Daniel B., Albany’s Yelp Ambassador, was gracious enough to invite me to participate in a burger tasting. He knows I’m a big fan of the form, and I’d enjoy judging a few burgers. Initially, I was a bit hesitant, but ultimately decided I’d do it, and I’m glad I did. It was a blast. There were four judges in total, and besides Daniel and me, Josh D. the Syracuse Yelp Ambassador, and Yelp Elite Thomas C. also took part in the fun.
But this was no ordinary burger tasting; we’d be judging the “Best Burger in New York” contest, run by the NY Beef Council. It’s a contest they do every year, and the goal is to highlight local beef producers and the businesses that sell their product. That’s great, and a noble cause in my opinion.
The restaurants all happened to be in Central NY, between Utica, and Syracuse, which meant a long day, with lots of driving. Daniel picked me up at 9:30 am, and we didn’t get home until 11 that night (after a little side trip to Utica for pizza). It was indeed a lot of driving and of course, a lot of eating.
Here’s the thing; any attempt to discover what’s best—best burger, best pizza or best anything—via voting by the general public is flawed. The ballot, in the end, is a popularity contest. The restaurants that garner the most votes tend to be the ones that drum up the most support but are not necessarily making the best product. If you want to know what’s best, you ask experts. The general population doesn’t judge food, they eat it. Eating and judging aren’t the same things. The average burger eater doesn’t think about why a burger is excellent; they know they like it. Proof to my point; these burgers are over-the-top creations. It’s almost as though we were judging a burger freak show. The burger-eating public loves these topping-laden giant burgers, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t make them the best in the state.
Of the four finalists, two burgers came with bacon. Two were topped with prime rib (of which one also came with a fried egg). Upon one, was enough crispy onions to choke a horse. None of them contained small patties, they all were at least 8 ounces in size.
Not that the burgers weren’t delicious, they were. They’re certainly deserving of the attention they gain from the contest, but I can think of many burgers I’ve eaten in our fine state that I’d rather eat again than these. Like this one.
In the end, the winner was the least fantastical burger. A standard cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato, and topped with a small amount of prime rib. The judges were unanimous it was best of the four we ate that day. And in my opinion, it’s no coincidence the burger with the fewest toppings won the day.
Here’s how I rated them:
4th) Madison Bistro
Elvis Burger – LTO, cheddar cheese, bacon, thinly sliced fried onion rings.
The house-made brioche bun was dry and crumbly. The mass of onions overwhelmed the burger. The patty itself is made from 95% lean beef. The patty needed more fat. Although that’s a fair amount of negatives, the burger was very good, but the competition was better.
3rd) Uncle’s Tavern
Infused Bacon Burger – bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, bacon-filled patty.
Others in our group had this burger in second place. The giant patty was tender, flavorful, and juicy. Ironically, we all wanted more bacon flavor. For something that’s ‘infused’ with bacon, we didn’t get a lot of bacon in each bite. That aside, it was delicious, and worth a trip to the hamlet of New York Mills.
The Loose Caboose – Burger topped with thinly sliced prime rib,
cheddar and jack cheese, fried egg, 1000
Island dressing and mayo.
Welcome to glorious fatty burger excess. This thing was a cheesy, greasy, juicy monstrosity, and I loved it. Just cutting the thing in half to share with Daniel, left me with fat on my hands. Daniel thought it was too fatty, and needed acid to balance out the fat. But I thought it was delicious as is, and a tasty indulgence.
The Winner) Ale ‘n’ Angus Pub
Power Play Burger – Angus burger topped with Prime Rib, American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Served on a grilled Kaiser roll.
As I mentioned, the judges were unanimous on this burger, we all picked it as our favorite. ‘Balanced’ is how I’d describe it. All the ingredients come together to form a cohesive whole. That there was just a small amount of prime rib is important, it didn’t overwhelm the tender, flavorful beef patty. The Power Play is a great burger.