MARCO ISLAND — Strolling around the Beach Music Festival on Saturday engaged all the senses. There was the sound of the bands, the sight of artwork being created, the feel of the cool, damp sand under one’s toes. And, wafting through the air, there was the aroma of burgers.
One greatly anticipated feature of the festival was the Best Burger in Paradise competition. This year, 11 local eateries got their grill on to compete, up from only six last year, said Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Spa & Golf Course director of sales and marketing Bob Pfeffer.
Each restaurant had their own distinctive take on the traditional American classic, and as the grills sizzled, the scents were positively mouthwatering. For the music lovers in attendance at the festival, the good news was they could sample the same burgers the judges were eating, by ponying up a few tickets.
Cocomo’s went with the classic, using Rochester sirloin beef. Marco Island Brewery called their entry the “Old Glory Burger,” with Angus beef, red tomatoes, white American cheese, and a homemade blue cheese sauce, plus bacon. Putting on a tropical twist, Stilts restaurant used pineapple salsa as their secret ingredient.
Last year’s overall winner, the Crazy Flamingo, said their burger is the same that has been on the menu for 22 years at the restaurant.
“You don’t mess with a good thing,” said Kathleen Frenzel. One distinctive feature was the slice of toasted baguette the 8-oz., mesquite grilled sirloin was served on. Perhaps the most unusual entry was the lobster and shrimp slider served up by Café de Marco, accompanied by fresh tropical fruit salsa.
Capt. Brien’s, CJ’s on the Bay, Cathy O’Clarke’s, the Philly Grille, Quinn’s on the Beach, and 400 Pazzi’s all had their own taste treats on offer. Taste, of course, is the fifth sense, and the one that determined the judges’ rankings for the best burger.
Except for one judge, Marco Island City Manager Dr. Jim Riviere. Not actually consuming any of the burgers, he limited his sampling to the use of a meat thermometer, which he poked into each entrant as it was set before him. The burgers, that is, not the restaurateurs, or the Marriott employees who did the serving.
The five other judges dug in with a relish, though. “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it,” said judge Bob Beville, director of sales at Waterman Broadcasting. This might have been just a stock phrase, but it was tough for the judges in one way. The judging table was set up directly in front of the stage, so there was a rock concert blasting them at close range as they did their tasting.
Judge Mac Chaudry, general manager of the Hilton, friendly competitor and a co-sponsor of the festival, which was organized by the Marriott, said with 11 different items to compare, the secret was pacing and restraint.
“I was taking one bite only. If I don’t make notes right away, I forget,” he said.
When the smoke cleared, the Philly Grille took top honors, the coveted “Best Overall” category, for their burger, topped with smoked gouda cheese, a sun-dried tomato sauce, and onion jam. Café de Marco won both the People’s Choice award, determined by actual sales, and the “Where’s the Beef?” award for non-beef entries. Stilts won for Most Unique.
Additional judges included Jack Wert, president of the Naples, Marco Island, & Everglades CVB, and Carley Wegner, from the Fox 4 Morning Blend.