The Stomach that Never Sleeps, part 5: “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”

I spent December 20 – 27, 2015 in New York City and ate a silly amount of burgers. Every day this week, I’ll document every fucking burger from my trip in a 5-part series of stories from what might be one of the most diverse burger cities in the damn world. Read part onepart twopart three, and part four.

No. 13: Royalton Farms Cheeseburger at Allswell

AllswellOrdering burgers at every damn restaurant in town starts to make you feel like a basic bitch.

Often, the burger’s the safest thing on the menu, and since starting this project, I’m not mad that they’re the cheapest thing on the menu, but they’re the safest, cheapest thing on the menu. At a lot of nicer spots, people order a burger because they freaked out when someone told them sweetbreads aren’t a kind of pastry. And the FOMO sets in when I wonder why I got the burger at a pizza place, or a French place, or a Chinese place. Why my obsession would waste several hours on a trip to New Haven that I could have spent eating in one of the best damn food cities in the world.

I love this. I love doing this. I love writing about this. But I love more food than burgers and sometimes I feel stuck.

When I suggested my family go to Allswell on Christmas Eve for brunch, I had an ulterior motive. It was on my burger list, so they could get eggs and I could get a burger. I’m tricky like that.

But I got those FOMO pangs when I saw a fried chicken sandwich on the menu, and I kinda really wanted a fried chicken sandwich, but despite Fukus to the contrary, I wasn’t trying to eat a bunch of fried chicken sandwiches.

Allswell cross sectionIt was a good burger, though. Dry aged beef, grilled to a perfect medium rare. lettuce, onion, homemade pickles, homemade sesame seed bun. Cheddar, which I traditionally object to, worked in being well-melted and tasty. The bun was good, and while not quite squishy enough, there’s something about a thick patty with a more dense bun that screams pub burger in a way that just feels good. It isn’t rewriting any book on the burger, but it’s good, solid, and apparently available ’til 3am if you’re into drunk snacks–I know I am! I liked it.

No. 14: the Original db Burger at db Bistro Moderne

We took the subway to Midtown, which was the first time I saw my sister out of her element. She’s lived in New York for over ten years now and lives and breathes it through and through. She never goes to Midtown; that’s where you’ll find Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Broadway, and crowds. Gaggles. Hordes. Tourists. Enter at your own risk. Here be dragons.

But alas, there was an honestly breathtaking Picasso sculpture exhibit at the MoMA, and Dad’s a big Picasso fan. We went from there to Rockefeller Center, then St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and watched the Christmas light show at Saks before our dinner reservation at db Bistro Moderne.

This was the one. I didn’t know exactly how I’d get it in, but I knew I’d never again have a burger like Daniel Boloud‘s contribution to the conversation. It sounds unreal, and it kind of is. I don’t know of any burger that comes close to it’s decadence, much less its $35 price tag*. Luckily, my parents were paying.

Tee hee.

dbFirst and foremost, it’s a sirloin patty stuffed with braised short rib, black truffle, and foie gras, on a spread of tomato confit and a bed of frisée lettuce, topped with raw onion, tomato, and a spread of horseradish on a parmesan poppy seed bun.

“Oh my god, this is a good burger,” were the first words out of my mouth.

It’s extremely well-composed. It showcases classic burger flavor in a way that’s completely over-the-top, but totally familiar. Each ingredient delivered on its promise of being the gratuitous version of itself. Lettuce, tomato, and onion on a potato bun? All that’s missing is American cheese, and I didn’t even miss it. At the end of the day, the beef is the star. The red wine-braised short ribs are crazy delicious. The patty is cooked perfectly, too, pan-fried in butter, and at the heart is the foie: rich, buttery, and present but not showy (except for the part where they cut it in half and literally show it to you, but let’s not quibble). The entire thing tastes of pure decadence in a way where the typically safest, cheapest menu item is anything but bitch-basic.

When it debuted in 2001, the db Burger showed everyone what a burger could be. No one would even bother trying to come close to emulating it, but every chef that’s ever loved a burger or tried making one has learned something from it. It wasn’t my favorite, but only because it’s impossible to compare to any other. Not that it’s any better or worse, and not even that it’s unique or special. It’s in a category all its own.

But yes: it’s fucking delicious.

No. 15: the beef burger at MP Taverna

Christmas was the only day of my trip that I didn’t eat a burger, because Christmas. We did a gift exchange at Anna’s apartment over bagels then went to see Star Wars: the Force Awakens before an excellent dinner at Antica Pesa. Then on Saturday we brunched at Filipino restaurant Maharlika and visited the 9/11 Memorial before dinner back in Williamsburg at MP Taverna.

It’s the latest iteration of a series of Greek restaurants in the greater NYC area. But here, ordering the burger was a serious misstep, a decidedly basic bitch move to get the burger because I saw it on the menu and shrugged. First and foremost, the updated take on Greek cuisine here was incredible; hummus, calamari, and merquez sausage were fantastic. But the burger.

MP TavernaThis was a case where it seems like someone told them they had to put a burger on the menu, and they didn’t know what that was and someone described a burger to them and they made one based on that. But it was gross so they decided to do something a little zany and Greek it up a bit with some unique choices, and it was still gross, but they went with it because they had to.

The patty was honestly cooked fine, and the bread was a little dense. There was a spicy spread on it that totally killed any other flavor, the tomato was tasteless. It was utterly forgettable in a way I don’t even feel like talking about. Skip. Next, please.

No. 16: the Emmy at Emily’s
EmilyMom and Dad left early on Sunday morning, my last day in town, so Anna and I were free to brunch it up how we pleased, so I picked Emily in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. This was a good decision.

Emily only does 25 burgers a night, and trying to make it there early enough in their dinner service proved impossible by our schedules, but since they offer unlimited burgers during brunch, it seemed the perfect way to close out my trip.

Emily cross sectionDry-aged beef with a gorgeous amber sear cooked to a delightful medium-rare, coated in cheddar, drenched in “EMMY sauce” that’s unlike any ketchup-mayo-pickle “secret” sauce I’ve sampled, on a pretzel bun from local bakery Tom Cat, I was quite pleased. The EMMY sauce had a flavor I couldn’t place, but it was tangy and buttery and spicy. American cheese would have ruined this burger, I’m afraid, but fortunately, the cheddar balances perfectly, adds sharpness, and holds up admirably on beef cooked expertly to showcase its dry-aged flavor. I’m a convert to Martin’s potato rolls by inundation and squishy buns, obviously, rule my world, but with flavors this strong, the density, the crust of a pretzel bun holds up remarkably. It’s an interplay of bold flavors that don’t fight for your attention but highlight each other like a seasoned breakdancing crew. Cornichons were served on the side, but it would have been cool to see if, diced-up and sprinkled-on, the acid played well with the rest of the team. Not at all mad about it, though. The late entry quickly ended up very high on my recommendeds list.

Then we went to Target and took a car2go back to Anna’s, and I packed up and headed for the airport, a most excellent burger adventure in the bag.

No. 17: Double SmokeShack at Shake Shack

Oops.

I really wanted to squeeze in one more, and almost missed my flight for it. Which would have been hilarious.

I got to JFK and security was a shit-show of confusing labyrinthine cattle gates that made me second-guess my decision to get there only two hours prior to my flight, but I made it through with 45 minutes to spare correctly, this time around, at Terminal 4. And, I mean, 45 minutes? I had time, right?

Not really. The line at Shake shack wasn’t long, which was a LIE, because the line on the other end–a grip of people holding buzzers–was thick. It took about 15 minutes, and the guy who ordered after me asking where his food was every damn time they brought out another round. (“Two plain hamburga? That is two plain hamburga? Where’s my two plain hamburga?” Calm your tits, guy!). So of course my gate was the very last one. 

Thoughts while running down the terminal, suitcase in one hand, bag o’ burger in the other: I can just eat it on the plane, right? Should I stop and, like, choke it down? Is that a good idea? I’m going to need to make sure there’s no ShackSauce in my mustache when I ask the Delta people to reschedule my flight.

And when I finally got to the gate, I don’t think anyone’s ever been so happy to see a delayed flight. Only half an hour late, and there was plenty of time to enjoy my burger before it even started boarding.

Shake Shack SmokeShackAnd enjoy it I did! What I loved about the ShackBurger is still present in the SmokeShack: a smash-imparted sear and American. But while I thought I was mostly just adding bacon, a cherry pepper relish really brought the SmokeShack home. It adds heat, for sure, but I didn’t anticipate it all coming together so fucking well. Acid balances the added fat, and spice complements the smokiness. It all killed the tang of the ShackSauce, and maybe I’d feel like it was missing something without it, but I didn’t notice it. Whatever it is, I really liked this burger.

Mall of America aside, the Twin Cities are in for a serious treat when Shake Shack opens this summer, and from what I can tell, they don’t just move into a market with one location; soon enough there’ll be one in every home! Or close enough.

And unless there are burgers available on the airplane, this absolutely has to be my very last. And you know I’d get one on the plane if I could.

That’s that! Before you yell at me, I know I missed the following: Peter Luger, Minetta Tavern, Fritzl’s Lunch Box, Corner Bistro, Five Napkin Burger, Ramen Burger, the Ainsworth, and more than likely a dozen to a hundred more of your favorite New York burger. Comment freely.

People always ask me what my favorite burger is, and I hate that question. I don’t rate, I don’t rank, but in the interest of fuck-it, here’s my top 5, in no particular order:

  • the Brindle Room
  • Emily
  • Raoul’s
  • Whitman’s
  • the Spotted Pig

But for completely different reasons, don’t skip Shake Shack, and if you’re really feeling good about yourself, the db is 100% worth it.

I don’t say it enough, but thanks for sitting through my burger trip. My New York week may be over, but my journey continues. If you’re a diligent lil’ fucker, I had a teaser for my next story in one of these entries somewhere.


*I’ve heard of Kobe beef burgers that cost more, but that’s a different class. They’re just using stupid-expensive beef for the sake of stupid-expensive beef.

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