I don't know why, but lately I find myself eating fancy-pants burgers at every turn. Perhaps I'm coming under the influence of Adam Kuban, who really does order a hamburger in every restaurant that has one on the menu. Whatever the reason, I have discovered a handful of terrific fancy-pants burgers lately, enough so that if I updated my New York Times piece on burgers I would have a very different "best of" list.
Let's define our terms.
Qualities of a Fancy-Pants BurgerGround beef and ground beef only. Burgers with foie gras in them like the new Robuchon restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel or the DB burger are burgers in name only. They What is a fancy-pants burger? It's a burger that:
- Costs more than ten dollars and less than twenty.
- Comes with excellent french fries.
- Is served by a waiter in a comfortable, white tablecloth setting.
- Is made from fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Moreover, because it's so pricey every element of a fancy-pants burger must be nearly perfect. That is:
- The bun must be a high quality piece of bread either grilled or toasted.
- The cheese must be fully melted: no unmelted cheese blankets allowed.
- High quality, freshly ground meat with enough fat to make the burger moist, beefy and juicy.
- Lettuce must not be shredded and brown. Actually, lettuce should be banned from burgers, fancy-pants or otherwise.
- Onions should not be raw; they should be grilled, fried, and/or sauteed.
- Relish or pickles would in a perfect world be housemade.
- Should be cooked as ordered the first time around (this is really hard, but at the very least they should get it right the second time around).
- No mustard or mayo should be put on the burger unless they are specifically requested (see below).
A bad fancy-pants burger is cause for fury and revolt, because who wants to pay all that money for a lousy burger that comes off as a pretentious exercise in populist food.
Lastly, a fancy-pants burger must still be made from high quality, freshly grmay taste great (the DB burger most assuredly does; I haven't had the Robuchon creation yet), but they are serious dishes created by world-class chefs that have been inspired by true burgers.
Anyway, here's my list of the Top Ten Fancy-Pants Burgers in New York City:
1. Cafe D'Alsace: Beautifully charred, tasty Riesling-soaked onions, excellent French Munster cheese, shockingly good beef, aioli, fabulous fries from a French chef. Go figure. Top-rated because the burger and all the components were perfectly executed, and the burger came out cooked as ordered (medium rare towards rare) the first time it came to the table. Service is lackluster here at best, however.
2. Telepan: Perfect fancy-pants burger only marred by being overcooked the first time; beautifully charred well-salted meat, juicy insides, great french fries AND fantastic onion rings. Homemade pickles are a lovely grace note. Bill Telepan is a great burger man and a great fancy-pants chef.
3. Spotted Pig This time a Brit, chef April Bloomfield, teaches us Yanks a few things about making a great burger; great meat well-seasoned and charred; roquefort cheese adds another salty, tangy element; mound of shoestring fries is well-salted and seasoned with fresh garlic and rosemary, but I have to say I am not a shoestring fry man. I miss the tender, creamy potato texture of the inside of a perfectly cooked french fry.
4. Union Square Cafe: Eating a burger at the bar at USC at lunch is one of New York's great eating pleasures. The burger itself is juicy and meaty, the accompanying cheddar cheese aged and properly melted, the bacon was pliant and tasted like it hadn't been cooked hours before it was served, and the poppy brioche bun had a little crunch from either the grill or the toaster.
And though I've had trouble in the pas getting a burger at USC as ordered, this time it was perfect. Plus, the service at the bar here is pleasant and solicitous without being overbearing.
5. Cookshop: Grassfed beef is tender but not juicy, great potato batard bun, excellent cheddar, fabulous bacon, and great french fries. Grass-fed beef does not in my opinion make the best burger.
6. Country: They serve a fine burger at Country seasoned with Piemonten salt (whatever that is), but I find this place so pretentious it's hard to take, even at the downstairs, more casual dining room.
7. Burger Bar at Grand Central: Very fine burger, points for good bacon, crunchy frizzled onions on the burger, cheese well-melted, at $12.50 best value fancy-pants burger.
8. Nice Matin: Nice Matin calls its burger a five napkin burger, with good reason. The burger is so juicy it is sure to drive up your dry cleaning bill. Mr. Cutlets, Josh Izersky, a true burger maven, disapproves of this burger because it doesn't hold together. They use very good meat, comte cheese, and it came with a very ripe slice of tomato. Great fries as well.
9. Bar Americain: Excellent, juicy burger cooked as ordered, but how come the fries are seasoned and the burger is not--this burger needed to be salted. Kudos for the homemade pickles. Also, I know midtown restaurant rents are high, but $19 for a burger at lunch at the bar? That's too much.
10. David Burke: Kudos for the buttered mini-Wolferman's English muffins that house the burgers and the very tasty, well-salted beef; frozen self-described "chef fries" are losers. You get three of these fancy-pants sliders for $10.95, but the lousy fries are extra.
One burger I wish I had checked out is the Stone Park Cafe in Park Slope. I will get there shortly and report back to you.
Coulda been contenders but....
- I love the Blue Smoke burger, but the wan, mediocre (frozen?) fries that come with it dropped it out of the top ten.
- Houston's burger might have made the list, but they put mustard and mayo on my burger without being asked. That is a cardinal burger sin. Shredded lettuce on the Houston's burger also doesn't help matters.
- Blue Ribbon's burger would have nudged David Burke off the list if its burger had more color on the exterior instead of just grill marks. Great fries, though, and cooked as ordered.
Once my system has recovered from my excessive burger intake the last few weeks, I'll tackle my new top Ten list of good old non-fancy-pants burgers.