December again, and it’s time once again for reflection. I’ll say that 2010 was an even better burger year than 2009 if only because last year’s mini-burger fad has floated downstream. Bye.
This year, the economy and the burger business showed some improvement. As forecast last year, patty melts have popped up everywhere. Next year, I’ve predicted the buzz will be about stuffed burgers. Inbetween last year and next have been 12 months of nonstop burger activity. The highlights are here in the 2010 BurgerBiz Awards winners:
₪ Burger of the Year (Chain): Bacon & Blue, Wendy’s. This burger was a game changer. It signaled Wendy’s return as a serious player in a field that badly needs more competition for the Arches. It was a true first-of-its-kind burger in the chains arena when everything is supposedly “new” but rarely really is. Most of all, it was one fine burger. Let’s hope it returns in 2011.
₪ Burger of the Year (Independent): The Republic Burger, Republic Gastropub, Oklahoma City. Yes, there are a zillion great burgers out there. Why this one? Because it’s like a well-written sentence: every element is there for a reason and fits harmoniously with the others. It’s the essence of what a 2010 burger is about: artisanal and a bit audacious without attitude. Here’s the build: locally sourced, all-natural Angus beef, caramelized-onion-and-applewood-smoked-bacon relish, blue and Gruyère cheeses, arugula and a fried egg on a pretzel roll. Sea-salt shoestrings on the side. Oh yeah, you’re ordering that.
₪ Burger Joint of the Year: This is tough because I believe Burger Spot in Dallas had the year’s best burger menu. The half-pound Wild Bill sounds great, with diced olives, jalapeños and tomatoes inside and melted Cheddar on top. The problem is that Burger Spot opened in February and closed in October. Very sad. Local reporting says it might reopen, and it should with that menu.
So let’s go with another Texas all-star: Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries and Shakes in Austin. Parent company K&N Management won a 2010 Malcolm Baldrige Award for operations quality and excellence. They’re only the second foodservice winner (after Pal’s Sudden Service in 2001) of the prestigious national business honor.
₪ Worst Burger of the Year: Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt, Friendly’s. A burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches, with lettuce, tomato and mayo? Headline-catching, maybe, but 1,500 calories, 97 grams of fat and 2,090 mg of sodium says Friendly’s doesn’t care about real food or its guests’ health. And no restaurant should say that, despite what “Man v. Food” wants to believe. Giggling about gross, excessive food is for 14 year olds.
₪ Most Innovative Topping of the Year: Pickled Peppers, Burgerville. A regional chain that keeps outdoing itself with interesting limited-time specials, Burgerville in March unveiled the $4.79 Pickled Pepper Cheeseburger: a quarter-pound beef patty topped with Tillamook pepper-Jack cheese, baby spinach, red onions and pickled peppers from Mama Lil’s, a family-run pickle picker and packer in Washington. Smoky-garlic aïoli and a toasted ciabatta bun complete the burger.
₪ Burger Cookbook of the Year: Spike Mendelsohn, “The Good Stuff Cookbook,” (John Wiley & Sons, 2010). The chef-owner of Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza provides recipes for burgers (Pork and Pancetta Burger with Smoked Mozzarella), sides (Fried Brussels Sprouts), shakes and more.
₪ Burger TV Commercial of the Year: McDonald’s (Germany), 1955 Burger. If you thought I’d pick that black-leather German Burger King commercial I love, well, you were thisclose to being correct. But this McDonald’s commercial is just as odd in its own way. It invents a whole back story about a housewife in 1955 Chicago inventing a burger that’s not all that inventive anyway. Then a counter worker at McDonald’s in Düsseldorf or somewhere finds the recipe and recreates it? The whole storytelling framework is so elaborate and unnecessary that I’d bet you’d watch it every time it aired out of disbelief.
₪ Worst Burger TV Commercial: Steak ‘n Shake, Mike’s Talking Hat. The retro soda-jerk paper hats servers wear are dorky enough, but a talking one? Watching Mike have a conversation with his hat makes me cringe. But in SNS’s defense, it is reviewing its advertising account, so it knows just how bad these commercials really are.
Thanks for a great year. Best wishes to every burger flipper for an even better 2011.