SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Fifty billion hamburgers are eaten in the states annually. The quintessential American handheld seemingly appeals to most palates thanks to its versatility. Port City Taste Burger Week proves how one sandwich can be dressed multiple ways and never the same way twice — from traditional beef to healthy cauliflower, shrimp to even … camel?
Yep, the 2022 event — a Port City Daily program — showcases exotic meats, too. More than 25 burgers are getting a makeover at 18 restaurants this week only, thanks to local chefs and restaurateurs putting forth inventive flavors.
ALSO: Catch up on local food news
Both True Blue Butcher and Table in Landfall and True Blue Butcher and Barrel in South Front District will feature five burgers throughout the week. Chef Bobby Zimmerman decided to utilize Burger Week to pit some of his crew’s creativity against one another in a friendly battle. Yet, the end goal is to give real-life experience on proper menu development, a critical part of running a restaurant, Zimmerman said.
“The rules of the competition are that the burger had to be of the chef’s creation, the cost had to be analyzed, and a sales strategy had to be developed with staff training, marketing, and pricing as a consideration,” Zimmerman explained. “At the end of the week we’re going to tally up not the total amount sold, but the contribution margin from the total sales for each burger and that will determine the winner.”
Seventeen chefs exist across his restaurants, which also includes Mariposa (though the latter isn’t participating in Burger Week). Each put forth their best offerings and Zimmerman whittled it down to five on the menu.
All of the patties are made from a custom meat grind on site, as the True Blue brand is known for fresh butcher offerings. A Greek- and Spanish-inspired burger — made from lamb and chorizo respectively — appear on the menu.
A bacon version will be tasted in Tones of Home, topped with jalapeño pimento cheese, crispy onion, and smoked pork Eastern NC BBQ.
“The approachability,” Zimmerman said, “creates a high-performing burger.”
While the restaurateur is clear he cannot choose a favorite, he is excited to see the public’s preference: “The curiosity behind the Haembeogeo (the Korean burger) by chef Jesse will be fun to watch.”
Haembeogeo is topped with sweet Thai chili gochujang, Kimchi slaw, bibb lettuce, the Japanese condiment Furikake, and a homemade chili-lime bun made by True Blue’s pastry team.
Perhaps the most exotic offering during Burger Week will come from downtown’s Platypus and Gnome. The restaurant is presenting the Quackin’ Camelope.
Platypus has become known for experimenting with various meats not always found at other local eateries.
“We wanted to find healthier alternatives to traditional meats found in the U.S.,” owner Matt Danylec said. “The result has been richer-tasting food from more sustainable sources that is higher in protein, minerals, and amino acids, yet lower in fat and cholesterol.”
Camel is similar to beef, he explained, but with “more minerality” and a stronger flavor. It can be cooked to any temperature, but like lean beef, staff often recommend medium rare to medium as to prevent it drying out.
Camel isn’t the only exotic meat on the burger; Platypus tops it with antelope chili, a duck egg, and duck bacon.
“A regular beef patty would get completely lost on the bun and offer very little to the overall taste of the burger,” Danylec said.
For diners wanting a lighter bite, general manager Molly Brodbeck at Flying Machine at Wrightsville Beach said the kitchen has created a cauliflower burger, bold with spice. The kitchen tested various ideas but landed on cauliflower as one of their options — the other is a beef smash burger — for a few reasons.
“Our cauliflower appetizer is wildly popular, so we decided to make our veggie burger a reflection,” Brodbeck said.
Also, there isn’t another burger like it on the beach, she added. The crispy, fried cauli patty comes topped with a blue cheese-Buffalo sauce, baby greens, fresh sliced tomato, and Ranch dressing on a buttered brioche bun.
Brodbeck said the restaurant serves an active clientele who appreciate vegetarian options, though the goal is to appeal to all palates. “This burger is a reminder that sometimes innovation married to simplicity can yield the best results,” Brodbeck detailed.
All of its elements are housemade, with the patty consisting of blanched cauliflower, egg and breadcrumbs. The staff smokes the blue-cheese crumbles to add to traditional hot sauce. Fresh herbs and garlic brighten up the homemade dressing.
“Ranch is a staple for Southern [cuisine] and we understand the importance of it being done right and made fresh,” Brodbeck added. “We source local whenever possible.”
Local is also the focus at Cast Iron Kitchen near Porters Neck. Chef Josh Petty has created a menu of five burgers, some comprising beef from Brasstown, N.C. A grass-fed dry-aged burger gets a smoky crunch from fried pork belly and BBQ sauce, while a breakfast burger, topped with an egg and Hollandaise, can transform brunch.
CIK also will appeal to the purse strings by offering some of the least expensive deals of the week: $5 sliders. The restaurant will serve Kobe beef, chorizo sausage and turkey burger options.
Located across town in the Cargo District, Mess Hall — which turned out over 600 orders of its famed Britts burger during last year’s Burger Week — is amping up the ultimate munchie food. Mountain Dew, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and mac ‘n’ cheese combine to make the Flamin’ Hot Mac ‘n’ Dew Burger.
Owner Sam Steger said conceptualizing unique burgers usually comes when he and some of his crew are joking around in the kitchen. Mostly odd notions bounce around, some he said never make it to the menu.
“But sometimes the ideas do stick, and it becomes a challenge to try to take something bizarre and make it taste good,” he added.
The restaurateur finds himself surfing the internet to see what’s trending in the food world. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, he found, has a cult following.
“When Mountain Dew released the flamin’ hot flavor, people were freaking out about it. The internet is a wild place,” Steger said.
He decided to fold the Dew into bacon jam to give it a kick, add some crunchy Cheetos over creamy mac on a smash burger to see how it all worked.
“The flavors come together surprisingly well,” Steger explained. “The acidity of the pickles cuts through it perfectly, too.”
South Beach Grill has veered away from land and into the sea to offer an alternative handheld this coming week. “Sustainable shrimp sourced from Atlantic waters make all the difference,” owner John Andrews assured.
While a fried shrimp burger is a traditional staple on North Carolina seafood menus, Andrews and his team have chosen a healthier option without sacrificing taste.
“Grilling and blackening spices give the shrimp a rich, smokey flavor,” Andrews described.
Chef Michael Overman adds garlic aioli, fried green tomatoes and the secret ingredient: his grandmother’s homemade bacon jam recipe to give it textural interest.
“We could disclose it,” Andrews said, “but Grandma swings a mean wooden spoon.”
Diners who wish to participate in Burger Week can do so without special coupons or tickets needed. Just head to any participating restaurant and ask for the Burger Week menu — all listed below:
Crust Kitchen and Cocktails
Front Street Brewery | Click for $12 menu
Mess Hall | Click for $13 menu
Rebellion | Click for $15 menu
Platypus & Gnome | Click for menu
Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar – Downtown Wilmington NC | Click for menu
True Blue Butcher and Barrel | Click for $14-$21 menu
Catawba Brewing | Click for $10 menu
Hops Supply Company | Click for $13-$14 menu
Whiskey Trail at The Creek | Click for $15 menu
Whiskey Trail Midtown | Click for $15 menu
Cast Iron Kitchen ILM | Click for $5-$17 menu
Soundside Seafood & Raw Bar
True Blue Butcher & Table | Click for $14-$21 menu
Wild Wing Cafe
Flying Machine at WB | Click for $14-$16 menu
Poe’s Tavern | Click for $15-$17 menu
South Beach Grill | Click for $16 menu
Watermans Brewing | Click for $13 menu
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