Performing in Carnegie Hall and having dinner at the White House are two of the highest honors that have ever been bestowed on me. That is, until the Russell Melt Down was unveiled.
As a food journalist, having a restaurant’s dish named after you—in this case, a burger of extraordinary magnitude—is the equivalent of the entertainer’s coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And it all started with Charro Steak Executive Chef Gary Hickey’s response to a challenge by the James Beard Foundation to construct an award-worthy burger made with ground beef blended with chopped mushrooms.
The foundation’s annual Blended Burger Project, inspired by a movement to encourage the migration from all-beef patties to those with a beef-fungi fusion, calls on chefs nationwide to submit original blended burger ideas for the public to vote on.
While Hickey’s Tucson Temptation is one of 523 blended burgers currently in the national running, the project inspired him to go local with a fun summer menu of other sustainable burgers named for—wait for it—Tucson food journalists.
And that’s the genesis of the meltdown.
The Russell Melt Down starts with Hickey’s blended burger, an eight-ounce mesquite-grilled patty made from filet mignon, New York strip, ribeye, and chopped mushrooms, topped with blue oyster and bacon oyster mushrooms from the Sonoran Mushroom Company, manchego cheese, and wine-soaked onions, served on grilled toast.
“I know how much you love bacon, Matt, and we wanted to integrate that element a little differently through these oyster mushrooms that actually have the flavor of real bacon,” Hickey told me. “We then brought in the wine-soaked onions for some acid to cut the fat of the melty manchego and went old-school patty melt to bring it all together.”
Named for Arizona Daily Star food writer Andi Berlin, the Tropical Storm Andi brings mesquite-grilled pork belly, a queso frita pancake, and pineapple-jalapeño jelly to the dance, which all adorns the burger before it’s plated on a jalapeno-cheddar cheese bun.
“This one has spice and sass, and Andi is sassy as all get-out,” he said. “It’s fun too because if you close your eyes after that first bite, you immediately get images of ham and pineapple pizza.”
The Biggers Cover Story is an epicurean nod to Doug Biggers, publisher of Edible Baja Arizona Magazine, with grass-fed meatloaf and a Sonoran mushroom demi-glace, served on avocado toast.
“Doug has such a big personality and of course we went right to meatloaf for this one,” he said. “This burger is super rich and hearty, just like Doug himself.”
Food photographer and cookbook author Jackie Alpers was honored with the Jackie’s Job, a kicked-up version of Hickey’s classic Charro Burger with melted manchego cheese and a grilled pepper medley.
“This was an obvious one for us because Jackie’s first job was at El Charro,” Hickey reported. “It’s our classic burger, and the smoked cheese and charred chiles took it from simple to sensational.”
Adam’s Wake Up Call, a rise-and-shine chile relleno reveille named for Adam Lehrman of the Tucson Foodie blog, deconstructs this traditional Tucson dish with grass-fed beef chorizo, an over-easy egg, and cheddar cheese, built on a corn meal bun.
“Tucson Foodie showcases Tucson food at its best, and one of the quintessential Tucson dishes is the chile relleno,” he said. “This is Tucson, and this is Adam Lehrman. Done.”
The five burgers will be on the Charro Steak menu through July 31, at 188 E. Broadway Boulevard, and guests are being asked to vote for their favorite.
But for now, it’s back to my regularly scheduled meltdown.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.