By Dave Zucker & Mackenzie Tatananni
Who doesn’t love a good burger? After all, there’s so much to savor, from the succulent patty to the crispy bun. Following a pandemic-fueled hiatus, enthusiasts and casual fans alike can chow down at this year’s Burger & Beer Blast (B&BB) at Kensico Dam Plaza on September 23 at Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Fest. With more than two dozen restaurants and food trucks to boot, the always sold out Blast is one of the Festival’s most popular events. Before stopping by the Dam for the cook-off, we thought it best to get familiar with some of this year’s competitors, including 2018’s winner, Coals Grilled Pizza; 2019’s People’s Choice winner, Wooden Spoon; and fan favorites, Rye Roadhouse and Mima Vinoteca.
At Bronxville’s Coals, you’re sure to feel at home. Coals opened in the Bronx in 2004 and has since expanded to other states from Connecticut to Maine. The menu is limited, and for good reason. Coals specializes in individual grilled pizzas — hence the name — but the joint also cooks up a mean burger, aptly named the “Coals Burger,” which is always juicy and packed with flavor. Expect to see this excellence showcased in the competition.
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New Rochelle’s Wooden Spoon is a taste of Americana with a modern twist. The food is carefully crafted and served in heaping portions. Wooden Spoon specializes in classic American cuisine, so wings, fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches abound. The Westchester restaurant has also mastered the burger, and has an extensive burger-only menu that provides guests the opportunity to customize its grub. The team will surely bring this creativity to center stage during the Blast.
The Rye Roadhouse has been bringing reimagined Southern cuisine to the city of Rye for over two decades. The menu showcases authentic Cajun flavor through staples like gumbo, seafood, and fried specialties from pickles to mac n’ cheese. This Creole influence extends to its entry in the competition, which features a mouthwatering blackened seasoning that is made in-house and sells out fast.
Mima Vinoteca, located along Irvington’s sleepy main street, is best known for fine Italian cuisine. The restaurant specializes in delectable pasta dishes and other Italian specialties, and boasts an extensive wine selection as well. Burgers are nowhere to be found on the menu, but the Mima team will be supplying its unique expertise for a new take on an American classic.
Below, all four restaurants share their answers to a few, fittingly burger-themed questions.
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Wooden Spoon: For the B&BB, we will be featuring a sweet and savory bacon cheeseburger on a waffle bun, topped with a smoky maple syrup.
Coals Pizza: [We’re] still tweaking it, but there will definitely be some multicultural influences.
Rye Roadhouse: We will be showcasing our “Cajun Turf and Turf,” a blackened burger with house-blackened seasoning that is topped with spicy chicken, andouille sausage gumbo, and crispy onions, all served on a toasted brioche bun.
Mima Vinoteca: After much deliberation, we decided on a classic burger, served on a brioche bun with light provolone cheese, and finished with some crispy onions to showcase the flavor of the meat.
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.
Rye Roadhouse: Nobody does Cajun-Creole cuisine like we do! We are in touch with flavors of the South, and we put lots of love into all our food.
Mima Vinoteca: We’re an Italian restaurant, not a burger place, so we’ll be bringing our Italian know-how into the mix!
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 complements the burger perfectly with its smoky 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.
Rye Roadhouse: What’s great about our burger is that it goes with anything. A traditional lager like Stella will quench your thirst from the saltiness of the seasoning. We love a Maine Beer Company IPA called Lunch, which is a little hoppy to offset the strong Cajun flavors.
Mima Vinoteca: We would actually pair it with a glass of red wine, specifically Negroamaro.
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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.
Rye Roadhouse: Overcooking a burger can break it for sure. You also need a good meat-to-bun ratio that allows you to grab the burger without biting into too much bun.
Mima Vinoteca: The bun, 100 percent. It has to be the perfect texture to compliment the seasoning and the sides.
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.
Rye Roadhouse: Crafting the perfect burger is 100 percent an art form. We have so much fun just talking about our burger for the event each year, and we love making people happy with our food.
Mima Vinoteca: It is indeed an art form. You have to be very careful, as with any other type of art. One bad ingredient can make everything go south.