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The Eat Beat Dining around South Florida
with Mike Mayo

Tucker Duke's Lunchbox scores big win at Burger Bash

Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox has won its share of regional burger competitions, so when the restaurant with outposts in Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton wasn’t invited to the annual Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in 2016, chef-founder Brian Cartenuto griped loudly.

“We talked a lot of s--- on the Internet,” Cartenuto says.

This year, Cartenuto and crew were invited. And they got vindication of the juiciest kind, winning the most lucrative prize of the night, the $10,000 Red Robin Best of the Bash Winning Chef award, along with a temporary spot on the national burger chain’s menu for Cartenuto’s winning Marmaduke burger. The burger is topped with fig and bacon chutney, melted brie, smoked aioli and arugula.

“This win is great, but the biggest win is what we do [at the restaurants] every day,” Cartenuto said a few minutes after being announced the winner. An exuberant Cartenuto high-fived host Rachael Ray onstage and took the giant oversized check from Food Network host Marc Summers at the Friday night event on the sands of South Beach.

Getting the prize from Ray was extra sweet for Cartenuto. When he competed on an episode of Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” Ray was a judge who cut Cartenuto before the final round. “Even though you chose that other guy when I was on #beatbobbyflay all [is] forgiven,” Carenuto wrote on his Instagram feed Saturday.

Thirty-two restaurants competed in the meaty throwdown, and three walked away with prizes. Junior’s Gourmet Burgers of Miami Springs won the $5,000 people’s choice award for its guava ketchup and cream cheese burger. Little Jack’s Tavern of Charleston, S.C., won the $2,500 Schweid & Sons Very Best Burger, awarded by a celebrity judging panel, for its Tavern Burger, a smashed patty topped with American cheese, onions, sun-choke relish on a sesame-seed bun, served with garlic and herbed fries.

More than 5,000 burger enthusiasts turned out, with over 2,000 voting in the people’s choice awards. Burger Bash host Ray said the top three people’s choice vote-getters were separated by 12 votes. The judging panel included Emilio Estefan, rapper Rev Run and former Man v. Food host Adam Richman. The Red Robin award was decided by company executives, who also gave a prize to three Florida International University students for a burger recipe that also will be featured on the chain’s menu.

Tucker Duke’s has won prizes at last year’s Boca Burger Battle and a past burger festival at Riverwalk in Fort Lauderdale. The restaurant also has competed in the World Food Championships. “My mantra is do a different burger at every competition,” Cartenuto says. He says the Marmaduke aimed for an African-inspired “sweet and meat” flavor profile, with the chutney including spices such as harissa, curry, coriander and star anise. His crew served nearly 2,000 Marmaduke burgers at the Friday night competition. one of nine events he had scheduled over the last week.

Cartenuto comes from a fine-dining background, once running high end restaurants in Seattle. He opened his first Tucker Duke’s, which features comfort Southern food, in his hometown of Niceville, then opened branches in Tallahassee (now closed), Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton. He is a two-time winner on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” show.

He also has had brushes with the law, arrested twice in the past two years after being accused of failing to pay state sales tax at his Niceville and Tallahassee restaurants. Last October, Cartenuto signed a deferred prosecution agreement in Leon County Circuit Court to resolve the cases.

“It’s all taken care of,” Cartenuto says.

Asked his plans for the $10,000 prize, Cartenuto says, “Paying some bills and getting out of debt.”

Tucker Duke’s is located at 1101 S. Powerline Road in Deerfield Beach, and 1658 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton. The Marmaduke ($13) is available as a seasonal winter burger, but Cartenuto says it might soon join the permanent lineup.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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