THE HAMBURGER IS AN honest-to-goodness symbol of summer and it had its day in the sun last month when Pulse held the annual Great Burger Battle on Aug. 14. Though many claim credit for the origins of the humble patty flanked by slices of bread, it holds a vaulted position in the lore of American summers, especially on Long Island, where it is as much a part of a Sunday afternoon as the sun and the beach.
After months of heated competition through Pulse’s print and digital channels, an initial list of 50 nominees was narrowed down to 10 finalists who competed for the distinction of having the best burger on Long Island.
The restaurants cooked their hearts out for the throngs of nearly 2,000 attendees, sponsors and the musicians who performed. As the bands played, guests tasted samples, dropping a chip in the bank of their favorite to cast their ballot. Plainview’s Dirty Burger rose through the ranks to claim victory with the most votes.
Chef Ian Russo has been cooking for 35 years— since he was a 12 1⁄2-year-old Philadelphia kid with aspirations to travel the world. He made good on those dreams with stints everywhere, including Belgium, England, France and elsewhere in the U.S., but it was Hawaii that introduced him to a love of honey, the main secret ingredient in Dirty Burger’s signature sandwich.
“The burgers get dipped in a dirty dust—there’s a lot of cayenne pepper—at the end of the cooking we add honey. The heat cancels the sweet, the sweet cancels the heat and it becomes a flavor that people love,” Russo explained. That dirty dust is the thing that makes their dirty burgers (and shakes and cocktails) so dirty. It’s a unique blend of seven spices that Russo then marries with clover honey.
The champs have been at the Plainview location for just under three years, but have their eyes on opening other venues from which to offer their winning burgers, shakes, fries and margaritas, which are rimmed with a mix of salt and the spice.
The Dirty Burger team took the competition seriously. Russo admitted his “head was at the grill, but every time we got someone to vote [for us], we all screamed.”
General manager Michelle Hyde enjoyed the exposure the Great Burger Battle has brought the restaurant, especially on the day of the event, because the group could interact with “a lot of new people,” she said. “A lot of people do know about us…but we definitely did get a group of new people to try us out.”
The reigning 2014 champ, GM Burger Bar of Rockville Centre, made it to the finals as well, landing in the No. 2 position this year. And Off the Block Kitchen & Meats of Sayville came in third. But all of the restaurants offered a unique spin on summer’s favorite staple.
THE TOP 10 CONTESTANTS FOR THE GREAT BURGER BATTLE
GM Burger Bar, Rockville Centre
Left Coast Kitchen & Cocktails, Merrick
Local Burger Co., Bay Shore
New York Burger Bar, Massapequa
Off the Block Kitchen & Meats, Sayville
South Shore Dive, West Sayville
The Mill Roadhouse, Westhampton Beach
The Tap Room, Patchogue