The Blue Moon Burger Bash at Food Network’s New York City Wine & Food Festival on Oct. 13 marked a fantasy-like food festival full of burgers, beer and bashful attendees at Pier 86 along the Hudson River. Hosted by Food Network home chef Rachael Ray of the Rachael Ray Show, the event was nothing short of effervescent. All of the senses were stimulated — from a jazz band bringing live music to my ears, disco lighting offering your eyes a visual sensation to the wonderful aroma of thousands of beef patties teeming at your nose.
Not only did attendees stuff their faces with beefy beauty, but they also got to vote for their favorite burger of the night. Each attendee was given a wooden coin to vote for the best and only one burger would be bestowed the Blue Moon People’s Choice Award.
So, after channeling my inner food critic and shamelessly trying eight different burgers, I knew which one reigned supreme — and surprisingly, it’s not even from New York City. Here are my picks for the top three burgers: the honorable mention, the runner-up and the winner.
Honorable mention: Nowon’s legendary cheeseburger
507 E 6th St., New York, NY 10009
This first burger is unconventional, but packs a punch. Nowon, a Korean American Pocha — or gastropub — located in the East Village, right near NYU. At the event, Nowon presented the “legendary cheeseburger” from its menu. Despite its title, the “legendary cheeseburger” wasn’t always acclaimed. Featured in The New Yorker, Nowon chef and owner Jae Lee created one of New York City’s greatest burgers while running a small pop-up shop at the Black Emperor bar, selling just five burgers a night. Lee struck gold when a writer from The Gothamist discovered Lee’s hidden gem of a burger. Shortly after, Nowon was born.
In a Korean twist, two perfectly grilled beef patties within a sesame-seed bun oozed with a kimchi and Kewpie mayo sauce, and was topped with pickles made in-house. As someone who usually is skeptical of Asian-fusion cuisine, the legendary cheeseburger was an exception. Even with the Kewpie mayo, the kimchi sauce was unapologetically spicy. I could still relish in the patties’ intense umami flavor — even if my tongue was burning from the spice. After all, pain is sometimes the best bite.
Runner-up: San Matteo Pizzeria e Cucina’s burger
1559 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10028
It was hard not to spot San Matteo Pizzeria e Cucina, one of the first vendors near the main entrance, thanks to its shining silver trophies sitting forward for all the crowds to see. Crowned as the 2019 Blue Moon People’s Choice Award, San Matteo’s burger is a queen among its beef-dom. Known as an Upper East Side institution serving elevated Italian classics like Neapolitan pizza and calzoni, I was not expecting to see San Matteo at the Blue Moon Burger Bash offering such an American-looking burger. However, the carefully curated Italian elements are what brought together the burger’s robust flavors.
The burger started with Piedmontese beef, complemented with soft buns made from pizza dough, quadrello di bufala cheese, radicchio, smoked bacon and the best caramelized onions I’ve ever had. Although it has been a week since I attended the festival, I still dream about the incredible smokiness of those caramelized onions. Something about the Piedmontese beef made my burger chewing experience all the more easy, as if it was asking to melt in my mouth. The potato wedges on the side were nothing special, but who cares when the burger is the star of the show.
Winner: Mel’s Butcher Box’s burger
10 W. Railroad Ave., Tenafly, NJ 07670
It was just past 9 p.m. and I had tried seven burgers. My stomach was about to burst. Then, all of a sudden, I started hearing cheers and chanting from one vendor I hadn’t tried. The votes for this vendor just kept coming. One wooden coin after the other, attendees flooded Mel’s Butcher Box’s ballot as everyone was closing in on their final decision for the best burger.
Just after one chew, it hit me. I never knew a burger could taste like this. You’d think that a gut-punching combination of two patties, American cheese, a pile of crispy bacon bits and a generous dousing of secret sauce would be the greasiest thing ever. While I could’ve easily thrown up from seven previous greasy burgers, I still finished Mel’s bacon double cheeseburger in its entirety.
It was heaven. From the glistening juice of cheese-melted patties fresh off the grill to a perfectly buttered bun and a hearty fistful of bacon bits, Mel’s bacon double cheeseburger is undoubtedly not only the best burger at the festival, but also the best burger I’ve ever had. It was the balance of butter in the buns that pulled it altogether — not too much butter for a heart attack, yet not too little to be tasteless. Although I’ve only visited New Jersey a couple of times, I’ll definitely be making a road trip to Tenafly, solely to visit Mel’s Butcher Box.
Contact Andrea Lui at [email protected].