Viewed as simultaneously delicious and unhealthy, the hamburger is synonymous with American culture.
The James Beard Foundation, though, is once again challenging chefs to create a burger that is healthier and more sustainable for the planet — without sacrificing taste.
The culinary nonprofit organization kicked off its third Blended Burger Project on Memorial Day weekend, encouraging restaurants across the country to enter their own “plant-forward” burgers — meat patties fused with at least 25 percent of one healthful ingredient: mushrooms. The contest, which has accepted a record 400 restaurants this year, runs through July 31.
Six D.C. restaurants were among the 400 nationwide who entered the project and are now selling their mushroom-fusion-burgers — with some impressive results.
Logan Circle is home to two participants. One — The Pig at 1320 14th St. NW — unsurprisingly calls itself “nose-to-tail pork centric.” The restaurant proudly sources some produce from a local farm in Maryland, and alters its menu according to what is available. The Pig dubbed its blended burger entry the “Mushaboom,” and currently sells it “very successfully,” general manager Mallory Finnegan told The Current. The Mushaboom’s meat patty is mixed with heritage pork, ground beef and, of course, mushrooms; then it’s topped with miso-cured pork belly, pickled pineapple kimchi, red mustard greens, smoked gouda and an over-easy egg.
To Finnegan, the contest isn’t so much about winning as it is about encouraging creativity. “Our menu has a lot of pork and meat; we’re always looking for ways to expand it,” Finnegan said.
Around the corner from The Pig is its “cousin restaurant”: Logan Tavern at 1423 P St. NW, which entered the contest with an “LT Shroom Burger.” In addition to roasted cremini mushrooms, it’s comprised of black angus beef, short ribs, beef brisket, aged Tillamook cheddar, peppercorn and maple glazed slab bacon, crispy potatoes and the chef’s special sauce, on a brioche onion roll. Guests have the option of adding an Old Bay-encrusted and fried Maryland blue soft-shell crabcake to create the “Shroom Surf and Turf.” The blended burger “has been selling out consistently,” general manager Heran Mane told The Current. “It’s been a huge success.”
Four other D.C. restaurants have also entered the contest: Del Campo, 777 I St. NW; Maketto, 1351 H St. NE; Slate Wine Bar + Bistro, 2404 Wisconsin Ave. NW; and Tico DC, 1926 14th St. NW.
To the Mushroom Council, a partner in the project, the vegetable is an ideal companion for meat in terms of its texture and taste. Spokesperson Eric Davis also notes that they’re fat-free and cholesterol-free, and require relatively little water or electricity to grow. “Mushrooms are not only healthy on your plate, but they’re gentle on the environment,” he said.
Diners can vote for their favorite burgers at jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject, through July 31. Last year, more than 2 million people voted nationwide, according to Davis. The five restaurants with the most votes receive a trip to the historic James Beard House in New York City, where they will showcase their blended burger creations at an exclusive event in January 2018. Customers who vote online are also entered to win a trip for two to the event.
However, Davis said, the project transcends a contest, as its most pressing goal is to promote culinary innovation and sustainability. “A blended burger isn’t just a product — it’s an idea,” he said.