The Blended Burger Project from the James Beard Foundation has lofty goals for one of our favorite meaty meals: Make it healthier and more sustainable. For chefs it provides an opportunity to get creative. Bud Taylor at The Bistro at Topsail, for example, has fashioned a burger with local ground beef and confit mushrooms. He’s added an innovative topping knowns as shitake “bacon,” made via a process he’s unwilling to share. As well, Wrightsville Beach Brewery’s David Owens offers a unique quinoa-based blend for special sliders.
The two local restaurants are among more than 300 participants across the country who are vying for top spots in online polling. In North Carolina, there are 12 restaurants offering a burger for votes this year. The burgers are available until July 31, which is when the contest ends. Foodies who cast an online ballot will be entered to win a trip for two to the 2018 Blended Burger event at the James Beard House.
It is the third year the James Beard Foundation will host the contest. Each chef agrees the project offers a chance to try something new and see how locals respond to the burgers. The results could offer real-world rewards, too. The top five chefs win a trip to the James Beard House in New York City, where they showcase their skills at a special event next year. (Beard, by the way, was one of the early champions of American cuisine, and a number of cookbooks and food awards bear his name.) The Greenwich Village site acts as a space for visiting chefs to perform their craft. Just this month, they are hosting events with chefs from Miami, FL, and Charleston, SC, to Philadelphia, PA, and Chicago, IL. Last December PinPoint Restaurant in downtown Wilmington participated in a NC Christmas with others on the docket. On June 12 Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner was joined by fellow Best Chef: Southeast award-winner Tandy Wilson for a multi-course dinner. Being able to cook at the Beard House is an honor for any chef, and both Taylor and Owens have their eyes on the prize.
Taylor dubbed his burger “The Goomba,” after the mushroom character in the Super Mario Bros. universe. It’s made with Mills Family Farm beef, blended with slow-cooked oyster and portobello mushrooms, served on a house-made bun and topped with Havarti cheese, shitake “bacon,” lemongrass aioli, heirloom tomato, and baby arugula.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Taylor confirms. “Won’t tell ya how we make it.”
Owens’ “Blended Burger” slider is a result of the vegan/vegetarian compromises he often makes in his home kitchen. It’s got a veggie base of quinoa, red potato and mushroom, but with a brawny bit of ground beef and lamb. It’s topped with a cashew cheese and specially-made condiments—a tomato jam and golden-raisin mustard to amp up the umpf in place of traditional red-and-yellow stuff.
Mushrooms in the mix make ground beef more environmentally friendly, while adding a plant-based component that’s still meaty and toothsome. The addition of 25-percent mushrooms contributes vitamins while reducing fat and calories. A DIY video on the James Beard website suggests sautéing a half-pound of finely chopped (or food-processed) mushrooms to a pound of ground beef for burgers. The idea was first conceived by the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative in conjunction with Mushroom Council (of course).
To try the The Goomba, folks can sail down to The Bistro at Topsail (602 Roland Ave.) in Surf City for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Aside from their burger, it’s a fine-dining farm-to-table restaurant with awards for its seasonal menu and extensive wine list.
Wrightsville Beach Brewery (24 Greenville Ave.) opened earlier in the year with an eclectic menu, featuring everything from entrees to innovative pizzas. Diners can try their Blended Burger from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Readers can visit jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject/vote for more info.