Burgers have seen a renaissance of sorts in Sydney over the last few years, with the likes of Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar and Grill, and later, Justin North’s Charlie & Co, bringing upmarket, quality burgers to the local food scene. I was curious to see how the original, classic USA version compared, and an upcoming New York business trip offered the perfect opportunity to do some burger tasting.
A bit of research (the Saveur # 122, Burger Bible issue is a great reference) and some discussions with my NYC foodie friends confirm that there are quite a few burger experiences to be had. Here goes.
I’m ravenous. It’s 11:15pm. Due to the fickle weather flying into JFK, my brief one hour flight from Toronto to New York had turned into five uncomfortable hours caged in a small aircraft. It didn’t help that I’d not eaten lunch, there was no food, and each passenger was rationed to half a glass of water.. Yes, much fun.. but I digress.
I’m staying at the Le Parker Meridien, which coincidentally, is the home of the Burger Joint, one of the must try burger institutions of NYC. After checking in and tipping the porter to take my bags, I dash off to grab a late burger.
To find the somewhat hidden Burger Joint, you need to slip past the red velvet drape next to the hotel reception. The late hour plays to my benefit with a small queue and some free tables (normally it’s pretty full, they do circa 1000 serves a day). The decor is sort of dingy retro diner with booths, wooden tables, sauce bottles on each table. Movie and band posters are taped to the wall, accompanied by “scrawlings” from past customers.
My research had told me a little about the “attitude” here (ie. don’t waste our time), which was amusingly encapsulated in the sign that hung over the counter where you place your order.
I see this attitude play out a little when the guy in the queue in front of me doesn’t quite follow the script.
I order a medium cooked Cheeseburger with the Works, Fries and a Sam Adams Beer (fyi, they are a cash only establishment). A few minutes later I’m called, pick up a brown paper bag and my beer. The burger is tasty, well seasoned, not too dense. The salad ingredients fresh and the bun is light, super soft. It is though, a messy affair.
Getting towards closing time, a couple of tourist girls next to me get up and leave without clearing their table. The young waitress comes out saying, in a raised voice to everyone, “Hey you all, there is no waitress service here you know” as she angrily chucks their rubbish into a bin. Yes, I’m starting to feel like a New Yorker now.
My overall thoughts ? While I suspect hunger pangs played a role in my greedy consumption of the meal, the burger was excellent and I think the whole grungy, “old school” diner look added to the experience. A good start to my NYC burger tasting excursion.
Le Parker Meridien
119 West 56th St
New York 10019
Tele: 212 708 7414
Opening Hours: Sun – Thur 11am – 11:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am – midnight
A lengthy Saturday morning stroll, sightseeing through Times Square and some shopping eventually sees me arrive at Madison Square Park, home of the Shake Shack. Opened in 2004, the Shake Shack describes itself as a “modern day roadside burger stand”.
It’s 1:30pm and the queue is huge, almost discouraging… you just about need binoculars to see the front of the queue. Looking across the road I see Mario Batali’s Eataly, a relatively new Italian emporium of food produce and restaurants. Tempting. I suspect a few people opt for that, but I’m here for the burger experience.
The snaking queue slowly makes its way forward. The monotony is broken when several girls in front of me start jumping up and down, waving their arms. It takes me a while to realise that they’re waving to the “Shack Cam”, an online webcam that lets you monitor the progress of the Shake Shack queue. They’re from out of state, waving to their friends. I wonder if my wife would be amused with a late night call to Sydney to go online and watch me doing star jumps in the queue. I think not.
Having stood 45 minutes I look back behind me, the queue is very long… damn, these burgers must be good.
I look enviously at the customers who’ve picked up their burgers and are munching away at the green picnic tables scattered around the park. Not long to go.
Nearing the 1 hour mark, I make it to the menu board. They have a simple offering: burgers, hot dogs (flat top dogs), fries, shakes, drinks and ice creams.
I order a classic combination, the signature ShackBurger, French Fries and Fresh Squeezed Lemonade. The informative Shake Shack website tells me that a ShackBurger is a “4 oz burger made from our proprietary blend of premium beef, ground fresh daily and hand-formed. It is topped with American cheese, green leaf lettuce, plum tomato and ShackSauce on a grilled potato bun”.
Waiting another 10 minutes as the burger is created, I collect my box set from the window and head for one of the picnic tables for my alfresco burger dining experience.
Time for the taste test. It’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. The sweet, feather light potato bun, fresh salad ingredients (I love my pickles), wonderfully seasoned, slightly fatty ground meat patty and the secret sauce. It’s different, better than the Burger Joint offering (and that was very good). The crunchy crinkle cut fries (made from Yukon Gold potatoes) together with the freshly made lemonade reinforce that clichéd roadside burger meal experience. Was it worth the wait ? Would I line up again ? Absolutely !
Madison Square Park
Southeast corner of Madison Square Park, near Madison Ave. and East 23rd St.
Tele: 212 889 6600
Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm
Incidentally, after lunch I did venture across the road to check out Eataly. Definitely worth a look for the curious foodie, there’s a wide variety of Italian produce and some nice counters, tables to eat at.
db Bistro Moderne
This next entry is a bit of a cheat.. hey, it wasn’t even in NYC. While in New York, I tried to squeeze in a meal at Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne to taste one of his luxurious burgers stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and truffle. Time was against me, but a later trip to Singapore gave me the opportunity to taste Daniel’s burger.
The Singapore db Bistro Moderne is housed in the new Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complex. Joining a friend for dinner we order a selection of dishes including the Original db Burger, a Sirloin Burger Filled with Braised Short Ribs Foie Gras and Black Truffle, Served on a Parmesan Bun and Pommes Frites.
When the gourmet burger first comes out it looks impressive.
However, as I eat and dissect the dish my excitement wanes. Unfortunately, the burger bun has quickly become soggy together with the small amount of lettuce and tomato. I discard these and continue carving up the dense burger meat patty, almost like a meatloaf. I smear some of the accompanying basic condiments (tomato sauce and mustard) on the patty… It doesn’t really work for me, I don’t finish the burger.
To be fair, the other dishes that we ordered at db Bistro Moderne were exceptional, in particular, the entree of Lobster Salad with Avocado, Endive, Grape Tomatoes, Green Beans, Artichoke Hearts, Pesto. Maybe it was my own fault for going to a French Bistro style restaurant in Singapore and ordering a NYC burger.
db Bistro Moderne
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
Disappointed with this latest offshore burger outing, I return to Sydney. Fortunately, burger redemption is soon found on a Sunday afternoon family trip to Charlie & Co Opera Kitchen. Sitting by Sydney Harbour, in the sun, enjoying a Wagyu & Co. Burger – Wagyu burger with beetroot relish, pickled gherkin and aged cheddar on a toasted brioche bun and some Duck Fat Cooked Fries. Priceless (as one advertisement would say).
In researching my NYC burger tasting circuit, several other establishments were try-out candidates. While I didn’t make it to those places, I’ve listed them below. I’d be interested in feedback on these or other NYC Burger must trys.
• Minetta Tavern – made with ground dry-aged rib eye, skirt steak, short rib and brisket. Cooked on a La Pancha (thick iron plate) giving it a nice char.
• The “21″ Club – freshly ground beef cheek, they add duck fat to enhance the flavour.
• Spotted Pig – Michelin starred gastropub in Greenwich Village doing their take on a burger.