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Restaurants return to do battle on Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk

Michael Buchinski’s hamburger, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, won last year’s audience favorite at the Riverwalk Burger Battle for its childlike allure: peanut butter, jam and candied bacon on a sesame-seed bun.

Buchinski is the man behind the menu at Brgr Stop, an 18-month-old restaurant in Coconut Creek, which specializes in throwback comfort food such as deep-fried peanut butter balls, Lucky Charms milkshakes and Cap’n Crunch-dusted chicken fingers.

When the Fort Lauderdale burger showdown returns Saturday, May 20, to Huizenga Park, Buchinski will vie for top beef again with a different, brand-new burger. It’s called La Loca, a deep-fried patty topped with crushed Peppadew aioli and smoky ghost-pepper jack cheese and rubbed with a guajillo glaze. The secret ingredient? Crushed Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos.

“This burger came to me in my sleep,” Buchinski says. “It’s crazy. It’s out there, just like everything else in the restaurant.”

At the eighth annual Riverwalk Burger Battle, which coincides with National Burger Month, Brgr Stop’s La Loca will join entries from American Social, Big City Tavern, Burger Craze, Hard Rock Café and Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox. Brgr Stop will also be defending its title against competition newcomers Pincho Factory, Metro Diner, Rumors Bar and Grill, Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Margaritaville, Bokampers, Red Rock Oasis and Marina 84 Sports Bar and Grill.

Fewer restaurants are competing this year — 14 instead of 16 — Burger Battle organizer Cristina Hudson says.

“It was burger overload [last year],” Hudson says. “Say you took one bite of each burger, times 16. That would be like eating three full-size burgers, and that’s a lot. So we’re doing it smaller, leaner and better.”

Each burger will be assayed by visitors and a panel of judges, including local chefs Jen Knox, Gina Sansonia, Judith Able, Bret Hauser, Camilo Cuartas and Peter Farrand. Contenders keep their concoctions under wraps until the main event, when they'll unveil the creation that attempts to achieve the perfect combination of flavors . The big prize: a golden burger trophy.

Burger eaters will also have access to a french fry bar, three Jack Daniel’s drink tickets and music from the Joe Friday Band.

“When a burger joint wins, and you see that trophy, it gives these restaurants a nice nod, an acknowledgement of success,” Hudson says. “And for someone who sees the trophy while dining, they’ll think, ‘Oh, wow, I’m in a good place.’ ”

The Riverwalk Burger Battle VIII will take place 4-7 p.m. Saturday, May 20, at Huizenga Park, 32 E. Las Olas Blvd., in Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $45, $125 for VIP, which includes 3:30 p.m. early access. Call 954-468-1541, ext. 205 or go to GoRiverwalk.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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