Orlando Food Crawl 2014: Part II

ead-orlando-food-crawl-2014 2.0

We arrived early at East End Market just in time for Sangria Hour over at the adjoining Txokos. While most of the crew had to cure their shakes, I set out to explore the market while waiting for a couple of chumpy stragglers to vacate our spot at Kappo. Not that any of us are big tymers like Bird Man or Mannie Fresh, but we “still fresh” and because of that, reserved the entire restaurant…all eight seats. (For an introduction to Kappo, see our review)

For those who don’t know, East End Market is a food-centric co-op/incubator for small upstarts. The owner has provided a handful of spaces for small business owners to develop and demonstrate their concepts. It’s been a proven success as pretty much every booth is always buzzing with shoppers. I decided to do another mini cleanse with a small glass of lemongrass, starfruit Kombucha from Joybird Juicery.

Out of all the places on the crawl, the crew was most looking forward to Kappo. All eight members of said crew are live free or die harder with a vengeance sushi connoisseurs. If you want to experience the experience we experienced, you need to set it up through their email process. I’ve had a nice back and forth with the reservations department coordinating this and previous visits with excellent results. They have hospitality down on all fronts in a dynamic way, from planning to meal execution.

Let me reiterate, if you’re looking for the girlfriend experience in a way that only food can provide, phrases such as, “money is no object”, “foie-forward”, “don’t hold back”, “bring the uni” and “its imperative you make it rain shaved truffles” need to be part of your conversation when you set up meal.

Just so we’re clear, you may or may not be able to have a meal in a similar scope to what we had. We ate omakase style. There are no menus. We have no say. The whole idea is to trust the chef. If you want to order off of their pretty incredible menu, I think your best bet is to go to the first come first served weekday hour where everything can be had a la carte. If you want a meal only a small group of people will ever have, do what we did. You’ll feel like Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1994 action thriller, “Blown Away.”

Starting with the first course, they were definitely “foie-forward” with a lavish preparation of cured duck liver torchon, hidden inside a caviar jar with dollop of beluga, and a small layer of preserved kumquat marmalade underneath to add some sweetness as well as acidity.

Kappo spread 1

And so began the debate of which course was best at Kappo. It would be hard to top to the silky foie, except maybe with the most luxurious chawan mushi ever assembled. The custard, flavored with dashi, had a deep mahogany layer of truffle demi-glace that was so heavily reduced it approached life-threatening levels of pungency and earthiness. I almost started believing in umami. The custard itself was nice and wobbly, not too dense, which played perfectly with a couple of tongues of Atlantic uni that hovered gently over the truffle sauce. We assumed that the dish set in front of us was complete as is. We were dead wrong. The chef started walking around with a handful of whole black Alba winter truffles, shaving them with a microplane in the general direction of our bowls, without fear of consequence. This might have been the moment where my, “It’s imperative you make it rain shaved truffles” comment came into play. James wasted no time positioning himself to have truffles shorn straight into his mouth. Chef obliged with some paper-thin wafers as he pulled out the industrial strength slicer. I felt like Kurt Russell in the 1992 fire related action-thriller motion picture, when I was surprised to find truffles floating in my sake due to the “Backdraft”. Studying shaved truffles up close is such a beautiful and mesmerizing thing, like the most delicious Catacomb you could ever traverse. You should try it sometime.

The chefs kept the pace with a warm and cold sunomuno style salad with a heaping pile of cured salmon roe and marinated then seared scallop as the base. More uni fulfilled the request to “bring the uni”, this one coming from the Pacific. You could really tasty the subtle nuances between the different regions the sea urchins hail from. The Atlantic was more buttery, almost without that sense of coming from the sea at all, which did pair well with the custard. The Pacific was briny, with a stronger presence which worked just as well with in the sunomuno preparation. No salad would be complete without roughage. Chef placed a single nasturtium leaf coated in spritzing of kaffir lime essence. It reminded me of the way morning dew sticks to a flower just before sunrise.

The next dish was a fried enigma. What was this? One bite of the milky interior and I knew immediately. Milk poached sweetbreads fried in coarse panko crumbs for maximum texture. They were served with small heap of pickled julienned Asian pear, and a pungent nutta sauce of hot mustard, vinegar and blanched baby bok choy to create perfect harmony.

Kappo spread 2

Next was the sushi course. We were treated with a sampling of Artic char, flounder and waqyu strip loin, all topping the most succulent nubs of tranquil rice at just the right lukewarm temperature. I imagine if I ever got a chance to try out a 3 Michelin star sushi joint, the rice would be similar. The fish and beef weren’t ice cold and neither was the rice. I think serving cold sushi masks the true flavor, thankfully they were both at a more resting temperature. It goes to show that if you’re working with a superior product, you don’t need to put it into a cryogenic sleep to keep it fresh.  I can confirm  our resident “rice” guy Thai was spotted shedding tears of joy.

Yes, you can go to Kappo and only eat sushi, and I know that you’d go home praising yourself for the amazing decisions you’ve made. With that said, if you don’t allow the chef to breathe in a way that promotes creativity, you’ll miss out on a rare experience. The meal was inherently Japanese, as this is technically a Japanese food stall. Though, the influence of French, Korean, Italian and American for that matter, all played out seamlessly during the course of the meal.

Finally, as part of the chefs tasting we were served dessert. The chef handling pastry is a master. She keeps the flow of the meal intact by not killing the senses with overly sweet morsels, and she presents the final treats like a goodbye kiss. Not with a lame handshake, but with two kisses on each cheek. Starfruit paté de fruit, green tea mochi, pistachio and cocoa-matcha truffles were all delightful in their own unique way. Together they formed a Voltron bonbon.

It was time to say goodbye to the four chef team of Kappo to hit our last stop.

With our bellies distended, we saddled up to a hightop at the ever-loving Cask & Larder. Fullness never stops a true eater from ordering something that sounds tasty. Pogo eyed a scrumptious tamale with roasted goat, buttermilk curds, and pickled sweet peppers, while me and James couldn’t resist the lamb ribs, with a sticky BBQ sauce, smoked collard greens and quick B&B pickles. The rest of the table was not going to let us down.

Cask & Larder goat tamale

They pooled together what room they had left in their tummies and ordered an impressive tower from the raw bar. Rock shrimp scampi, roasted oysters with slivers of uni, oysters on the half with mignonette, steamed cherrystone clams with tostones and an aji amarillo aioli, and slabs of raw tuna coated with tahini, chiles, Asian pear and crispy maitake mushroom threads.

Cask & Larder spread

We had a round a victory drinks to mark another successful conquest, one of which happened to be the best gin and tonic in town. It’s always sad saying goodbye, but then again we’ve already begun plans for the next adventure, so that softened the blow. We all miss Todd, and while we’re glad he’s living his dream with his dreamgirl, it doesn’t diminish the fact that a big part of what made the Tampa food scene so lively, isn’t in Tampa anymore.  We miss him so much, we miss his scent. When this all gets sorted out, I think we should all get an apartment together. Til’ next time, old friend.

Orlando Food Crawl 2014: Part I

The triumphant return of an original  member of the Four Coursemen gave us an excuse to plan an all-out attack on the flourishing Orlando food scene. I don’t want to give him a Big Head Todd, but in all honestly, he was a true forerunner of social eating and food blogging in the Tampa area. He was the first person to really reach out and try to help us get our name out to a larger audience, without trying to buy our stomachs, and for that I give him 5 stars. So what can you do for a man who eats everything? Feed him.

I like to think we toured Orlando thoroughly the first time, especially since we were dining at the height of the city’s food revival. At that time, places such as East End Market, Cask & Larder and Pharmacy were in their infancy, still working out the kinks, but that didn’t stop them from serving up tasty food. For the most part, the main goal of our last trip was eating at places that none of the Tampa crew had tried.

ead-orlando-food-crawl-2014 2.0

I think of my two Orlando food crawls as Paul McCartney albums. The first one was like “Band on the Run”, a masterful effort from start to finish. Our most recent one was something of a greatest hits collection. I feel comfortable saying that they were “All the Best.”

What would be considered “The Lakeland crew” got a late start. I realize punctuality is important, especially when you’ve got half a dozen full service restaurants to visit. However by 10 AM, our bellies were beginning to grumble, so we swung by The Bread Pedlar for a morning bun to prepare our stomachs. It’s not our fault we happened across a random pincho stand raise up like a phoenix, setting fire to the sun. Or should I say, setting fire to our plans of making it on time to Highball & Harvest to meet the rest of the crew. The pincho pusher told me that it would take 2 minutes, which turned into 20. Finally, with a skewer of BBQ’d Chicken and a couple of Plátano Relleno con Carne hand pies in hand, we finally got out-of-town.

Meanwhile, at Highball & Harvest, Kurt, Todd and Thai wasted no time and began eating and drinking with gusto. The highly regarded “Chicken and the Egg,” a fantastic take on chicken & waffles with a sunny side up egg and house made hot sauce, didn’t survive long enough for us to sample. They also ordered “Pig-n-Potatoes”, which was their version of hash for a highly sophisticated southern gentleman. Instead of corned beef, braised pork cheeks were used.

Highball & Harvest spread 1

We were greeted with hisses for our tardiness which quickly morphed into warm greetings as everyone was just so happy to see each other again. There were a few scraps left of the hash we gobbled up like Oliver Twist scrounging about for another bowl of gruel. There were a couple of fantastic Parker House rolls left with a side of apple butter butter. You really must order them with any meal at H&H. The only way I can properly describe these rolls, would be to flash back to the days when we all used to go to buffets as youngsters and eat our weight in those awesome yeast rolls, which is pretty much the only redeeming quality of said establishments. The H&H rolls were like that, only x10 better.

As everyone got comfortable, another round of drinks were ordered by the boys as us late comers played catch up by ordering some food. Coming out of the kitchen first was a  Southern sampler spread, consisting of smoked fish dip, pickled root vegetables and pimento cheese with various crackers. Also ordered was a canister of fried pickles and onion strips with secret sauce. The smoked fish dip was great as were the pickles. We also got a single baby pork belly slider with BBQ kimchi from the bar menu to sample between six of us. The thing was no bigger than a silver dollar, but it managed to round the table twice as each of us attempted to take smaller and smaller bites so as not to be the glutton.

After we slowed on the sampler, our main plates arrived. I must have gone through burger withdrawal, as it had been nearly 2 weeks since #ApocalypseCow. James and I went with their burger, made with ground short rib topped with pimento cheese, smoky bacon, B&B Pickles and mustard. There was something eerily familiar and comforting to me; as if it were a burger I had from many years past.

Highball & Harvest spread 2

Pogo chose a beautiful bowl of red Canaveral shrimp and grits with a thinned out tomato based BBQ gravy. The rest of the boys shared a plate of chicken fried chicken with silky potato purée, sweet pickled green beans and watermelon rind. What a happy accident it was to try the shrimp and grits. For me it was the best plate of food we had at H&H, though we heard rumors that the chicken and waffles was in fact the best, we may never know. I don’t think any one of us expected to love this place as much as we did. I’m very excited to go back for more. Just make sure to validate your parking before you leave the hotel, because it’s pretty steep otherwise.

After some McLaren ogling, we headed to Winter Park, the center of our food crawl battleground. Of course this exercise was obviously first about eating good food. However, the more subtle theme of the day was reconnecting with friends. We took a slower, more relaxed approach and decided to trim off a couple of places we just simply did not have time for, which also gave us an excuse to hit Prato sooner. If you haven’t heard of Prato by now, you either: 1. Don’t like Italian food, or 2. Don’t know us. We’ve covered what I firmly consider the best Italian restaurant in state at length; with not one but two posts as well as the myriad Instagram photo bombs. At this juncture, we were joined by Theresa and Joel, a couple more Bay area peeps who really know their stuff.

Prato apps

Between the eight of us, we nearly ordered the entire menu. Not only did the waiter gift us some of their signature meatballs, but with eight people ordering, real estate on our table was at a premium. We have a rule that forbids the ordering of more than one dish at each place to avoid overfilling. That that rule quickly went out the window as multiple pasta courses were checked off by James and Kurt. If I had to guess, they had nearly half a dozen between them, and they weren’t the only ones. There was pizza covered with cured meats, fresh mozzarella, herbs and an over easy egg for dunking the crust into. Theresa pulled a rabbit out of her hat with her smokey, Italian style Reuben sandwich. Joel, who we found out is indeed a real person (long story), snuck in some soft stracciatella bathing in a pool of warm olive oil with perfectly placed droplets of aged balsamic. Spread that stuff over some crunchy bread and it will make you go crazy enough that your tongue will try to beat your brains out.

Prato spread

I kind of lost track of all the pasta we ate. Whatever they had, we ordered it. If you’re looking for the best pasta area, made in-house and by hand, Prato is the place for you. Just take a look at this rundown.

  1. Giant raviolo filled with soft ricotta and a yolk with parm and brown buttered bread crumbs
  2. Squid ink campanelle with New Smyrna Beach clams, Canaveral shrimp and roasted cherry tomatoes
  3. Cavatelli with beef cheek ragu, butternut squash, greens with a runny horseradish crema
  4. Beet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese then topped with crushed tomatoes, herbs and toasted pine nuts
  5. Chive bagli amatrciana dusted with buttery bread crumbs

Prato pasta

That tied up the first half of our crawl like a nice farfalle. Stay tuned for Part II, featuring the incomparable Kappo and the young gun, Cask & Larder!

Eat a Duck’s Top Meals of 2014: Part II

I finally had the opportunity to travel a good amount in 2014 after years of being grounded. Naturally this led to of amazing meals. Apart from the food which, let’s face it, I wouldn’t be talking about if it weren’t unbelievable, the company with which I shared these dishes is really what bring these dishes to the forefront of my mind. While these five dishes run the gamut of price from nearly free to exorbitant, each one delivered something new and special. I chose my list based on how badly I want to go back and have them again. It was a difficult task, but here are my entries for the best of 2014!

  1. Spicy Chive and Pork Dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King – San Francisco, CA

spicy-chive-pork-dumplings

Very few dishes bring a smile to my face as easily as steaming hot dumplings. Shanghai Dumpling King served up this beautiful bowl of tender, savory and spicy pork and chive dumplings, swimming in a sea of sesame and chili oil and it was a wonder to behold. They’ve got their mixture down perfect and it’s habit forming as all great Chinese food should be. Logan may not believe in umami, but that’s exactly what we experienced that night in San Francisco.

  1. Thresher Shark Nugget at é – Las Vegas, NV

Thresher Shark Nugget

Have you had thresher shark? Have you had any shark? Yeah neither had I. I’m usually one to question the ethics of killing such a beautiful animal, sadly however, my moral compass went haywire when this thresher shark nugget, fried in a sherry vinegar tinged batter was presented to me. Think pork belly, but just the fat. That’s what this was like, gelatinous but tender with a depth of flavor rarely seen in most seafood.

  1. Veal Sweetbreads with Gnocchi Parisienne at Rooster and the Till – Tampa, FL

Sweetbreads

I feel like we talk about the “Anton Ego” moment around here a lot. How that one bite of food can instantly transport you through time. This veal sweetbread dish from Rooster and the Till did just that. As it touched my tongue I was somehow taken back to my mothers turkey dinner, albeit with much more finely composed flavors. Very few dishes can match the balance of flavors and textures that this one achieved.

  1. Basil Pesto Ravioli at Beauty & Essex – New York, NY

Basil Pesto Ravioli from Beauty & Essex

Speaking of flavor, these precious little pockets of pesto contained a flavor so intense you’d be forgiven for thinking you were eating basil straight out of the garden. Aside from the freshness, who puts tomato sauce and pesto together? Chris Santos, that’s who, and it works so shut it. Too bad it’s not on the menu anymore!

  1. Sea Cucumber Roe at NAOE – Miami, FL

Sea Cucumber Roe from NAOE

Sea cucumber gonads…are you listening? The reproductive system…of a sea cucumber. Just so you understand how incredibly delicious this delicacy is, I’m going to completely ignore the beautiful tongue of uni sitting just to its right. This tiny morsel gave me an experience that I haven’t felt since my first taste of foie gras. A completely new and luxurious flavor like nothing I’ve ever eaten, silky, sweet, melt in your mouth, like if foie and crème brulée had a baby. I seriously considered a move to Hokkaido so I could hoard these little guys for myself, as if they aren’t rare enough as it is.

Eat a Duck’s Top Meals of 2014: Part I

2014 is gone. We can’t go back to the past. And we surely can’t go Back to the Future Part 2! (Hey! remember when movie sequels were just numbers and didn’t have these —–> : <—– ) But we can reminisce. We can prepare for future eating!! The future of eating is now! And although October 21st   2015 marks the date we will all be rocking our double ties, fax machines in telephone booths and hoover boards, I seriously doubt one of my top dishes of 2015 is going to be consumed by way of “The Hydrator.” I would like to extend the Chicago Cubs a heartfelt congratulations on winning the World Series this year. You beat Miami in a 5 game sweep.

Lets look back at Eat a Duck’s best dishes and where they came from shall we?

  1. KFC at Namu Gaji – San Francisco, CA

Namu Gaji %22KFC%22

My fifth best dish of the year comes in the form of an incredibly moist, tender, briny, crunchy, sweet and spicy piece of fried chicken. To quote myself “The dashi gravy was the figurative icing on the cake, to what was the single best dish I had that day.”

  1. The Cuban (RIP aka The Never Was) at Buddy Brew – Tampa, FL

Buddy Brew Cuban

In fourth, and possibly the best sandwich I ate all year, was one of the top contenders in our #Cubano Apuercalypse sandwich crawl. It was the perfect balance of modern and classic, and you can’t have it because no one can! We, nay, the people, were promised it would make its way on the menu, if nothing else than to be a limited edition commemoration of our fine work. That never happened. We never got a reason. Please bring it back. Please, oh please realize what a gold mine you have on your hands and make it a fundamental part of the food board!

  1. Yummy Fries at The Root – Lakeland, FL

The Yummy from The Root

If you didn’t know, we started a little fry cart that we roll out every so often called The Root, based in Lakeland, FL. Every service we aim to bring new flavors to the table, while still satisfying the desire for old favorites. While we haven’t been very regular, it has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever been involved in.“The Yummy” turned out to be a favorite with everyone in front and behind the counter. We had the idea to riff on Yummy House Chinese Restaurant’s signature blend of herbs, spices and fried bits that they throw on various menu items, dressing our fries with it and adding some scallion oil mayo. The final product met with much fanfare. Hopefully we’ll get The Root out for more services in 2015 and maybe you’ll see a return of the “Yummy”.

  1. Croquette at Kappo – Orlando, FL

Sweetbread Croquette from kappo

The pork cheek confit, milk poached veal sweetbread croquette with pan roasted shimeji mushrooms, shiso dressing and a nori schmear was a nod to the more complex and time-consuming methods that the French have taught us to toil over. I was working on the road from the beginning of February through the end of August, and this was one of my single greatest bites.

  1. Roasted Mushroom W/ chargrilled toast @ Rooster and the Till – Tampa, FL

 Mushroom w: chargriled toast

Even though it’s been way too long since my last visit, this may have been my most ordered dish of the year, as I probably ate it a half-dozen times. Hopefully this masterpiece stays on the menu long enough for me to get another crack at it. My own rules dictated that there could only be one finalist per restaurant, otherwise, the angel soft, Parisienne style gnocchi with smoked ricotta, braised short ribs and pickled pepperonata would have easily made it as well.

Bar Primi – New York City, NY

If you know my colleague Logan, you’ve likely encountered his wealth of knowledge on everything from film to foie gras, books to brioche, he’s a veritable Logipedia of information when it comes to arts, entertainment and food. I, on the other hand, while possibly dabbling in a wider breadth of topics, have just enough knowledge to start a conversation and quickly use up every interesting tidbit I’ve got in the bank.

There is one topic I’ve always had a firm grasp of, the ritual that is the traditional Italian supper. Antipasti, primi, secondi e contorni, insalata, formaggi, dolce, caffé e digestivo. I’ve embarked on this journey countless times in my 20+ year tenure as a Italophile, and I’ve always felt a certain affinity toward the primo piatto, especially when pasta is involved.

Well it seems Locanda Verde creator Andrew Carmellini and I share a similar passion, as his new restaurant, Bar Primi, puts the focus squarely on this hallowed dish. I can think of few chefs I’d rather have at the helm of a pasta-centric joint than Mr. Carmellini, who’s practically got pomodoro running in his veins.

Bar Primi logo

The Lobe (aka Sara) and I arrived hungry at Bar Primi after a grabbing a quick round of antipasti at Doughnut Plant. We crossed Joey Ramone Way, making sure to pay our respects, and entered the house that pasta built.

Bar Primi sign and setting

 We were early, so they were still serving brunch. We started off with a wonderful bruschetta with fresh ricotta and figs. More often than not, the best Italian food is the simplest, and that proves true here as it took less than five ingredients to impress. The ricotta on display is not the typical sad white paste found in many a potluck lasagna. No, this is the real stuff, straight from Salvatore in Brooklyn, creamy and vibrant with subtle grassy flavor. The cheese takes its rightful spot as the star of the dish, with perfectly ripe fig segments playing Johnny to the ricotta’s Joey.

Bar Primi bruschetta

Two handsome bowls of pasta arrived soon after we had lapped up the last ricotta laced crumb. As it was still brunch, we opted to start with a breakfast spaghetti of kale, pancetta and a poached egg. Breaking open a runny yolk and watching it cascade down homemade noodles never gets old. It coats everything in a thick gloss, helped along by the rendered fat from the pancetta. I longed for some caramelized onions to lend sweetness to the rich affair, but with noodles so perfectly al dente, I was hard pressed to complain.

Bar Primi breakfast spaghetti

The macaroni with Jersey corn, shiitake and scallion left me wanting for nothing. Again with the masterfully prepared pasta, surrounded by perfectly balanced flavors. Sweetness from the corn, offset by succulent and rich shiitakes all under a soft dusting of nutty parm. There just wasn’t enough in the bowl to satisfy.

Bar Primi pasta

Being the pasta fiend that I am, I had high hopes for Bar Primi. Chef Carmellini and the rest of the staff delivered on all fronts. In the vast sea of delicious Italian eats that is Manhattan, Bar Primi manages to shine by keeping things simple, both with ingredients and preparation. This is a must visit for any noodle noshing pastaholic. I only wish I could’ve made it to Locanda Verde on this visit, but there’s always next time!

Maple Custard Pie

“Ok, well…
This is the city of Lakeland,
And it always sleeps,
It may look like it doesn’t
But it does.
It doesn’t live and breathe nocturnally.
So when you’ve got no place to go find a pastry at night,
And you’re alone all huddled up by the oven,
Cause you’re cold,
Well, this recipe goes out to the bakers that’s forgotten.
Hey pie, take us home.”

This is the story of a pie for one. Triple the ingredients in a normal pie plate if you have friends. If there were stores open I would’ve added some pecans, if I had organic corn syrup I would’ve made a pecan pie. Sadly I found myself without both items, so I made a maple pie with some optional pretzel stick border. Do whatever you feel, the beauty of being alone is that no one will judge you when you fail, but you won’t fail, I’m here for you.

Crust
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold butter (cut into small cubes)
2 tbsp coconut oil (the kind that you can scoop out that’s not see through)
1/4 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350º
In a small bowl, incorporate salt and sugar with flour
Fold in coconut and butter until a rough crumbly dough forms
Throw it on a square of Saran then wrap up in a ball and chill in fridge for a while. Once it’s chilled roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick, lay another sheet of Saran wrap on top. Place in a small baking dish or mini pie plate roughly 3″-4″ square. I used my La Creuset 4×4 dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling, or watch one episode of Comedy Bang Bang and then make the filling.

Maple Syrup Custard
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

Whip egg and sugar until creamed
Add the remaining ingredients
Add nuts into pie crust if desired
Pour custard into pie crust. If you want to do the pretzels, which really worked well, just line them around the edges. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. It will puff up high but once you remove the pie, the filling will fall like the walls of Jericho. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes.

Pie for one

This is a great pie to eat alone while bingeing on Netflix. You might cry tears of a pie.

Thank you Rancid for inspiring my pie-oem.

Apocalypse Cow: Hamburgeddon: Judgement Day: Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, we respectfully present for your consideration, the top five finishers in our exhaustive competition to find the best burger in the bay area. It was a hard fight for these top spots, some places narrowly edging out others by mere fractions of a point, but we expected this burger race to be a tight one. While these five are clearly the cream of the crop in the burger game, they should be cautious not to rest on their chargrilled laurels, as any of the other burgers we sampled, with a few tweaks, could easily unseat their higher ranked peers. So stay on your toes boys, because you never know when The Four Coursemen will return for a rematch!

And now…on to the results!

5. Mermaid Tavern

J: I just want to mention how I was chastised harshly when I immediately started spreading healthy amounts of the delicious garlic harissa sauce on the wonderfully toasted bun. In any event, Mermaid Tavern delivered a solid burger, well composed with fresh ingredients and a perfectly cooked patty. I loved the choice of spinach instead of iceberg, Unfortunately the Welsh cheddar hiding beneath the egg was so salty I could hardly taste the locally sourced Providence Farms meat. A small nit but a nit nonetheless.

K: The Coup de Gras burger is pretty darn coup de great. Plus, I love fried egg and chorizo on a burger so it got a special place in my heart. This is another homer burger for me, but there is a reason for that. It’s a fantastic burger.

L: I think I may have scored this lower than my compatriots for a few reasons. First, it wasn’t the end all be all “deathblow” the title implies. It may have been if the chorizo element had been perfect and the sauce, which was supposed to shellac the inside of the bun, was more present. Speaking of the bun, it’s hard to see from the background, but on the menu it says pretzel bun and we didn’t get that. Maybe the score would have been higher if we got a sweet malty bun instead. One thing that should be noted is the use of local beef from Providence farm. Putting a perfectly grilled half pound puck of Providence cattle on top of anything is never a bad idea.

The Mermaid Tavern burger

4. Tampa Tap Room

J: I was surprised by this one. Tampa Tap Room is your typical sports bar type joint where you expect to get everyday bar fare, onion rings, curly fries etc. When this monster arrived I was smug in my confidence, thinking I’d seen this burger a million times before. TTR, I owe you my apologies, this tower of meat and veg was absolutely delicious. The bleu cheese sauce was tamed with a little sour cream or mayo or something because the normal salt overload was absent. It was a good thing too because the nice crisp strips of bacon filled that role nicely. A buttered, toasted bun wrangled this circus long enough to steal a messy bite into the tender beef, juicy and pink, just like we asked. That iceberg though… the flavors were great, but I just can’t abide the iceberg. The fact that these guys reached #4 despite that vile green is a testament to this sandwich.

K: Blackened Bleu burger. Not something I would ever order, but that is what they recommended. I was impressed. There were a ton of flavors covering the burger, but the burger still stood out in its own right. Nothing fancy here at all. Just a good tasty burger.

L: This might have been the only place on the list where no judge had any prior experience. All we knew was that it had won multiple awards from outside sources, which was enough to be curious about what was going on inside. Tucked inside an ancient strip mall, where my grandma used to take me to race slot cars as a kid, lies one of the best hamburger hubs in town. If El Cap does the classic diner style burger to perfection, I think the Tap Room has done the pub style burger fraternity proud with its blackening seasoning flavor profile encompassing the burger, counterbalanced with creamy, garlicky housemade blue cheese sauce. Not to be left out was the perfectly crisped bacon strips that made their way into the thick of things. I think Iceberg lettuce played an important supporting role here, unlike my crew who hate the stuff in any amount. Also, take a look at the rest of the menu. With fried boudin balls and blue crab beignets, it’s pretty enticing to say the least.

Tampa Tap Room burger

3. Cigar City Brewpub

J: They say to save the best for last. Well we had one of the best right off the bat as CCB delivered a top notch sandwich yet again. The chef had a blast creating this burger, and it shows. Sweet plantains and aromatic onion sofrito brought a tang that was sorely missing from many of these burgers. They cooked ours a tad on the rare side, but luckily for them, that gained them points in my book. The patty was slightly over salted for my taste, but the toppings and subtly sweet bun were enough to sway me.

K: The grass fed burger from CCB is one of my regular burgers. I eat it all the time, so that should tell you something. It’s the jam. Plantains and sofrito, roasted garlic aioli-oh yes. Plus, the only one that we ate that used purely local beef. That’s a big deal.

L: Yet another top 3 performance for CCB. They continue to care most about the product that they put out there, with food being no exception. With a wonderful 70/30 beef to fat ratio, the Providence beef is a brilliant opus to the composition of Cuban inspired condiments, being that of sofrito, sweet plantains and a garlicky aioli. The Brewpub’s grass fed Burger was our first of the tour, setting the lofty table for all other burgers to live up too. Almost everything was done just so. The only drawback was the meat was slightly over salted. Everything else was faultless. We didn’t even downgrade the score for lack of cheese. It was not necessary with the amount of quality condiments that were placed inside.

Cigar City Brewpub burger

2. Boca Kitchen Bar Market

J: Something went wrong here, because I scored this burger way lower than I feel I should have. Thankfully Logan and Kurt offset my mistake to keep this fantastic specimen on the podium. Thinking back, I didn’t have a single negative comment for Boca’s offering. Super juicy, smoky bacon, nice fresh lettuce and an awesome sweet relish aioli reminiscent of In n’ Out. If you asked me which burger I’d like to have on a regular basis, this is it.

K: I like Boca, but can’t say I had high hopes for this burger. Color me wrong. This is a burger that was cooked perfectly, seasoned just right, and oh that smokiness. Plus all of its accompaniments were so spot on. Best use of mushrooms in a burger in many a year and amazing bacon.

L: This was my stand alone favorite. It’s exactly what I want in a burger. I think the perfect balance of classic and current methods used to compose this work of art was what really grabbed my attention. Looking at the photo and reminiscing about the flavors my adoration is confirmed by the fantastic stacking of ingredients. I think with any sandwich as it is in life, the ratio between meat/toppings and bread can make or destroy ones destiny. The 5 keys were, toasty buttery bread, excellent mid-rare meat, an awesome In-n-Out style special sauce to accent the fresh veg, bacon that is cured in a way that makes it takes like ribs, and pan-roasted mushrooms to heighten ones sense of meatiness. I will now dream further about this masterpiece.

Boca KBM burger

1. Z Grille

J: If you go to Z Grille to order their foie gras steak burger, just pony up and get it Z Style alright? That means pork belly and a fried egg. If you’re a real pro, you’ll have them go heavy on the foie with two slabs. Zack doesn’t mess around, so you’re going to get an experience on a bun. It’s truly a truly decadent burger, the kind that makes the table shut their yaps for a second and enjoy the moment. Can you eat it everyday? No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself to one a few times a year. My only qualm is with the pork belly. It was a touch dry when it should be juicy like a saturated sponge. A line of meat and a line of nearly rendered fat, so tender you barely have to add any pressure, that’s what I’m looking for. Maybe it stayed on the flat top a touch too long, maybe the piece we got was a little lean. In any case, it was the tiniest chink in the immaculate armor that is Zack’s foie gras steak burger. The majestic victor of our Hamburgeddon!

K: Some people like their burgers pure and simple. I am one of those people…typically. I’d kick a simple burger out of bed in a heartbeat for this burger. I love the Z Grille foie burger. It is decadence at its finest. Ground rib-eye and brisket. Seared foie. Perfect bacon. Bliss.

L: Zack called his shot on this one and like the majesty of Babe Ruth himself, pointed to each of our tummies and knocked it right out of the park. To win this competition one would have to wow all four judges. Any indiscretion as proof in the results, would lead to an immediate downgrade. I think out of all the burgers we sampled on this fateful afternoon, Z Grille’s foie gras steak burger done Z Style with crispy pork belly, a fried egg and an additional lobe of foie gras is something that health wise, should only be consumed in ones dreams. This is not an everyday kind of burger. Unless of course you’re Albert Finney and use duck fat in place of Chapstick. One can dispute the fact that so many excessive things take away from the burger. I can’t really quarrel with that because in actuality every single person is entitled to regard any burger as their personal favorite. The four course men of the Apocalypse Cow just happen to be four guys that really love stuff like house ground ribeye/brisket blends, Neuske’s bacon, fried farm eggs, roasted tomatoes, grilled onions, crispy pork belly, brioche buns and a couple tenders of seared foie gras. If you don’t like all that stuff well maybe you’d rather hail seitan.

Z Grille Foie Gras Steak Burger