Virginia Commonwealth University may not have advanced to play in last night's national championship NCAA game, but another underdog team ended up sweeping a Final Four at yesterday's 2011 Burger Bracket Championship.
Jonathan's the Rub, a small steakhouse in Hedwig Village, swept the championship tasting in an overall upset last night at Lucky's Pub to beat three of the city's best and most popular burger joints: Hubcap Grill, The Burger Guys and Petrol Station.
It was a sweet victory for a team headed up by Ryan Cunningham, Jonathan Levine's nephew and a recent graduate of the University of Texas. Levine himself was in Florida attending to his father, but young Cunningham helmed the team like an old pro.
Out in the rear parking lot of Lucky's, the bright purple and bright red of The Burger Guys' and Hubcap Grill's trucks, respectively, stood in colorful contrast to the simple charcoal pit Cunningham and several of Jonathan's line cooks used to grill up the burgers before running them indoors to the judges, more than 100 of whom stood ready to eat and cast their ballots.
In Lucky's kitchen, the pub had generously given over a large work space to fellow bar owners Petrol Station. Burgers were flying into the judging room from all sides, and the line moved quickly but surely as people contemplated only briefly before voting on their favorites.
At 6:40 p.m., we removed the ballot boxes and took them outside to count the votes. Our team of "professional" judges -- Team Pola Cheese, Carnivorous Habits, the Burger Wolf Pack and Team Thomas Family -- had been given their own special tokens for voting: basketball-shaped erasers. Each eraser counted for three votes; each regular token from the 100 public judges counted for one.
Emptying the boxes one by one, it quickly became apparent which one would be the winner: While the three other burger joints had the judges' basketball tokens somewhat evenly distributed within the pile of white tokens, Jonathan's the Rub had nine of the sixteen basketballs within its ballot box. Praised by our judges for its chargrilled meat with a secret rub containing ingredients that -- like the rubs on his steaks -- Levine won't reveal to anyone, even his nephew, as well as its eggy Sheila Partin hamburger buns, Jonathan's was the clear champion.
Announcing the winners was a tribute to the professionalism and good sportsmanship of all four teams. After Jonathan's was crowned championship, hugs and handshakes were distributed with easy grins and genuine cries of congratulations. The "beardos" at Petrol Station even tried jokingly to insert themselves into the background of the winning team's photos as our photographer snapped away.
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And while not all of the judges agreed with the final outcome of the votes, it seemed that a truly deserving team had won through hard work and pure talent. One of Jonathan's line cooks cried softly while Cunningham told me that he'd called his uncle in Florida with the good news. "He started crying," Cunningham said. "So did his dad."
For more photos from the Burger Bracket Championship, check out our slideshow.