As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so very fortunate to live in the most diverse and delicious destination in all of New York City. And I’m even luckier to be a Tastemaker for the World’s Fare, a celebration of global cuisine and culture, which will be held on May 18 and 19 at Citi Field. In the weeks leading up to the Fare, I’ll be profiling some of my favorite vendors from Queens and beyond. So far, we’ve explored wide-ranging international offerings, including Bangladesh, Colombia, and India. Today, we return to the United States of America for a look at George Motz, the Brooklyn-based burger maven who will be grilling up Oklahoma fried onion sliders. Motz is a fellow Tastemaker, and, like myself, something of an obsessive when it comes to the 1939 and 1964–65 World’s Fairs held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
I first met George Motz back in 2006 at Meatopia III, a carnivorous birthday bash held by our mutual friend — the late, great meat expert and food critic, Josh Ozersky. Two years earlier, Motz had released “Hamburger America,” a documentary chronicling regional burgers, including the infamous “butter burger” from Solly’s in Milwaukee; the Guberburger, a peanut-butter-coated patty from the Wheel Inn Drive-In in Sedalia, Mo.; and the hatch green chile cheeseburger from the Bobcat Bite in Sante Fe, N.M. Motz, who I affectionately call “mutton chops,” due to his ample sideburns, prepared the chile-coated burger for the bash.
Between 2006 and now, the 50-year-old filmmaker founded the Food Film Fest, wherein viewers watch short films about various delicacies whilst eating them; wrote a state-by-state guide to hamburgers, also titled “Hamburger America;” created the Travel Channel show “Burger Land;” and wrote the “Great American Burger Book: How to Make Authentic Regional Hamburgers at Home.”
For a guy who originally created a movie about burgers because no others existed at the time, Motz seems bemused about wearing the mantle of “burger expert.”
“It became a sort of cult food film, and I suddenly was asked my opinion of burgers in the media. And after 20 years of research, two TV shows, and four books, I think I can now safely call myself a hamburger expert.”
At the World’s Fare, Motz and his team will be cooking up the Oklahoma fried onion burger, which he says has its roots in the original American burger from more than 100 years ago. The slider, which consists of nothing more than thin-sliced Vidalia onion smashed into a ball of fresh beef, is clearly greater than some of its parts.
“The onions quickly caramelize and intermingle with a slice of American cheese. This burger is heaven,” Motz rhapsodizes. I can’t wait to taste it. Motz and I share a common history with regard
to the two original New York World’s Fairs: even though we were too young to have attended then ourselves, we have relatives who did.
“I grew up with stories my dad told of being at the Fair, it seems as if he never told the same story twice and he was clearly fascinated by the moment,” Motz recalls. “My grandfather was at the 1939 World’s Fair, so our home was deep in memorabilia from both Fairs. It has always been in my blood. And since state fairs have such an important role in the invention of the modern hamburger, I too am fascinated the New York World’s Fairs.”
As a World’s Fare Tastemaker, Motz is excited for his two selections: Korzo, which specializes in authentic Slovakian food, and the pride of Woodside Donovan’s, which he says will be preparing authentic Irish delicacies for the festival-goers. The storied pub also cooks up one of the burger maven’s favorite cheeseburgers in all of New York City.
Joe DiStefano is a Queens-based food writer, culinary tour guide, and author of the bestselling guidebook “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss.”
Sample George Motz’s Oklahoma fried onion burger at the World’s Fare at Citi Field (123-01 Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, https://theworldsfare.nyc) on May 18 and 19 from 12 to 8 p.m. Tickets from $19 to $199 (children under 10, $5).