Fairmount’s own London Grill won high praise last week after the eatery took home the valued People’s Choice Award for best burger in a first-ever citywide competition.
The event, the first annual Burger Brawl, was held at Meredith Elementary School in South Philadelphia’s Queen Village and was organized by Rob and Maggie Wasserman.
The Wassermans own Rittenhouse Square’s Rouge and 500 Degrees restaurants — both noted for their burgers — and have a son enrolled in the school. The event was intended as a fundraiser for the public school.
London Grill’s head chef, Michael McNally, said his burger was the favorite among an audience of more than 400 people.
“It was great … Everybody that was there serves great burgers,” said the veteran chef.
About 15 chefs from other restaurants presented burger offerings at the event, but London Grill’s “The Aristocrat,” a burger served at the restaurant for the past 20 years, proved to be the crowd favorite.
As a chef with no formal culinary training — “The school of hard knocks wasn’t so bad,” he joked — McNally is proud of the burger, which is produced with beef raised by Amish farmers and served on an English muffin instead of a traditional roll.
McNally said the beef, fresh each week, might have helped push his entry in the contest over the top, but he couldn’t be certain because many of the restaurants at last week’s event presented burgers made with fresh, locally sourced meat.
“I’d like to say that it was our Amish country beef,” he said. “But, I don’t think that’s what it was. A lot of people were amazed that we serve it on an English muffin.”
Along with being served on something more than a traditional roll, The Aristocrat is topped with Boursin cheese, made in-house, as well as caramelized onions and a homemade chipotle ketchup and beer mustard.
“We always have that available,” said McNally of the sauces they make in house. “We try to put a lot of good stuff on there.”
McNally said he and his staff spent eight to 10 hours at the burger showdown, sampling many of the competition’s offerings as well.
“We tried everything. It was a long day,” he said.
But, which was his favorite?
As a self-professed meat lover, McNally said he liked Center City-based Ladder 15’s Bone Marrow Burger.
“That had bone marrow in it,” he said of the burger, topped with short rib, truffle jus and served with a bone full of marrow to spread on.
“I had expected to see a lot of people get burger crazy with foie gras and everything,” he said. “But, it was funny. I didn’t see that.”
McNally said he didn’t do anything special to help ensure the people’s choice award would be brought north of Market Street.
In fact, he served the burger the same way it’s served every day at London Grill.
“It’s just the burger that’s on our menu every day,” he said. “We’ve had it since the beginning.”
Along with the People’s Choice Award, a panel of judges that included Marc Summers, TV show host from the Food Network, and Philadelphia Eagle’s lineman Winston Justice, selected a winner of their own. The experts panel selected a burger made by chef Jennifer Carroll of 10 Arts Bistro, located near City Hall.
Michael Klein of the Philadelphia Inquirer said her entry was made of “Pinelands beef and features Green Bay cheddar, pickles, lettuce, thin-sliced tomato, red onion, ketchup and Dijon mustard, and is served on a challah bun.”
McNally said he was glad that London Grill’s burger took the People’s Choice Award, but as a friend of Rob Wasserman, McNally said he was simply happy to help out and be part of a charitable event.
“He called me and asked if I would be involved,” said McNally. “It was a great benefit.”