Click the above picture to see a slideshow of the event with 26 photos!
When a Living Social deal for two tickets to the PittsBurgher Burger Competition and Music Festival found its way into my email, I was instantly smitten: unlimited tastings of one of the best foods known to man at over 40% off– sold! The event, held last Saturday, September 29 at the Rivers Casino Amphitheater, didn’t reveal in advance which restaurants were participating. I crossed my fingers that places such as Burgatory, BRGR, and Tessaro’s (old school– no website), which are all renowned for their delicious burgers, would be in attendance but, sadly, I was disappointed on that front. The actual contestants still provided some fantastic burgers to be voted on by all the attendees for the title of “Best Burger in the Burgh” (which is a dubious title considering the lack of participants but we’ll let it slide this time).
Held on the lawn next to the casino under a few tents, the PittsBurgher benefited the American Liver Foundation. After checking in and collecting an assortment of wristbands (one for free admittance for the music festival, another for one complimentary beer, and a final one that tells Rivers employees we’re 21 and to stop hassling us for our IDs) and tickets to exchange for burgers, my fellow burger enthusiast friend and I shuffled into the crowded tents and randomly picked a fast-moving line to quickly abate our hunger (burger festivals require a mini-fast, naturally).
The first offering, from Bonnie and Clyde’s in Wexford, was topped with coleslaw, cheddar cheese, a pierogie, lettuce, tomato, and onion, all on a soft slider roll. It was tasty but could have done without either the coleslaw or the pierogie (never!) as both were overkill. The meat had definitely been previously frozen and was a little chewy.
After a bit of a wait, the next burger was from yet-to-be-opened BZ’s Bar and Grill in the North Side. My personal favorite of the day, this special blend of fresh ground beef had bacon, sharp cheddar, their own BBQ sauce, and fried onion and jalapenos on a sweet slider roll. Every ingredient was fresh and well-made and complemented each other perfectly. If I hadn’t been so eager to try all the other burgers, I would have come back for seconds (or more…) of this one.
Not being nearly as ravenous as when we first arrived, we decided to tackle the longest and slowest-moving line for, supposedly, the best burger there. However, while standing in that line, I snuck off to the River’s Casino table to grab two of their burgers to enjoy while we waited.
The Casino had a bacon and beef blend burger with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, sea salt, and mayo on a caraway seed bun. They were the only table without much of a line and, consequently, a lot of their food sat out for a while and wasn’t very fresh. I wasn’t too impressed with this burger, despite being excited for the bacon and beef blend, and didn’t finish it. They were also offering a dessert burger (I KNOW!), but we’ll get to that later.
After a more than a 30-minute wait, we finally arrived to Melange Bistro Bar’s table. The downtown establishment had the smallest operation at the festival, with only two guys manning one conventional-sized grill, which resulted in the slow production speed. However, they were also slicing their mammoth burgers simply in half, giving patrons the biggest burger sample of the festival. They had two options available: an All-American burger with American cheese, spinach, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard, or a bacon cheddar cheeseburger, both served on their signature pretzel buns.
We both opted for the bacon cheeseburger and were immediately impressed with how flavorful it was. The frozen patties had been seasoned with some sort of garlic powder mix on the grill but it quickly became overwhelming the more we ate as it overpowered the other flavors present. I think since they were in such a rush to produce burgers, they were being a little careless with their production.
Sufficiently stuffed and with complimentary Amstel Lights warming our bellies, we walked around outside the casino for a while and let everything digest. It was a beautiful day out, sunny yet still in the 60s, and people were lounging around the casino grounds listening to the live band Sundog6 performing in the amphitheater. They did a pretty good job covering popular songs and the female vocalist sounded nearly identical to some of the original artists.
After a brief break, we headed back into the tent intending to hit up the last few stations we had missed (sadly, including Winghart’s, which was the one place present that I previously had heard of as having great burgers), but bulging tummies and impending food comas told us we should wrap it up. Of course…
… I had to at least try the dessert burger from Rivers Casino, which was a panko-crusted chocolate custard with passion fruit “cheese,” strawberry, kiwi, raspberry and mint. And I’m glad I did because it was surprisingly delicious! It was a little cold from, once again, sitting out too long, but the rich chocolate, crunchy coating, and tasty fruit flavors perfectly wrapped up the day.
Overall, the PittsBurgher was a great event. The food was yummy and varied, the location was perfect, and it was for a fantastic cause. However, they really seemed to suffer from an organizing perspective: the tent was WAY too small and crowded, there was no real information on all the restaurants attending, and, as I learned after the competition, there was a website for people to vote on their favorite burger yet no one provided that information. Many people complained, several were getting short-tempered, and others were cutting into long lines (jerks) so they definitely suffered from this serious oversight. Hopefully this event takes place again next year because I did have a great time despite all the problems and would love to see how it evolves in the future.
Oh, and which burger won? Turns out, it was the bacon cheddar burger from Melange!
They must have gotten the seasoning right on some of them.
Remember to check out the slideshow here for ALL my photos from the event!