The local lineup of fall festivals kicks off Sunday with the Best Memphis Burger Fest, a cooking competition and celebration of America’s favorite food.
Festival founder Seth Agranov, who morphed his popular burger blog into an even more popular annual event, expects 5,000 people to fill Tiger Lane for beer, burgers, music, food trucks, and family fun. (Watch kids eat pickles!)
A former public school teacher who now handles IT for Medical Education Research, the festival for Agranov is an act of love for his adopted city (he’s a native of Connecticut) and for animals that need his help. Proceeds from the festival — more than $30,000 over the last four years — go to Memphis Paws, a non-profit to support Mid-south rescue organizations and responsible pet ownership. Friend and co-worker Tim James is a partner for both the festival and organization.
Helping individuals and smaller rescue groups is important to both men.
“Last year, an older woman came to us who couldn’t afford to treat the infection in her dog’s mouth,” Agranov said. “Basically, he just needed to have his teeth pulled. So we picked up the bill.”
A few weeks ago, I met Agranov at City & State on Broad Avenue to talk about the festival, his dog D.J., his favorite burger joints, and the freshly inked tattoo on his upper right arm. Here’s some of what he had to say:
Memphis magazine: People always complain about not being able to taste the barbecue at Barbecue Fest. What about the Burger Fest? Can they eat burgers?
Seth Agranov: Thanks to our sponsors, we are giving every team over 20 pounds of burger meat to cook, so they can hand out samples to the public in between their competitions. If people are spending the gate fee to come in and spend the day with us, we want to feed them as best as we can. We want our visitors to leave, not only happy, but also full.
What’s new to the festival this year?
We are doing everything we did last year and praying for good weather. We feel like we are a little more organized. And we’ve got great music this year.
I know the admission is $10, but what are the $50 VIP tickets about?
People get food all day catered by Sammy Hager’s Red Rocker Bar & Grill in a 30 by 60 tent decked out in the Red Rocker theme, plus a lot of refreshments [the alcohol kind] provided by our sponsors.
Is that a burger tattoo on your arm?
Yes! I liked the art on this year’s poster so much that I got the same burger tattooed on my arm. It’s drawn by a local artist.
So where did your affinity for burgers come from?
Everybody has a comfort food from growing up. For me, it was my dad grilling out in the backyard and that good taste of a backyard picnic: a flame grilled burger with mustard and ketchup and onions. It’s just something I’ve always loved.
Do you make a signature burger at home?
I like going traditional on the grill, nothing fancy, just kosher salt and ground pepper on the meat. The better the meat, the better the burger.
My little secret is I always toast the bun, no matter how fresh it is. Then I put a very thin coat of mayo on the bottom bun. That way, it creates a grease barrier to keep the bun from getting soggy or falling apart when you pick it up.
What about your toppings?
I like tomato and lettuce, but I don’t like it on a burger because it makes it too slippery. So I just go with pickle, onion, and a slice of hot jalapeno.
Do you have a favorite restaurant burger?
Yeah, I love the slider burger at Slider Inn. For a slider burger, they do a fantastic job. And Top’s is really good. I like those traditional burgers like Roxy’s Market downtown, but they had a fire in the spring and I don't think they reopened yet. For something a little fancy, Babalu’s got a good burger, and then there’s the Sear Shack in Collierville off Popular.
Let’s talk about animals for a minute. You must like dogs.
I’ve always been a dog lover. I have a rescue named J.D. It stands for Jane Doe. She’s about a 50-pound pit bull/boxer. A friend of my who is also a rescuer found her in the Dunlap/Poplar area. She’s a hot mess. (And he pulls out his phone to find a photo, much like a proud dad.)