro Detroit are getting ready to show off their burger best.

The event is sponsored by Fairway Packing in Detroit’s Eastern Market, and the brawl will return to the Fairway site this year to pit some of the area’s most creative chefs against each other for the title of Detroit’s Best Burger of 2013. An all-star panel of judges, including Susan Selasky of the Detroit Free Press and MGM Grand Detroit Executive Chef Michael Urbin, will pick their favorite burgers, all of which will be crafted live on the main stage while food fans look on.

While the inaugural event left much of the burger battle in the hands of the judges, this year will include more guest interaction, according to brawl organizers. Last year, each participating restaurant took a turn at the grill to prepare dishes for the judges to taste. This year, only eight competitors will make it to the main stage. Those finalists will be decided by the public, whom from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. can walk along Erskine Street to taste sample burgers from all of the contenders. Then, visitors can vote for their favorites on Facebook, and the top eight vote-getters will be called to the battle later that afternoon. Of those eight, the top two will compete in a grill-off, serving a new burger to the judges — and the winner goes home with the coveted trophy.

Despite all the battling, the competitors still know how to spread the love. In exchange for good eats and hot competition, guests are asked to make a $10 donation at the door to go to Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. Organizer Elizabeth Durham-Adragna said this will be the first year the competition will include a charitable component, and the goal is to collect at least $10,000 in donations to benefit the food bank.

Competing for the first time will be Shelby Township’s own Metropolitan Café. Owner Jennifer DiCicco said she’s ready to bring her little restaurant to the big show.

“I’d say to the competition, ‘Put your gloves on because we’re coming out fighting.’ We have to,” DiCicco joked. “We’ve never done an off-site event like this, and we’re trying to get involved in more things like that. We’re a little restaurant out in Shelby Township, and I think it’s a good plug for us.”

No fancy tricks up Metro’s sleeve, when it comes to brawl strategy: just a good old-fashioned half-pound patty — hand-packed — encrusted with shallots and topped with smoked gouda. Not too fancy, just rich flavors that have brought customers back again and again since the restaurant opened three years ago. DiCicco thinks the dish could certainly be a contender in the brawl.

“I believe that we have a knock-out burger and we’re going to put it on the stage and see where we compete with it,” said DiCicco. “Everyone loves a burger and a beer. Burgers are becoming more of a thing right now.”

Also taking on the competition for the first time is Nick Janutol, chef de cuisine at Birmingham’s Forest Grille. The newcomer said he’s just returned to metro Detroit after eight years away, studying culinary arts in upstate New York and then working at a restaurant in Chicago. The brawl, he said, will be something of a homecoming for him.

“I’m excited to be a part of it. I moved back into town and I’m excited to do anything in Detroit and represent the community,” he said.

Janutol divulged his secret battle recipe, saying that he planned to create a kind of homage to traditional burgers while bringing a little something extra to the table.

“I was trying to think of something unique to sell that’s not a type-A burger with lettuce, tomato and cheese on top. So I’m going to make a burger with all the normal condiments like caramelized onion, cheese … and I’m making a patty out of that,” he said. “Then, I’m going to be breading and deep-frying that so it’s got this ooey-gooey topping that’s really delicious.”

A few streets over, in downtown Birmingham, Chef Jay Gundy, of Townhouse Bistro, is doing a little brainstorming of his own. As the reigning champion, Gundy said he’s ready to head to the brawl to defend his title for Best Burger.

“We’re going to change it up — keep everybody on their toes. We’re going to start testing some things this week,” Gundy said.

Earning the 2012 prize brought plenty of new business to Townhouse last year, he said, though the winning burger wasn’t added to the bistro’s menu for economic reasons.

“The burger we won with — we costed it out and it turned out to be $45. It was a blend of a Wagyu strip steak and dry-aged brisket,” he said.

Townhouse’s entry for the competition will likely consist of a different grind, he said, though the flavor profiles will be just as impressive. It has to be — after all, he has a reputation to keep.

“I’m already getting texts from other chefs giving me flak, saying they’re going to take me down,” said Gundy with a laugh.

The second annual Detroit Burger Brawl will be held 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Fairway Packing Co., 1313 Erskine, in Detroit. For more information, visit www.DetroitBurgerBrawl.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.