Updated: 5:01 p.m. Friday, June 24, 2011 | Posted: 4:49 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Pittsburgh's Best Burger Winners

By Jessica Fera

PITTSBURGH —

More than 5,000 votes were submitted to WPXI.com and on Tuesday, we surprised the winners of the 2011 Pittsburgh’s Best Burger contest.

Our third place winner, Winghart’s Burger and Whiskey Bar in Market Square, has only been open for five weeks, but it already seems destined for greatness.

“I wanted to be the best burger in Pittsburgh within the first year, but this competition happened and I was like, why not, let’s do it, and look what happened,” said chef and creative partner, Zach Winghart.

Zach is a French-trained chef and certified butcher. He said the idea for Winghart’s came to him in a dream, and the key to his burgers is all in the meat.

“The cut that we use is the best for specifically making hamburgers,” he said. “There are a lot of different cuts of meat, some are better for steaks or stews, but we use the best thing for what we’re doing here.”

The Shipwrecked Burger is Zach’s signature menu item. It’s topped with Brie cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula and white truffle aioli.

Shipwreck happens to be one of the friendly gentleman working behind the counter. If you’re lucky, he’ll prepare his namesake burger for you himself.

From a restaurant still in its opening weeks, to one that’s been building an impressive reputation for over two decades, Tessaro’s in Bloomfield received enough votes to be named our second place winner.

“My brother Kelly started the restaurant and was backed by his mother Tee Harrington, and his sister Ena. They together made this restaurant, over 26 years, a really great place to come,” said Mike Harrington.

Kelly, pictured in a mural painted in Tessaro’s side dining room, along with his father Dennis, sadly passed away in 2009. Kelly's sisters, including Moira and Mike Harrington, along with their mother, continue to keep his legacy alive with the help of a dedicated staff.

“We have employees who have been with us between 10 and 24 years. They’ve been with us quite a long time. And Kelly believed that you’re only as good as your support team,” Mike said.

If you've ever been to Tessaro's, you were most likely greeted with a smile by head bartenders Susan Predis and Debbie Painter, both long-time staff members.

Head cook Courtney McFarlane, along with assistant Brian Yurko, have been preparing the burgers on Tessaro’s signature wood-fired grill (we found out they use Hickory, Maple and Redwood) for the past 24 years. No gas is used in this grill and the meat is ground fresh daily by the on-site butcher, Dominic Piccolo.

In the kitchen, you’ll also find cook Tom Siegle. If you order the gourmet cheeseburger (which we'd highly recommend) they’ll top it with fried onions, sauteed mushrooms and crispy bacon, just as Kelly Harrington designed it.

“The spirit of Kelly is here,” Mike said.

From Bloomfield, you’ll need to travel about 30 minutes north if you want to find the burger voted as Pittsburgh’s Best.

Burgh’ers, located in Creekside Plaza in Harmony, received our contest’s most coveted prize.

Owner Fiore Moletz spent 10 years as a chef in the high-end food industry before opening Burgh’ers in August 2010.

So what does it take to make Pittsburgh’s best burger? As it says in his logo, Fiore believes local and organic ingredients are the key.

“We use Armstrong Farms in Saxonburg, Pa. for our hormone free, antibiotic free black Angus beef. Organic farmers, they put a little more time and compassion into everything they grow and you can taste it in the quality of food we serve here,” Fiore said.

The burgers are named for different neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. A must-try is the Polish Hill, topped with cheddar cheese, fried onions, a fried pierogi and mayo.

On Feb. 9, a blind taste test was held at the Channel 11 studios. The judges scored BRGR Bar in East Liberty the highest, followed by Five Guys in Ross Park Mall and Burgh'ers in Harmony. Tessaro's was also a favorite, along with The Union Grill in Oakland.

Burgers were scored based on taste and appearance and were labeled with numbers to conceal the identity of the restaurants during the test.

Our 11 judges included Channel 11's own Peggy Finnegan and Scott Harbaugh, along with Mikey and Bob from the 96.1 KISS Morning Freak Show, Michael Machosky from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh City Council candidate Corey O'Connor and Chuck Granberg from The Original Mattress Factory, our official Pittsburgh's Best sponsor.

BRGR Bar submitted the Button Buster Burger, topped with braised beef short ribs, white cheddar cheese, Bearnaise aioli and an onion ring. Five Guys submitted its signature Bacon Cheeseburger and Burgh'ers, submitted the Polish Hill Burger, topped with fried onions, cheddar cheese and a fried pierogi of course.


CONTEST FINALISTS:

Burgh'ers, Harmony -- 1st Place Overall, 3rd Place Taste-Test

Tessaro's, Bloomfield -- 2nd Place Overall

Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar, Market Square -- 3rd Place Overall

BRGR Bar, East Liberty -- 1st Place Taste-Test

Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Ross Park Mall -- 2nd Place Taste-Test

City Grill, South Side

Cornerstone Restaurant & Bar, Aspinwall

McGinnis Sisters, Mars

Someone Else's Bar, Castle Shannon

The Union Grill, Oakland


CONTEST GUIDELINES:

1. The top 10 burger restaurants will first be determined by the number of valid nominations received and second, by the willingness of the restaurant to participate.

2. The nomination process closed Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011 at 3 p.m. and our finalists were determined at that time.

3. A taste test took place at the Channel 11 studios. Each finalist delivered a sample of their burgers for the contest. If a restaurant does not show up for the taste test they will be disqualified.

4. Voting opened to the public Thursday, Feb. 10 at noon on WPXI.com and closed Thursday, Feb. 17 at 3 p.m.

5. The winners were revealed Feb. 22. Award plaques were given to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners as determined by the public vote. Award certificates will be given to the remaining finalists.

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