There’s something subtle and sultry about Michelle Friel’s newest creation. And maybe that’s why she calls it ‘Southern Charm.’
It’s the Capitol Pub’s entry in the upcoming Campaign for Kids Burger Wars and a contender for the Middleton eatery to hold on to the Burger Wars trophy it wrested from the nearby Big Scoop Restaurant in last year’s Valley-wide competition.
Laura Churchill Duke took a seat at the judges’ table March 10 at The Capitol when three burgers from the pub’s kitchen vied for the right to represent the establishment in the fourth annual Burger Wars that, besides offering up some great and creative food, helps raise money for children in need.
“I thought this year’s burger selections were really great,” Churchill Duke, Burger Wars organizer, said of The Capitol’s three contenders. The idea is for kitchen staff to create their best burger and the public selects the winner -- which then enters the larger contest.
“They were all completely different -- from one that was a breakfast burger to a home-style, good-feeling southern burger,” she said. “They were all so completely different that it was hard to judge them too. Everybody did such a good job.”
Ultimately Friel’s ‘Southern Charm’ was voted the best by half a judging point. Melt-in-your-mouth peppered bacon and smoked cheddar may have swayed the judges. Or it could have been the chipotle aioli. Or all three.
Nancy Landry offered her tasty ‘Break the Fast Burger’ that placed second, and Cody Taylor was in the contest with his ‘Sweet Parm Burger.’
As for the side dishes, Churchill Duke’s sweet tooth decided for her.
“The sides, I do have to say my favourite were the fries with the honey and the sweet sauce. I do have to say that was my favourite. Delicious.”
And it was Taylor who won that contest, so his side will be paired with Friel’s burger on the menu and for Burger Wars.
The event at The Capitol is sort of the unofficial kickoff for Burger Wars each year.
“This is always kind of our marking event to say Burger Wars is coming, and it’s coming faster than we think too,” Churchill Duke said. “I love what they do here at the Capitol Pub where they give every chef or cook a chance to create their own burger. It’s a great sense of empowerment for the people who are here. Everybody gets an equal chance to be creative, have some fun, some friendly competition. It’s just a chance to come out and get ready for Burger Wars.”
The annual competition has cooks and chefs across the Annapolis Valley and beyond coming up with creations that tempt the taste buds and yet are affordable in price. Each food establishment puts their burger on their menu for the April 1 to 30 competition and for a period of time after the event is over.
“We have 47 restaurants from Windsor down to Digby participating this year,” said Churchill Duke. “Lots of variety and lots of chances to get out there. And we have a passport this year as well. For every five restaurants you visit you get a ballot for a $400 gift certificate for The Quarter Deck.”
“All the funds raised – one dollar for every specialty burger sold – goes to Campaign for Kids, and that’s a non-profit organization that helps financially disadvantaged children in Kings County. All the money goes towards that,” said Churchill Duke. “We help to buy winter coats and boots for kids, emergency funding, bursaries, and money through the schools to help kids in need.”
Capitol Pub owner John Bartlett, a chef by profession, sat out this year’s competition in his own kitchen.
“I’ve got a lot on the go this year so I decided that I wouldn’t enter a burger. Besides I’m getting tired of Michelle beating me,” he laughed. “It really is about adding a bit of camaraderie in the kitchen. Doing something a little bit different, a little bit fun. The staff get to choose what they do for a burger. There’s no input from me. Their creativity flies.”
He said the March 10 contest was a good example of that.
“I was actually quite shocked quite honestly to see how much they’ve upped their game,” he said of his staff. “Michelle being a chef has a lot more experience, but our other two cooks really brought their ‘A’ game today. They’ve been involved every year. I think they took notes, they researched, and they came out with good products.”
“It’s Campaign for Kids. We started from Day 1 because of that reason -- I mean it’s for children,” said Bartlett. “It’s a King’s County initiative obviously, but we like it, just because of the idea behind it. Looking after kids who may not have everything they could have.”
“And this year we have two restaurants in it because it means that much to us to be able to support the community – the community at large,” he said. “Not just Annapolis County, but Annapolis Valley.”
Bartlett also owns Bistro 300 in Middleton and he’s entering a smoked brisket burger in the April Burger Wars from that location.
“We want people to not only support us but support the Campaign for Kids,” Bartlett said. “We’ve noticed every year more people coming around just to try the burger. People that may not have been here before. They just want to come in and try the Burger Wars burger. They don’t look at the menu. They just want to try that.”
But how hard is it going to be to take that trophy away from the Capitol Pub?
“Oh, they’re going to have to fight for it. It’s going to be a fight,” Bartlett laughed. “As you’ve seen here tonight our burgers are great. Every one of our competitors’ burgers was top notch.”
“There’s a little taste of the south in this burger creation. Our seasoned 5-oz patty topped with two strips of peppered bacon, four crisp onion rings, cheddar cheese and smoked white cheddar too. Let’s not forget the sauce … it’s a chipotle aioli.”