Syracuse, N.Y. — Since a fastfood chain has already claimed the name Burger King, perhaps Syracuse’s Ale ‘n Angus should be known as the Burger Emperor.
Ale ‘n Angus, a restaurant located across the street from the War Memorial in downtown Syracuse, won the best burger in New York competition by the state Beef Council on Monday afternoon. This is the sixth time the father-and-son team of Randy and Matt Beach have won this award. They were the reigning champs heading into Monday’s final four cookoff, and they had won three of the past four years.
They narrowly defeated Ben’s Fresh burger restaurant in Port Jervis, Illusive Restaurant and Bar in Rensselaer and newcomer Brewer Union Cafe in Brewerton.
Ale ‘n Angus features a different “Burger of the Week” in its restaurant. When it came time create the burger for this year’s contest, Matt Beach turned to his staff and asked which one they would eat and which one got the best reaction from customers. His winning entry — The Holy Smokers Burger — turned out to be one of his best sellers over the past year.
“This is a win for the whole staff. We take this very seriously,” Matt Beach said. “To even be in the top four is an honor, and after seeing the competition, it makes it mean even more.”
The Holy Smokers Burger will be on the menu starting on Tuesday and will eventually be on the full menu for the next several months.
The Beef Council’s annual contest opened April 1, with the public voting for their favorite burger. Five Central New York restaurants were among the top 10 that moved on. The final four were the top vote-getters in a second round of public voting. The finalists cooked their entry for a panel of judges on Monday afternoon at Onondaga Community College’s test kitchen. The judging was a blind taste test.
The judging panel consisted of dairy farmer Kim Skellie of Newark, Empire Livestock Marketing’s Ken Krutz, “Eat Local New York” video host Anthony Tringale, CNY Central journalist Brandon Roth and syracuse.com food writer Charlie Miller. Each judge rated the burgers on overall taste, texture, appearance and temperature. Organizers said the final scores were close.
Each restaurant was responsible for bringing its own ingredients, including the ground beef for the patties. Each restaurant served the judges a burger with a side of some sort of potato, but we were only judging the burger itself.
Here’s a look at the final four burgers in the order they were served:
Ale ‘n Angus (winner)
Address: 238 Harrison St., Syracuse
Where’s the Beef? The Holy Smokers Burger is a half-pound juicy angus topped with smoked beef brisket, pepper jack cheese, housemade seasoned onion straws and a unique brown sugar barbecue sauce. It was served with a side of tater tots.
This judge’s comment: There’s a lot going on in this burger. While some might marvel in the brisket or the combination of deep-fried onions with a sweet sauce, the star was the pretzel roll. Because this type of bread a little more dense than other buns, it held up nicely keeping everything together. The juices from the meats and sauce settled beautifully in the bottom half, but the bun didn’t fall apart on the short trip from my plate to my gullet. My napkin stayed dry, and my plate was fairly clean of grease. Hail to the true Burger King, I mean Emperor.
Illusive Restaurant & Bar
Address: 3 Ferry St., Rensselaer
Where’s the Beef? The Empire Smash starts with a rich mix of short rib, sirloin and porterhouse. They layer that with bacon, New York white cheddar cheese, whipped honey bourbon barbecue sauce, green onions and place it between a toasted brioche roll.
This judge’s comment: The chefs obviously know how to make a good burger because they put the lettuce on the bottom to keep the soft roll from getting too wet and falling apart. All five judges raved about the taste of this meat combo, probably because it was the only competitor NOT to use just ground hamburger meat. The unevenly pressed patties gave that away, and we appreciated that. I’m already planning a trip to Rensselaer. (Do they sell Miller Lite or Utica Club out there?)
Brewer Union Cafe
Address: 5771 Miller Road, Brewerton
Where’s the Beef? The Bam Bam Burger is 8 ounces of angus on a New York hard roll. Between the bun are colby jack cheese, a fried egg, chili crisp, tempura onion slices, house-smoked onion and a garlic aioli.
This judge’s comment: This is the type of burger I’d order in the morning after a night of judging all the beers Central New York has to offer. Seriously, you get breakfast, lunch and dinner in this sandwich. We also got dessert because it came with a side of sweet and smoky pepper fries coated in smoked salt, pepper, brown sugar, Killshot coffee and maple syrup. This has got to be the first time that I had a side of fries that made a great burger taste even better. This is very impressive, especially considering Brewer Union opened 18 months ago.
Address: 33 E Main St, Port Jervis
Where’s the Beef? The Benny Burger has classic American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and some “signature Benny sauce”
This judge’s comment: This is a very basic burger. It’s the kind of sandwich you’d order at lunch or Happy Hour and go home satisfied. The one thing the judges realized after eating it was that not enough restaurants nowadays put pickles on burgers. It changes the whole flavor of the entree.
Charlie Miller finds the best in food, drink and fun across Central New York. Contact him at (315) 382-1984, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find him under @HoosierCuse on Twitter and on Instagram. Sign up for his free weekly Where Syracuse Eats newsletter here.
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