If you grill them, they will come.
Smoke clouds from grilling meat rose above the illuminated white tents perched on Miami Beach, as diners swept onto the sands Friday night for the annual burger bacchanalia known as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash.
They came not only to gorge on 45 different burgers from around the country. Ultimately, they came to find out which grill master would take home the award for the best burger of the night — and hold that title proudly for a year.
It turns out, if you’re from the Miami area, you’re not far from the very best burgers on any day of the week. Miami-area restaurants won two of the three major awards, including the coveted People’s Choice award.
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Swine Southern Table & Bar, led by Miami born-and-raised executive chef Seth Barrs, won the $5,000 People’s Choice award for the burger they put on their menu in Coral Gables every day, the Swine Burger. The restaurant is owned by John Kunkel’s Miami-based 50 Eggs restaurant group that also founded Lime, Yardbird and Spring Chicken.
Jorgie Ramos, whose Kendall mom-and-pop gastropub Barley led the rise of upscale dining in Dadeland, won $10,000 from Red Robin, and his Latin Burger will be featured at the chain’s restaurants for a year.
The $2,500 critics’ choice award went to celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s New York City restaurant Butter. The winning “2 Mikes Burger” was a blackened all-beef cheeseburger with applewood bacon jam, jalapeño, and sunchoke relish. The judges were the event’s host, Guy Fieri, celebrity fashion designer Zac Posen, Miami nightlife impresario David Grutman, Food Network chef Marc Murphy and reality television personality Jonathan Cheban, who calls himself the “Food God.”
It was Barrs’ Swine Burger — a short rib, brisket and chuck blend, with house-smoked pork belly, covered in melty American cheese, served on a potato roll — that won festival goers’ hearts. For Swine’s Barrs, however, who has been cooking since age 19, starting at the Deli Lane Cafe in South Miami, it meant more that diners chose his burger their favorite.
“The people are the ones who speak,” said Barrs, 46. “There are only a handful of judges, but thousands of people here who voted, and that makes me happy.”
For Ramos, 36, the award going to his Latin Burger — with chorizo, sweet plantain marmalade, manchego cheese and chimichurri mayonnaise — had special meaning.
He started Barley in 2013 as the first gastropub of its kind in Miami — and he opened it in Kendall, where he still lives, in a condo above the restaurant in Downtown Dadeland. The restaurant survived a name change and closing temporarily as it moved to a new location.
But Ramos retained his loyal following. He expanded with next-door cocktail bar, Abi Maria, last year. And his father still works with him at the restaurant. Now, Downtown Dadeland has drawn other major restaurants, including neighbor Ghee Indian Kitchen, whose chef, Niven Patel, has been nominated for his first James Beard Award.
“It still hasn’t sunk it what this means because I didn’t come in expecting to even have a chance at winning,” he said, overcome after the award was announced. “It’s hard to get your name out there as the little guy. So this is great for us. It brings attention to Dadeland, and I want that neighborhood to thrive as much as possible.”