Day two of the New York City Wine & Food Festival has just wrapped, and I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to survive one of the weekend's flagship events, the Burger Bash . This year's fête, which was hosted by comedienne Whoopi Goldberg (regular host Rachael Ray  was out of the country on vacation), featured 21 different burgers, mostly from the New York area . Not only did I manage to survive the impressively big bovine lineup, but I came out on top: nearly ever contender I bit into was so creative that it left me with a takeaway that's guaranteed to make me a better burger builder, too. See the burgers — and their best takeaways — when you keep clicking.
The F*ck Fancy Cheese Burger
The burger: Quality Meats shunned upscale cheese, serving its signature sirloin, round, and short rib beef burger with a croissant bun and nothing but the best: American cheese. And those broccoli and cheese bites were to die for!
My takeaway: Fatty, unctuous short rib meat keeps 'em guessing and adds extra oomph to a burger. And a flaky croissant makes a pretty killer bun, too.
Two Mikes Burger
The burger: Porter House New York's self-described "Italo-American burger" wasn't the moistest or the most flavorful, but it was certainly creative, with hot coppa, hand-pulled mozzarella, and roma tomato jam as the fixins.
My takeaway: Don't be afraid to take an ethnic spin on this American classic, especially not when it comes to Italian ingredients. Spicy, cured meats work wonders in a burger!
Akaushi Cheeseburger With Herbed Mayo
The burger: ABC Kitchen's cheeseburger featured Bloomsday, a cheese similar to cheddar, only softer; baby arugula, herbed mayonnaise, and house-pickled jalapeño slices on a sesame bun. Although it was more medium-well than medium-rare, there was no denying that the meat was soft, juicy, tender, and flavorful. I couldn't stop eating the addictively crispy, not-too-thick-or-thin fries, either.
My takeaway: Use the best-quality meat you can find. ABC Kitchen's burger featured Akaushi, a Japanese Wagyu breed that was sustainably raised in Texas.
Bill's Mini B Slider
The burger: Bill's Bar & Burger in Manhattan's Meatpacking District passed out a slider that was made with American cheese, caramelized onions, and old standbys like Heinz ketchup, mustard, and pickles. Those tots you see in the background? They're sweet taters, drizzled with a jalapeño-honey dipping sauce.
My takeaway: This burger was my favorite of the night. With a pillow-soft slider bun, slow-cooked onions, and a rather generous helping of American cheese, this burger was creamy, dreamy, and really, really hard to put down.
The Hangover Burger
The burger: At restaurant Marc Forgione, the Iron Chef was serving dry-aged beef and spicy bacon in between an everything bun. On the side: potato chips fried in mangalitsa pig fat, then seasoned to taste with bacon salt.
My takeaway: That everything bun was even tastier with a chunk of good-quality ground beef than it would've been spread with lox cream cheese. Bagel burger, anybody?
The burger: DBGB Kitchen & Bar went totally experimental, handing out a beef burger topped with BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño mayonnaise, boston lettuce, a mustard-vinegar slaw, and a cheddar bun.
My takeaway: Barbecued meats and burgers can't just live side by side on the grill; they can also coexist (and even flourish) when they're served one on top of the other.
The "Wisconsin" Cheese Burger
The burger: Abe & Arthur's turned to the Midwest for inspiration — in particular, the cheese-making state of Wisconsin — and used a cheese spread rather than a cheese slice or cheese sauce. The Widmer's cheddar and brick cheese spread was accompanied by a roasted tomato, Nueske bacon, and a brioche bun with a half-sour pickle. Oh, and truffle fries!
My takeaway: Don't ever knock cheese spread on a burger 'til you've tried it. It's not runny like cheese sauce, but it's creamier and more prominent in the burger than a mere slice of cheese.
The burger: Don't let Dram Shop's primitive-sounding cheeseburger mislead you: this burger was delicious, even after I'd already tried 10 others. Two beef squares and a simple topping for shredded lettuce, tomato, diced onion, pickles, mayo, and mustard finished off the masterpiece.
Sometimes Usually, simpler is better.