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Burger Brawl: Grills on Wheels, Chillin and Grillin Are Tops

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San Antonio loves its burgers, as the turnout at the Point Park and Eats Burger Brawl proves.

Saturday was a fine day for a burger or three — or even five. And it was a great day for a competition that any food truck devotee would love: A burger brawl, complete with cold beer on tap, families and kids, a dog or two and live music.

Burgers. Any questions?

But the burgers reigned supreme, as far as the judges were concerned. The Point Park & Eats Burger Brawl pitted five trucks and their best efforts against one another — and only one of these five delicious burgers, judged on a surprisingly long list of attributes, would win.

John Griffin and I were among the lucky judges who had the onerous task of tasting each of the burgers, which we did over a period of an hour or so in the early afternoon. With us on the panel were Lauren Madrid, restaurant writer for The Current; Jason Ard, owner Branchline Brewery; and Shawn Gordon, well known to Yelpers, food truck and Twitter followers as the Food Truck Stalker.

If you haven’t been to the Point Park, it is set in a good-sized lot off Boerne Stage Road, west of I-10. It has a comfortable sprawl, plenty of picnic table seating under the trees, a mass of sail-type canopies stretched high above the ordering area, a comfortably sized deck with chairs and tables, an order-up bar and a bit of indoor seating as well.

Jason Ard, whose new brewery will be offering its first commercial release in January, showed off a couple Branchline’s brews. An Eggnog Stout, hinting at sweet spices and even notion of rum, charmed us all and made us wish we could take some home for the holidays. The Rye IPA, heavier-bodied than usual, had a viscous mouth feel, a deep, long-lived head and left just a bite of bitterness at the back of the tongue. These were great burger beers — something we’ll be looking forward to after the holidays are over.

The winning truck, at least with the judges, is Grills on Wheels.

What do judges look for when choosing a great burger from one that’s just really good? The same thing all burger-lovers do — at least those who want to sit back and ponder, taste, talk and consider some more.  We discussed the heat, the aroma, the appearance of the bun, its toastiness or lack thereof, the quality of the meat, its thickness, texture and flavor; the right cheese in the right amount — the list does go on.

Everyone admitted to a few prejudices, likes or dislikes. (But as seasoned burger tasters, we set these aside to judge each sandwich on its own merits.)

Gordon admitted one standard burger ingredient left him cold. “I don’t like pickles,” he said, offering no apologies. “I don’t know why, I just never have liked them.” He also had a general complaint about burger makers these days. “Why don’t they season the meat?” That very good point came into play during the judging. Burger makers, listen up; even just salt and pepper make a difference.

Madrid made threats about tossing sub-par burgers on the floor and stomping on them (this did not happen). John said the make-or-break quality to look for in a burger was inside the bun. “For me, it’s the quality of the patty and how it’s made,” he said.

A Christmas touch at Gourmet on the Fly.

After tasting and re-tasting, and much discussion, we made our choice. It all came down to the top burger, which was from Grills on Wheels, a relatively new truck on the scene.

The Burger Brawl draws crowds.

How it won: The burger (Angus beef) was thick and well-seasoned — as in, salt and pepper, a hint of garlic. Its two slices of Texas toast were buttered and toasted gold. The bacon was smoky and crisp, and the ketchup was spiked with just the right amount of hot-peppery sriracha sauce. All of it, flavors, texture, taste of the meat, finger-warming temperature of the burger itself and that lingering burn made it a winner.

Later on, the people had their chance to choose, and the People’s Choice was a burger that the judges had all liked as well. It came from Chillin and Grillin. Other trucks in the competition included Skinny Cat, MARS Mobile Kitchen and Gourmet on the Fly.

After the morning’s judging, we checked in with Denise Aguirre, who said that the Burger Brawl wasn’t a cinch to pull together. “It was a lot of work,” she said.

Her effort appeared to be worth it. The park was filled with people early in the afternoon and the event was scheduled to last late in the evening.

The promo material for the event billed the Point Park & Eats’ Burger Brawl as the “first annual.” So, if you missed it this year, put it down on your calender for next year.

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