Wine & Food Festival Spotlight: Building a Better Burger

Five of Westchester Magazine’s Burger & Beer Blast competitors tell us what goes into making their blue-ribbon hopefuls

We all have our little grilling tricks: Cheese-on-the-bottom, smoking, a particular and closely guarded blend of seasoning. I personally mix fresh sage into ground lamb and top the sliders with a cherry-mustard pan sauce (I call it a “Cherry Lewis”). When it comes to the ultimate burger, however, you’ll be hard pressed to home-cook patties greater than those you’ll savor at this year’s Burger & Beer Blast (B&BB) on June 7.

Featuring more than three-dozen restaurants and food trucks, the Blast is by far one of our annual Wine & Food Festival’s most popular events. Before you drop by Kensico Dam Plaza for the cook-off, we thought it best to help you familiarize yourself with some of this year’s competitors, including last year’s winner, Coals Grilled Pizza (with Bronxville and Port Chester locations); runners-up, Piper’s Kilt in Eastchester, New Rochelle’s Wooden Spoon, and Smokehouse Tailgate Grill (in New Rochelle and Mamaroneck); as well as Katonah newcomer The Whitlock.


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What burger will you be showcasing at this year’s Burger & Beer Blast?

Piper’s Kilt: We will be serving our classic Cheeseburger with sautéed onions.

Smokehouse Tailgate Grill: The Tomahawk Burger, Burger Blast Edition (modified from our usual house version which is an 8oz patty of ground ribeye).

Wooden Spoon: For the B&BB we will be featuring a sweet and savory bacon cheese burger on a waffle bun, topped with a Smokey maple syrup.

Coals Pizza: [We’re] still tweaking it, but there will definitely be some multicultural influences.

The Whitlock: At our debut year at the B&BB, we’re featuring our Chorizo & Shrimp Burger, one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant. The patty is made from the inner meat of the chorizo sausage and shrimp. The burger is served on a buttery brioche bun, topped with oaxaca cheese, which can be described as a melty, Mexican mozzarella, tangy lemon aioli, creamy avocado, and for those that dare, sliced jalapeno.

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What makes your burger stand out from the crowd?

Piper’s Kilt: It’s the juicy burger that we all remember growing up.

Smokehouse: Its uniqueness. The toppings (crispy fried onions, bleu cheese fondue cheese sauce, ‘shroom & onion jam) are unique, work really well together and mimic how you might enjoy a steak.

Wooden Spoon: We believe our burger will stand out because of the flavors profiles we are creating. There will be salt from the bacon and cheese, sweetness from the waffle and syrup and a hint of heat and smoke from the spices we are adding to the syrup. 

Coals Pizza: We always try to find unusual combinations of flavors and textures that somehow work in the finished product.

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The Whitlock: I think our chorizo and shrimp burger doesn’t necessarily scream Hudson Valley, but instead speaks to the diversity of the Westchester resident’s worldly palate.  We have burgers, steaks, chops, salads and sandwiches on our menu, but one of the most popular dishes we have is this spicy chorizo and shrimp burger. It’s something different and unique, but still simple and comforting like a burger.


What kind of beer/other beverage would you pair with your burger?

Piper’s Kilt: Our burger goes well with any of our twelve beers on tap, and goes great with a Coke.

Smokehouse: A nice session IPA would offset the decadence of the burger pretty well, or a nice bourbon if your feeling squirrely.

Wooden Spoon: I think the perfect beverage to serve with this burger is a honey-bourbon lemonade. We make one in store using Jim Beam Honey and fresh-squeezed lemonade. The drink compliments the burger perfectly with its smokey notes from the bourbon and the sweetness of the lemonade.

Coals Pizza: Our entry this year will be pretty rich with a bit of spice so I would drink a nice, bright Pilsner.

The Whitlock: The burger goes great with Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale, which we have on tap at The Whitlock.  The subtle citrus notes and bitter hops cool you down from the spicy bite of the burger, refreshing your palate to keep you coming back for the next bite.


What’s one thing that — if not done right — can make-or-break a burger?

Smokehouse: Personally, cook temps. I like the patty a little less then medium on my burgers; anything more than that and you start to lose the flavor and juiciness. I guess that and cheese. Can’t just throw a slice on it and call it a day. It has to melt correctly so it’s even throughout.

Wooden Spoon: I believe the bun makes or breaks a burger. The bun must hold up to the toppings, but also not be too heavy and take away from the star of the burger, which is the meat.

Coals Pizza: A burger needs to be well-seasoned. You can’t make a great burger if you’re afraid of salt and pepper.

The Whitlock: The meat should be juicy with good fat content and seasoning. There’s nothing worse than a dry tasteless patty no matter how much ketchup or sauce you put on it.


Is crafting the perfect burger an art form?

Piper’s Kilt: After 39 years, it’s second nature to us and our loyal customers can attest to it.

Smokehouse: It can be. But part of that art form is not taking it too seriously. Burgers are supposed to be fun and casual, not too buttoned up. If you’re not having fun cooking and eating burgers, what’s the point?

Wooden Spoon: Cooking is an art. Cooking allows us to be creative and show our identity. Making a burger is no different.

Coals Pizza: Whether you top it with a slice of cheese or a slab of seared foie gras with balsamic ketchup, the quality of a burger comes down to technique. Get great fresh ground beef, be gentle with it, season it and cook it just right.

The Whitlock: I like to think it’s an art form in its simplicity. Overcomplicating something so simple can ruin it. Too many toppings or foreign ingredients do that for me.

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