Battle Tested

Burger Battle was a deliciously trying experience—as in "Try this one next.'' Ah, the difficult duties of a judge...


In which I am surrounded by burgers …

First of all, let me say that any room occupied by Ricky Ly (, James Beard Award multi-nominee Kathleen Blake (The Rusty Spoon), Food Network celebrity Emily Ellyn and my new friend, former Miss America Ericka Dunlap (who, by the way, is a hoot), is already an awesome place. The fact that we were all together to determine the best burger in town for Orlando magazine's inaugural Burger Battle made it practically surreal.

The event, presented by Orlando magazine and held at downtown’s enormous Ace Café, sequestered us in a private space (that still somehow attracted visits by every food blogger in town and several well-lubricated attendees) to determine the current state of burgerdom. A portion of the proceeds went to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Most people I talked to at the very well-attended event (the place was packed) managed four or five burgers before the meat sweats took over (except for my beef-loving friend Ric, who had multiples of everything and declared the Battle, “one of my favorite dinner nights, ever.”) We judges debated, dissected and devoured all 11 examples of the hamburger arts, while getting increasingly raucous as the night went on. And we got through them all. The generously poured cocktails didn’t hurt.

The only thing revealed to us was the names of the burgers, not who made them, and although the assembled experts made some fairly accurate guesses, a few took us completely by surprise as each outlet stepped up their burger game.

The Tap Room at Dubsdread, which makes a burger so good it’s in our Dining Hall of Fame, departed from tradition to serve one augmented with house-cured pastrami. Ms. Ellyn decided to add the salty product to her martini, as Ace didn’t have blue cheese olives. It was that kind of room.

Disney Springs’ Raglan Road/Cooke's of Dublin  offered their deep-fried Battered Burger (the easiest guess), which was a great fan and blogger favorite.

The always over-the-top Hash House A Go Go sent out a burger the size of our collective heads, with two patties and garlic mashed potatoes the highlights. Jimmy Hula’s Aloha Burger came in a very high stack of patties dressed with teriyaki pineapple. Planet Hollywood Observatory presented their massive Bacon Mac-N-Cheese Burger designed by Guy Fieri, and our hosts, Ace Café, came up with a savory mushroom burger that tempted all.

The Whiskey, who in my opinion won a previous burger showdown a few years ago (not run by Orlando magazine), gave us The Southerner, a massive towering creation dressed with pimento cheese, bourbon-cured bacon and a preserved green tomato.

As soon as Selection #8 arrived on the table, we all knew it was something special: simple, well-grilled with a soupçon of extra fat for crisp edges, good doughy thin bun and a nice tangy pickle.  The Original Double from Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers was a knockout, a simple, well-made handful that was purely and richly a burger, and we unanimously named number 8 as Number One. The crew from Freddy’s Orange Avenue were over the moon at receiving their first place Belt.

Our other picks were the very enthusiastic Liam Fitzpatrick’s, who also won second in the audience vote for their humongous burger served in an ashtray, and Artisan’s Table with a well-crafted hoagie burger served with a cold-brewed espresso and tequila shot. White Wolf Café won the “People’s Choice” for their goat cheese, cabbage and roasted red peppers smorgasbord, with the aforementioned Jimmy Hula's rounding out the picks.

And just in case you think the judge’s life is all hand-delivered food and laughs … okay, it was, but we never got any of the (supposedly) fantastic fries or shakes!

Pity the poor critic.

The envelope please…

Congratulations to the winners in our drawings for three culinary travel cookbooks featured in my story in September's issue.  Susie Branum gets a copy of Susan Feniger's Street Food; Em Farwell is the new owner of Taste of Persia; and Nydia Marrero wins Tasting Rome.

Stay in touch with Joseph at You can access a comprehensive list of his print and online reviews here!


Categories: Savor Orlando