If you see this truck parked somewhere in South Florida, let the siren call of burgers and tacos lure you.
On Sunday, I finally tried the Macho Burger from the locally famous Latin Burger truck, thereby ending my Latin Burger virginity. The truck was parked poolside at an Aventura condo where I hung out with host Ergagit and fabulous food bloggers like For the Love of Food, South Florida Food and Wine, Epicurious Chic and Sushi Pro, among other wonderful local foodies I've crossed paths with lately.
Coincidentally, I bumped into Jim Heins, who runs the Latin Burger operation, on Thursday at a separate event. He explained how much work goes into the preparation of the beef, so I was expecting one damn good burger. And a damn good burger it was -- two perfectly grilled tender patties, caramelized onion, Oaxaca cheese and red pepper mayo between two perfectly toasted sesame buns -- all this satisfied my beef lust. Unfortunately, I couldn't really distinguish the the chorizo flavor or the jalapeños mentioned in the description, but I'll happily seek out the truck on Twitter (@latinburger) for another bite, for you see, just like a macho, this burger packs a punch and yet will still graciously open a door for you.
I had to pace myself, because not only would I be attending a private barbecue later that evening, I knew I'd be wolfing down some more beef at the Burger Throwdown on Memorial Day, hosted by the culinary creative brother and sister team of Chef George (Chef George Catering) and Vanessa Montes.
The indefatigable Burger Beast has already posted the facts -- so I'm going to offer you some extra juicy drippings here ...
The event was held at Tree Tops Park in Davie, which I found to be an utterly charming nature retreat, complete with expansive lawns and majestic live oak trees shading hiking and equestrian trails that inspired Lady Chatterley fantasies for forest trysts (that is, if you don't mind spiders). For this east of US1 bi-county girl, going anywhere further west than the Turnpike is like Broward Country Safari and I was happy to discover this gem of a recreational area.
Over 80 people attended and over 500 mini-burgers were served. Side dishes, including crisp and slightly spicy coleslaw, bacon baked beans and fresh grilled garlic corn, among others, accompanied six sample burgers from the competitors, as well as numerous delicious home made desserts. At the judges table sat Chef Dennis Ortiz (Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale), Dori Zinn (Fat Kids Club) and Sef Gonzalez (Burger Beast).
When I arrived, my buddy and colleague Carlos Miller was making guacamole with a mortar and pestle. I was thoroughly impressed by his vertical piston and thrust hand action. When I asked him how he managed to do it so well, he said: "Years of practice, Maria."
Except for Chef George, all the competing chefs were amateurs. Yet they all looked like pros, in spite of the sweltering heat from the sun and the coals under two large barbecue grills. They seemed busier than the cast of Iron Chef, prepping their burgers under a tent where they surely must have bumped into each other more than a few times. The rest of us sat our asses down in the main park pavilion nearby, enjoying beer and spiked punch included in the price of admission -- $15 per person.
A young lady named April making Vanessa Montes' spiky punch recipe for the grown-ups, which I dubbed "Pine Island Iced Tea" (you Broward folks will get the joke). Loquacious and funny MC Spencer to the right.
The price also included a raffle ticket (I won a very cute apron) and excellent spinning by DJ Pauly Paul, which was perfect for a club but might have horrified the neighbors nearby, who, living in the pastoral tranquility of Davie, probably thought Hialeah had invaded Broward. The event also featured very lively MC Spencer who kept our spirits up in spite of the stifling summer heat.
Third place winner Chef George (left) and first place winner Roly Masferrer (right) vying for a spot on the grill. Each chef had to grill his or her own burgers. "If you can't take the heat, you're not @chefsazon," I tweeted.
The prep and serving team worked frantically to get us samples as soon as they got off the grill. Each burger plate was marked with a colored star so the competition would be anonymous. After waiting an hour or so after my first sample, I got the rest of them all at once. With so many tasty burgers in front of me, several with common ingredients like bacon, it was too much yummy goodness, which overwhelmed even my jaded palette. Also, I'm not sure if I even got to try Chef George's Amstel Light burger. In spite of all this, I must take my hat off to the production line and serving crew -- they worked their butts off.
In the future, it might be better to spread the samples out at regular intervals with the option of a palette cleanser in between, like fresh cool watermelon. Judge Chef Ortiz did mention how timing and temperature was key.
Second place winner Christina Ramsey early on in the day before she dished out her Bolio Popper Burger. I didn't have the heart to tell her how grateful I was that she didn't call it a Bollo Popper.
My favorites were the blue cheese stuffed burger with spicy mustard, caramelized onion, crisp lettuce and a slice of fresh tomato, as well as Miller's burger, which featured fresh roasted Anaheim peppers and a tangy guacamole that could've stood well all on its own (remember, he put a lot of muscle into it). Unfortunately, my sample of the winning burger, which included chorizo (what isn't good with chorizo?), was so undercooked, the beef tasted like gristle. That was a darn shame, because I'm sure a properly grilled version would've been delicious.
When I say samples, I'm talking Royal Castle size and not some tiny canapé meatball. The burgers were so generously portioned, I could only take a few bites of each.
It was quite obvious that it wasn't just about burgers though, but about the camaraderie of the chefs and good times with good friends at a beautiful South Florida location.
I'll quote something Christine Najac once wrote and said to me this weekend at the Latin Burger party -- "Strangers come together for the love of food and leave lifelong friends."
Yep, that's what it's all about.
In addition to chef work and catering, Chef George runs Homemade Chefs, a regular series of classes for home cooks desiring to learn about cuisines and cooking techniques from all over the world.