In what may end up being the best idea we’ve ever had or the worst idea, the SBK and I headed to New York City for a couple of days to eat. I wish I could tell you we had accomplished something else, but no, this trip was all about the food, although a healthy mini-marathon of walking all through the city probably made it a little easier. Certainly multiple burgers were in order, and having not been to New York for a couple of years, I knew we had to do some of the classics. Here is a (not-so) brief guide to the burgers and everything else we consumed in a matter of days:
Shake Shack – One of the more hyped burgers out there, it lived up to my expectations in many ways but missed in others. First off, it’s easily the best tasting beef blend for a “fast food” burger, hands down. More expensive and higher end burgers should be envious of the Shake Shack burger, it’s that good. Great beef does not guarantee a perfect burger, but in this case, it’s damn close. The Martin’s Potato Bun is one of my favorites because it works so well for a burger of this size, and melted American Cheese is gooey in a way that is rarely done. The Shack Sauce didn’t really come through for me, it really was all about the beef and there isn’t too much wrong with that. My first visit to the Upper West Side location was absent of a crust on the griddled burger, but a trip to the original Madison Square Park location proved to be the better of the two, yielding maximum crust and an even beefier burger. The Fries, while not spectacular, were surprisingly more satisfying than I anticipated, but the malted Vanilla Shake I ordered was bland and lackluster. It’s deceptively more expensive than one would think; for two single shack burgers, one order of fries and one very small shake we were close to $18. Yes a single burger costs a mere $4.55 but good luck having that fill you up for the rest of the day.
Minetta Tavern – At the other end of the spectrum lies Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village, home to the Black Label Burger. Oh by the way, it costs $26. I should preface by saying we split this burger at then end of a very long day and it was the last food order sent to the kitchen just shy at 1am. But should that matter? For $26 shouldn’t I expect the best burger they have to offer, no matter the circumstances? Sadly, this one fell short, the dry aged beef was good, but not that good. Very under-seasoned, it was less successful than some of the more gourmet Boston burgers, namely Craigie on Main and Back Bay Social Club. It was beefy, but not overly so, almost having a watery quality to it that is not what one should be looking for. The caramelized onions were ordinary and less caramelized than they deserved. Much like the Back Bay Social Burger, it was pretty classic for such a hefty price tag, relying on the beef to take it to another level, which it failed to do. (Minetta that is, BBSC nails it) The fries, however, were excellent, with ironically a more pronounced beef flavor than the burger itself, I imagine they were cooked in some beef fat, which made them quite successful.
The Spotted Pig - Another high roller, the Spotted Pig is on everyone’s radar these days, and I knew we would be headed there when I first started compiling my food list months and months ago. Headed by celebrity chef April Bloomfield, this gigantic Char-Grilled Burger was divine, cooked simply and modestly topped with a Roquefort Spread, it was one of the better burgers I’ve had in recent memory. A hefty grilled bun was soft yet substantial, holding up perfectly to a very juicy burger. As beefy as the Minetta Burger should have been, they aren’t shy on using salt, and the fries were probably a tad too salty for my tastes. But as a whole, for $17 the Spotted Pig burger was worth every penny.
JG Melon, Burger Joint, PJ Clarke’s – All classic burger joints, all with their own unique story and atmosphere, put these in the “pretty good category.” Far from perfect but better than the average, these three are quintessential New York places. PJ Clarke’s and JG Melon get a slight nod over Burger Joint, cooked just right with moderate beef flavor, they were all enjoyable if not pretty forgettable. If you haven’t checked out the ambiance at Burger Joint, it’s worth the price of admission alone. None of these burgers will hurt your wallet, all under $10 (for the burger alone) they should be required for any burger historian.
More Food Stops: (a quick guide, if you’re still reading…)
Eataly - A food lover’s dream, this beautiful cafeteria meets grocery store institution has everything Italian you’re looking for. We sampled a classic Margherita Pizza which was sublime, and pizza simplicity at its best.
Motorino – A not-so-classic pizza with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta, this boasted the best crust I’ve ever had, but it could have used more cheese and probably would have fared better with the addition of a marinara. Then again, what pizza wouldn’t?
Katz’s Deli – Worthy of every accolade, the Pastrami on Rye was incredible, probably the best thing I ate in New York. Yeah, it’s that good.
Momofuku – A minor disappointment, the service was horrendous and the food was inconsistent. The legendary Pork Buns were excellent, if not far too greasy. (yes I realize it’s pork belly, but still) We ordered two tamales which were dry and mostly bland, perhaps we would have been better served by ordering one of the more traditional bowls of Ramen, live and learn I guess.
Junior’s Cheesecake – Another New York Classic, another home run.
Les Halles – Didn’t expect much but this one took me by surprise. A phenomenal French Onion Soup (better than any in Boston at least) and delicious Pork Rillettes were enjoyed at the bar, fantastic service as well.
Monk’s Cafe – (aka Tom’s, aka the diner from Seinfeld) Sure it’s full of tourists, but the food was very good for a dingy little diner. Pastrami Omelette, anyone?