Burger Wars champions gather for cook-off
They say you can’t have too much of a good thing. But put Northern Indiana’s eight best burgers together in one room and there’s bound to be leftovers.
The winning restaurants from seven counties in Northern Indiana’s Burger Wars came together for a Burger Wars Cook Off and tasting Monday, June 16 at Nelson’s Banquet Hall in Wakarusa to launch the contest’s final rounds. Regional voting began June 13 to conclude the search for best burger in northern Indiana.
Chefs flipped patties in the hot afternoon, preparing their champion buns for a panel of tasters: Melissa Luebbe, national travel manager for Midwest Living magazine, Heidi Prescott, reporter for South Bend Tribune’s Market Basket, and Marshall King, managing editor and food writer for the Elkhart Truth.
For nearly an hour, the tasters sampled burgers that had garnered more than 30,000 votes from community members everywhere since the search kicked off May 16. Burger Wars started with 56 restaurants; now eight remain for the regional war coordinated by the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission.
“We’ve had 4,000 votes since we started regionals three days ago,” said Robby Bearss, marketing manager for the commission. “The difference between the first place restaurant and last place restaurant is 80 votes, so all are doing really well. One vote from a taster isn’t going to sway the contest.”
But King still offered commentary, in the form of six-word reviews, amidst stories from chefs about how Burger Wars has changed business for the better.
Stella Moo Burger
Flippin Cow, Elkhart
Brisket, onion, sauce make Stella sing. #burgerwars #6wordreview
Flippin’ Cow’s Stella Moo Burger came in first for Elkhart County. “It’s been phenomenal,” said Cam Snyder, who bought the former Lakeshore Grill restaurant in 2002. He closed the grill a year ago to reopen as the now-famed burger joint – a good move for the Stella Moo, as it’s been selling almost 250 buns a week.
Said King, “Our own Stella Moo in Elkhart County has as much flavor as any of them and should do very, very well. It’s up against the Franklin House burger in the first round, which has ground beef the bar is grinding in the kitchen, as well as peanut butter and an egg. It’s a very good burger, but isn’t as good as Stella Moo.”
Riegling’s Copper Top, Wolcottville
Fried vegetables, sauces over the top. #burgerwars #6wordreview
Cheri Riegling, who owns Riegling’s Copper Top in Wolcottville with her husband Tony, will throw anything on a burger, but their CopperTop Burger with homemade bacon jam, crispy onion rings and bistro sauce, rose to the top for LaGrange County.“This is one we would bring out every now and then,” Riegling said. “But we revised it for the competition. All our customers want to see if we can win because LaGrange is one of the smallest competitors.”
American Legion Post 253, North Webster
Ham, egg. Breakfast on a burger. #burgerwars #6wordreview
The Hoe Burger, made famous by the American Legion Post 253 in Kosciusko County, gets its name from creator Craig Streby, whose nickname is Backhoe. “When we first entered, there were 23 burgers in the county,” Streby said. “Now everyone I see in town tells me they’re coming to taste the Hoe Burger.”
Grecian Lamb Burger
Shoreline Brewery and Restaurant, Michigan City
Feta, herbs, juicy lamb. Gyro-like. #burgerwars #6wordreview
Shoreline Brewery and Restaurant’s Grecian Lamb Burger was the winner for LaPorte County. Barry Smith, executive chef, wanted to offer a burger that was different, but classic; the restaurant has sold between 80 to 120 pounds of lamb a week since the contest began.
“It tops the beef burgers in many cases,” Smith said.
The Becky Burger
The View Tavern, South Bend
Basic, old-school cheeseburger is solid. #burgerwars #6wordreview
There’s “nothing fancy” about St. Joseph’s winning burger, according to Ian Kollar, manager of The View Tavern in South Bend. The Becky is smothered in American and Swiss cheeses, barbecue sauce, grilled onion and bacon.
“We know a lot of competitors have fancier buns but we wanted to go with the American Classic,” Kollar said. “We’ve been selling 100 pounds more of beef a week, so our supplier is really happy with us.”
The Figgy Piggy
The Octave Grill, Chesterton
Tastes of fig, pig, goat, beef. #burgerwars #6wordreview
The “Figgy Piggy,” made with fig jam, hickory smoked bacon, fresh greens and goat cheese, was exhibited by owners Casey and Sylvia Petro. They opened the 25-seat restaurant in Porter County four years ago and have “burgers flying out the door,” Casey said.
“We’re way busier than last year,” Sylvia said. “We don’t take reservations so lots of people go to the bar down the street to wait.”
The Lakehouse Grill, Culver
Branded bun, teriyaki, pineapple make a mark. #burgerwars #6wordreview
Mark Damore of The Lakehouse Grill in Culver decided to go simple with his Hawaiian Burger entry, complete with a bun stamped with the restaurant’s brand. Damore bought the Marshall County restaurant in 2013 and has been selling more than 200 burgers per week since the Northern Indiana Burger Wars began.
“We’re proud to be in this,” Damore said. “More than that, it’s the excitement of our town that’s inspiring. We picked a burger that was not our highest seller but what we thought was the best. More people than I possibly could have imagined have voted.”
The Franklin House, Valparaiso
Peanut butter, egg make burger jiggle. #burgerwars #6wordreview
Franklin House in Valparaiso held the title of highest-voted second place winner and is also competing to even the brackets. The house-made patty is ground in-house and is topped with, among other ingredients, an egg sunny-side up and peanut butter, which “scares people,” owner Erik Bakrevski said.
“Peanut butter is not scary,” Bakrevski told the crowd during the cook-off. “Our restaurant is 21 and over, and we’re a smoking establishment, so there’s a lot of things going against us, but somehow we’re still here.”
As the cook-off wrapped up, dozens of the prized burgers sat uneaten on the table – though not for lack of love. There was too much goodness in one place.
“I’m all about friendly competition,” Damore said. “This event makes me realize our burger can hang, but there’s some really really good burgers.”
Said Bearss, “The goal of the contest is to find the best burger in Indiana. But our goal is to give people a reason to try all these restaurants – to pick one burger over the other is almost impossible.”
A Burger Wars winner will be named July 7. Fill your plate and cast your own vote at the Burger Wars website.