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VOL. 127 | NO. 167 | Monday, August 27, 2012

Festival Seeks Best Memphis Burger

By Sarah Baker

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Seth Agranov is a burger guru with a big vision.

He’s lived in Memphis since 1994 and up until a year or so ago, thought that Huey’s was the only solution to his hankerings. But upon being introduced to the griddle-fried, grass-fed beef burger at Three Angels Diner, that mindset quickly changed.

It was a revolution that led Agranov to start his food review blog, bestmemphisburger.com, based on reader suggestions of the city’s finest pub grub. And, as he says, “to prove that Memphis is more than barbecue.”

“I’ve never been in this to make any money,” said Agranov, information technology coordinator at Medical Education & Research Institute. “It’s just been fun to go find good food and do it locally and meet good people along the way. I kind of thought that if I ever got to the point where I was going out to lunch for free, then I’d be successful in it. But I’m still buying.”

At the end of last year, his site was garnering about 150 hits a day. Today, he’s averaging close to 300 page views every 24 hours.

Agranov’s original goal about six months into his blog was to start selling local advertisements. That’s when “this whole little festival idea kind of came to life,” he said.

“Really, it was never my intention to have a burger fest,” Agranov said. “It was just so many people kept emailing, tweeting, ‘Why don’t you do this, why don’t you see who’s got the best burger?’”

Shortly after his commitments with the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest were complete, Agranov started piecing together plans for the first-ever Best Memphis Burger Fest.

The free-admission festival, sponsored by Jack Pirtle’s Chicken and benefiting Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services, is slated for Sunday, Sept. 30, at Minglewood Hall, 1555 Madison Ave.

Agranov participates in the Southern Hotwing Festival, which celebrated its 10th year this past April. The competition has grown from 11 teams in the parking lot of the Buccaneer Lounge to 60 teams on Riverside Drive, and Agranov has similar hopes for his fledgling burger festival.

“The teams that are signed up as of right now are all backyard-type guys, either barbecue teams or just a group of guys who think they can cook good food,” said Agranov, who hopes to eventually have 20 teams sign up. “I don’t think anybody comes to these things looking to walk away with big cash prizes. I think they’re looking to raise money, have a good time, and also have the bragging rights and the trophy for the year.”

There will be four categories for Best Memphis Burger Fest: the Best Memphis Burger, “which is pretty much anything you want to do;” veggie burger; the “anything but” category, geared toward foul and fish; and the extreme burger for “anybody who wants to try to make anything giant or colossal.”

The festival will use Kansas City-style barbecue rules, with judges turning their votes into a blind box. An Excel spreadsheet will then determine different weights assigned to various criteria like presentation and juiciness, with taste having the highest influence.

Celebrity judges that have signed on so far include Kerry Crawford, Jennifer Biggs, Andy Wise, Kevin Cerrito, Stacey Greenberg, Marcus Hunter and Susan Ellis.

In addition to burger critiquing, there’s a Kooky Canuck “Team Kookamonga Challenge,” which Agranov calls a “race against the clock.” Four bands have also been lined up for entertainment throughout the day: The Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, Burn the Sun, The Sofa Kings and Saved by Zero.

Similar to Hotwing Festival, burger teams will be encouraged to give out samples to festival attendees in exchange for a donation to Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services. Donations will be a key factor throughout the day, since it’s free admission.

“We just wanted to get people there and really not gauge them for prices,” Agranov said. “Hopefully, we can filter them in through a couple of designated entrances and the Mid-South people will hit them up for a donation on their way in.”

Unlike other charities, “a little bit of money goes a long way” for Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services, Agranov said. Spay or neutering a cat costs $55, while dogs is based on weight and ranges from $75 to $125.

“The opportunity that we have to actually make an impact on a small local charity is great,” Agranov said. “It cuts back so many generations worth of cats and dogs running around that end up having to be euthanized because of the over-crowded population.”

Agranov’s partner in the festival is Stephanie Bennett, the interim executive director of Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services.

“We do fundraisers throughout the year, but just to partner with such a cool event is a big deal for us,” Bennett said. “It’s not just another drop in the bucket.”

People interested in signing up to participate can go to www.bestmemphisburgerfest.com.

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