Local restaurants recently competed for the title of Best Burger Champion in the second annual Burgers and Brews Competition at Wicker Park in Highland.

The winning burger was concocted by Erik Bakrevski, chef at Franklin House in Valparaiso. His Grape Ape Burger, which he said is named after the cartoon character, includes “our house blend meat, then red leaf lettuce, bacon, Valbreso feta cheese and concord grape ketchup made in-house on a German pretzel bun.”

Franklin House came in second place last year with their House Burger, which is topped with peanut butter, mayo, bacon, a sunny side up egg, Swiss cheese and German pretzel bun.

Coming in second place and also winning the People’s Choice award was Freddy’s Steakhouse in Hammond with their Bacon Apple Jam Burger. Third place went to Brewhouse 41 in Whole Foods Market in Schererville for its Hawaiian-Chipotle Beef Burger, which was topped with ham and glazed pineapple.

Local celebrity judges, Phil Patterson (local foodie and administrator of the Phil’s Phoodie Phinds Facebook group), Mark Drisner (butcher at Rob’s Meat Chop and Deli) and Dustin Anderson (Munster town manager) selected their favorites for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prize.

The event is organized by a group of parents from St. Thomas More School in Munster. Although the event benefits the school, it is open to the public and draws not just school families, but foodies and craft beer lovers.

“A couple years ago we were looking to do a fundraiser and some of us got together to look at some things we could do outside of the school,” said Trisha Sinclair, Burgers & Brews committee member.

Committee member Tanya Power suggested the idea for a burger competition.

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“When she presented it to us, it sounded like a good idea and we tried it to see if we could make it happen and it turned out pretty well,” Sinclair said.

The result was an indoor/outdoor fall event where attendees nosh on burger samples, sip local craft brew, listen to a live band, play games and vote for their favorite burger. Competitors have free reign on recipes with the only guideline being that the portions are 2 ounces of meat.

Some accomplish it by serving slider-sized miniature burgers and others prepare full-sized burgers that are cut into smaller pieces. Beef for the burgers was donated by US Foods and buns were donated by Strack and Van Til. New Oberpfalz Brewing in Griffith, 18th Street Brewery, which has a taproom in Gary and brewpub in Hammond, and Byway Brewing Co. in Hammond donated beer and poured for the crowd.

“The goal is to just have something for the parents of the school to be able to come together and we wanted to make sure we didn’t have raffles or baskets to bid on at the event. That’s why the burger competition was such a good idea. It’s a big activity to do while people are there and it’s a nice time of year to be outside,” Sinclair said. “The venue lends itself well for the outdoor grilling and outdoor decorations. Parents are eager to get out and meet each other and this was a great way to do it. And the breweries are big in our area, so that was a big draw.”

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