For the third year in a row, Chicago Gourmet—an epic weekend of feasting in Millennium Park—was launched with a burger competition, also known as the Hamburger Hop. Guests had the chance to sample fifteen different burgers from area chefs, vote on their favorites, and drink a lot of beer in between. For the first year, I decided to try all fifteen of them. Sure, each was quartered and I often stopped after one bite, but still: I tried fifteen burgers! That's a lot of beef! As it turned out, I also ingested a strange amount of barbecue sauce, but I'll get to that in a second.
Chefs competed for two prizes, the People's Choice Award and the coveted Allen Brothers Award (the sponsor provided the beef), which was chosen by a six-person panel, including a few local food personalities, and even chef John Besh. Once again, Chicago Gourmet was sponsored by Bon Appétit, so the magazine's Editor in Chief, Adam Rapoport, and Restaurant and Drinks Editor, Andrew Knowlton, also happened to be on stage. As my wife had no trouble admitting to me, there were some very handsome men up there.
But I'll skip past the beefy men and get to the grilled meat of the matter: my goal to eat every offering of the night. Turns out, all I had to do was show up early, avoid socializing, and eat as quickly as possible so that my body couldn't quite comprehend how much I was stuffing into it. I finished in about 30 minutes. Go me!
This year featured an interesting selection of local restaurants, many of which competed for the first time.
- Matt Troost, Three Aces
- Jeff Starr, Sutter Home Build a Better Burger®
- Joseph Rosetti, Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse
- Mark Rimkus, Flo & Santos
- JR Luna, Luxbar
- Steven Lawhorn, Palmer Place
- Jonathan Lane, Benny's Chop House
- Ryan Kikkert, Jake Melnick's Corner Tap
- Yoshi Katsumura, Yoshi's Café
- Kevin Hickey, Allium at Four Seasons Chicago
- Clark Grant, III Forks Chicago
- Dirk Flanigan, Henri/The Gage
- Amanda Downing, Rockit Bar & Grill/Rockit Burger Bar
- John Chiakulas, Mity Nice
- Arturo Aucaquizhpi, Gene & Georgetti
By the time I took a bite of the last burger, my body finally wised up, relayed information back to my stomach, and I realized that I was stupidly stuffed. But I had gained a few insights about Chicago's burger scene. The biggest was that the beef was the most important part of the equation. Too many places soaked their burgers in barbecue sauce, blanketing each bite in a sugary glaze. The best burgers kept it simple, accentuating the flavor of the grilled meat with a few key toppings.
Turns out the crowd and the judges agreed with me. My favorite burger of the night, the The Ace Burger from Three Aces, won the People's Choice Award, while my second pick, the Wagyu Burger from Yoshi's Café, took home the judge-selected prize.
But just to prove that I really did eat all of these, check out the full slideshow to take a look at them all.