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News / Life / Food

Burger Brawl the nature of the beast

The Columbian
Published: May 19, 2014, 5:00pm
3 Photos
Sef Gonzalez of Miami runs the blog Burger Beast. Gonzalez says the Swine Burger at Swine Southern Table &amp; Bar in Coral Gables, Fla., is the best in Miami-Dade County.
Sef Gonzalez of Miami runs the blog Burger Beast. Gonzalez says the Swine Burger at Swine Southern Table & Bar in Coral Gables, Fla., is the best in Miami-Dade County. Here, Gonzalez talks with bartender John Cooper on Friday, May 2, 2014. Photo Gallery

National Hamburger Month is upon us, which means the Miami comfort-food blogger known as Burger Beast is up to his eyeballs in patty pitches.

“Every restaurant is doing a burger special this month, and they’re all like, ‘Come in and try ours,’ because they want me to write about their burger,” said The Beast, Sef Gonzalez. “There are so many burgers out there right now, if I tried them all I would literally double my weight, and no one wants that.”

South Florida had much less of a burger scene in 2008, when Gonzalez started his blog — which he wrote mostly as a diversion from his full-time job in retail management.

“People would ask me all the time where to eat, where to find the best Cuban food or whatever,” he said. “And I always had a good answer for them. So my wife encouraged me to just write about my food experiences.”

Beyond burgers

“Five or six years ago, there wasn’t a burger joint on every corner of Miami like there is today,” Gonzalez said. “I would basically go to any place that had a burger on the menu, which led me to find some really great ones, actually.

“But I found that readers got really excited when I wrote about side dishes like croquetas or pastelitos,” he said. “At that point, the blog sort of changed directions into all comfort food stuff.”

Gonzalez’s timing was perfect. As the country tried to dig its way out of a deep economic hole, eaters sought fast-casual over fine-dining, comfort over pretension.

They found both in food trucks, which rolled in to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, slinging burgers — “The first 10 trucks all had a burger on the menu,” Gonzalez said — and tacos and mofongo and empanadas and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Gonzalez tried it all, documenting each frita (Cuban burger) and every arepa (a flatbread from Venezuela or Colombia) with pictures and words.

“It was cooked a nice medium and was placed on top of the arepa, which was sopping up some of the juices,” read a 2010 Burger Beast post on the carne asada arepa from Asados El Paisa food cart. “The arepa was doing double duty by oozing some cheese.”

At the time, Gonzalez was the only blogger regularly documenting the South Florida food-truck scene. The number of his online followers swelled as people flocked to his site for information on the trucks and their whereabouts.

He parlayed the popularity — and his comprehensive list of contacts — into gigs organizing food-truck events around town.

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For Gonzalez, 40, being Burger Beast is now a full-time gig.

Gonzalez sells small ads on his site, but he said he does not let advertising influence his posts, and he is adamantly opposed to accepting free food.

“I pay for all of my meals, period,” he said. “If someone wants to make it awkward and insists on not letting me pay, then I disclose that in whatever I write.”

In an age when many food bloggers are quick to take freebies in exchange for a positive post or write divisive comments for the sake of being controversial, Burger Beast is a breath of fresh air. Charcoal-grilled, cheese-covered, medium-rare air.

Pincho Factory Toston Burger

Serves 4.

3 teaspoons granulated garlic, divided

3 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper, divided

2 1/4 cups canola or vegetable oil, divided

2 green plantains

8 ounces mayonnaise

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

1 ounce distilled white vinegar

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, mince

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 pound ground chuck

1/2 pound ground brisket

1/4 pound ground short rib

4 slices jack cheese

4 lettuce leaves

4 tomato slices

In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon each of granulated garlic, salt and black pepper; set aside. Peel plantains and cut horizontally into 2-inch-thick slices. In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottom skillet, heat 2 cups oil to 325 degrees. Fry plantain slices in the oil for about 3 minutes, until semi-soft and light golden. Remove plantains with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Let cool for about 1-2 minutes, then smash plantains into flat rounds.

Increase oil temperature to 375 degrees. Fry plantain rounds again for 3 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with reserved garlic seasoning; set aside.

In a blender, puree mayonnaise, cilantro, vinegar, lemon juice, parsley, 1 teaspoon granulated garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt until smooth; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine coriander, onion powder, and remaining granulated garlic, salt and black pepper; set aside. In a separate bowl, blend ground meats thoroughly and separate into four 1/3-pound portions. Shape meat into patties and refrigerate on a covered plate or baking sheet about 30 minutes.

Heat griddle, grill or skillet to 350. Sprinkle reserved burger seasoning on both sides of each patty. Coat cooking surface with remaining oil, then add patties, cooking about 4 minutes per side to medium doneness. Top each burger with a slice of cheese and remove from heat.

Place each patty on a seasoned toston. Top with lettuce and tomato, then drizzle with cilantro sauce. Place another seasoned toston on the garnished patty.

Per serving: 1,187 calories (77 percent from fat), 103 g fat (24.0 g saturated, 41.0 g monounsaturated), 157 cholesterol, 36.0 g protein, 31.5 g carbohydrate, 2.5g fiber, 2,168 mg sodium.