On a clear day in August, a hungry mob descended on Shorefront Park in Patchogue Village, drawn by the unmistakable scent of freshly grilled hamburgers. What they found at the end of that olfactory rainbow was a ground round nirvana, the result of Long Island Pulse Magazine teaming up with Amstel Light for the first-ever Battle of the Burger. The burgers themselves were as varied as the restaurants that served them: Fiery Cajun burgers, thick and spicy Chorizo burgers and brisket burgers, to name a few.
But when the votes were tallied, the winning burger was perhaps the most basic one at the event. PeraBell Food Bar won the crowd over with a burger composed of simple cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon and caramelized onions. “Our basic principle here is keeping things simple,” said chef/owner John Peragine. “Buy quality meat, don’t try and mask the flavor.” But this burger was no one-man show. Head chef James Klein took that simplicity and turned it into gold. “We wanted to balance out the flavors with the sweet onions, smoky bacon, creamy cheese and slight spice to the sauce.”
It’s a lot of philosophical underpinning for a basic burger, but the results speak for themselves. The coveted Golden Spatula trophy now occupies a point of pride over the bar, appropriately enough right below the Amstel Light sign. Peragine prefers his Amstel Light from the bottle while Klein considers himself more a draft guy, proving the best collaborations are often complementary rather than parallel. The newly rechristened “Champ Burger” has earned a spot as a regular menu item as part of its lap around victory row. “We put it up on the board, serving it exactly as we served it at the event and we’re getting crushed,” said Peragine.
And now with the accolades collected, the burger a fixture and the trophy on display, the guys from PeraBell reap the big reward of their win: An Amstel Light-sponsored trip to the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival this February. “I’d really like to go and relax. After that Burger Battle, I’d like to just go and enjoy one,” said Peragine, adding as an aside to Klein, “You know that guy Simon that’s won three years in a row? He did a pork burger last year.”
Smells like an idea is cooking for next year’s Battle of the Burger.
Battle of the Burger By the Numbers
3,000 bottles of Amstel Light
2,500 burgers from 10 Long Island restaurants:
Burger Bite, West Hempstead / The Burger Shack, Coram / Fatty McGee’s, East Islip / Legends Restaurant, New Suffolk
Mirabelle Tavern, Stony Brook / Mitch & Toni’s American Bistro, Albertson / Old Fields Restaurant, Greenlawn
Pentimento Restaurant, Stony Brook / PeraBell Food Bar, Patchogue / Tweed’s Restaurant & Buffalo Bar, Riverhead
words: Barry Kaufman | photos: Kenny Janosick
(left) John Peragine and James Klein