44 Bedford Street, New York NY 10014 (b/n Leroy and Carmine Streets; map); 212-414-8884
Service: Slow at lunch, when the reasonably friendly barkeep is also your waiter
Setting: Cleaned up, cheerful hipster neighborhood bar
Must-Haves: Burger (I hope), Zwiegel's "Porkerz" or Cheeseburger Plate
Cost: $20 for a cheeseburger, tater tots, beer, tax, and tip
In an ideal serious eaters' world, everyone would have a bar in their neighborhood with a great burger made from freshly ground, high quality beef with the right meat-to-fat ratio sourced from a butcher shop in the neighborhood.
The burger would be reasonably priced, the bartender and waitstaff would make regulars and first-timers feel equally welcome, the fried potato matter (either fries or tater tots) would be fresh, crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, well-salted, and plentiful. The cheese would always be melted, and the burger would always come out of the kitchen just as you ordered it. And if by chance you were not in the mood for a burger, there would be a couple other perfectly executed comfort food items on the menu, not to mention a well-curated selection of rums, tequilas, and scotches. Oh yeah, said bar would also serve food until 4 a.m.
Sounds like a dream, right? Such is the promise of Daddy-O in the West Village. The serious eaters descended en mass one December afternoon to see if Daddy-O was indeed a dream come true or a dream deferred.
Our Daddy-O Burger ($12, $14 with cheese) came on a generic sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, ketchup, mayo, and the choice of cheddar, bleu, or Monterey jack cheese. On the side were tater tots and a pickle. The menu alerted us to the fact that the beef was from the Florence Meat Market, a great old school butcher located just a few blocks from Daddy-O.
I ordered my cheddar burger as always medium-rare. Alas, there wasn't a hint of pink to be found, much less red. It still tasted reasonably juicy and moist and beefy, but there was no burger greatness to be found, at least in our burger. The tater tots that came with the burger were crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, just as they should be.
I did notice that all around me on other folks' tables were burgers that appeared to be medium-rare. I began to feel persecuted, or should I say, burger-cuted. Why was mine the only overcooked burger in the joint? Next time my guess is that the burger will be properly cooked and realize its promise.
I hoped to take solace in Daddy-O other comfort food offerings. The original BLT ($8) was on toasted pullman loaf (from Blue Ribbon Bakery) and had all the right stuff: iceberg lettuce, double slab bacon, beefsteak tomatoes and mayo. Alas, it suffered from the same sort of "just missing" problem. Everything about it was right except that the bacon was stiff and had obviously been cooked hours before it was put on our sandwich. It was so close to BLT greatness, but it never realized its potential. Bacon rigor mortis will do that to a BLT every time.
The chicken fingers ($8), served with bleu cheese and honey mustard dipping sauces also fell into the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" category. They were crisp and greaseless but bone-dry, and not even the tasty dipping sauces could sufficiently raise their game.
One plate of food at Daddy-O realized its promise and then some. The Zweigle's "Porkerz" or Cheeseburger Plate ($12) comes with two Zweigle's (an upstate hot dog purveyor) nitrate-free white hot dogs or cheeseburgers with Norm's beef hot sauce, mustard and onions over home fries and macaroni salad. This plate is clearly inspired by the legendary "garbage" plate at Nick Tahou Hots, a timeless greasy spoon in Rochester, New York. The Daddy-O version is probably far superior to the original (though, admittedly, I have not eaten a garbage plate in more than twenty years). It may sound like a silly, kitchen-sink kind of hodgepodge, but it's a mighty tasty and filling plate of food.
One special worth mentioning—available on Sundays, usually with enough left for a Monday batch too—is a fine meatball sandwich on a ciabatta roll ($12). The roll soaked up the gravy and the meatballs were light and meaty, a combination many meatballs fail to be.
For dessert, a warm, boozy bread pudding ($6) is an appropriate end to a bar meal.
For us, Daddy-O just missed reaching that platonic bar food plateau I think it is striving for. I have a feeling that the next time I visit at 2 a.m. the burger will be perfectly cooked, and all will be right in the world. And oh yeah, I'm already craving my next "Porkerz" plate.