The Stomach that Never Sleeps, part 1: “If I can make it there…”

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 two, part threepart four and part five.

No. 1: ShackBurger at Shake Shack

Shake Shack squareI landed at the wrong terminal. The whole point of flying Delta was to land at Terminal 4 where they have two Shake Shacks, so I had to take a dumb shuttle to make sure the first goddamn thing I did in New York was eat a fucking burger.

The increasingly ubiquitous burger chain fine-tuned their craft to mass-produce it without losing a smidge of quality. I went classic, obviously, and ordered the straight-up ShackBurger–no mods: beef patty ground in-house, God-bless-American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce on a potato roll. The star of this show is the smashed patty with a great sear, and everything else balances quite nicely. This is a great burger, better than the average fast food joint.

No. 2: Hamburger at Mother’s

Mother's squareAfter wiping my fingers, I took a cab from JFK to my sister Anna’s apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where I dropped off my bags and we went to her local hang, Mother’s.

“They don’t ask you how you want it cooked,” she warned me, not realizing I hate it when they ask that. When prompted, I go medium rare, but prefer to leave it up to the chef or the cook or whomever gives the biggest fuck.

It’s $10 for a burger, cheese for a buck, bacon for two. The patty’s grilled medium, topped with American and a pile of curly-ass crispy-ass bacon, which was a textural playground for my tongue to frolic through. They serve it with a ramekin of spicy mayo I spread on the top bun and lettuce, tomato, and raw onion.

“Oh, they use Pat LaFrieda beef,” I noticed on the chalkboard menu behind the bar.

“Everyone around here does,” Anna informed me.

It was solid, not mind-blowing, a bit underseasoned, but a hefty patty. It’s definitely bacon-tastic. The curly pile of bacon beats the living shit out of any place laying a measly couple of slices on burger. It’s a good neighborhood option if you want a burger with your beer, but I wasn’t here for that.

No. 3 & 4: Hamburger and Cheeseburger at White Mana

White Mana ExteriorThe next morning, I took the L Train from Brooklyn to 6th Ave to take the PATH train to Jersey City to start the day’s burger journey at White Mana, a prefabricated UFO-shaped diner built in 1939 for the World’s Fair before the building was moved in its entirety to its current location in 1946.

Minneapolitans can take note that prefabricating burger joints used to be a common practice, which is how we got that White Castle at 33rd & Lyndale.

When I arrived, the place was deserted, which was fine because I wanted to sit at the counter to watch the magic. Plus I’d be taking weirdo pictures.

“Sliders” nowadays refer to any small burger or tiny sandwich on a bun, but originally it was a process created by White Castle and imitated by many places like White Mana to cook burgers efficiently. There aren’t many places left that make them this way, mostly in northern New Jersey and Detroit, MI.

White Mana processI ordered a hamburger and a cheeseburger and the guy smooshed two tiny lumps of beef on top of onions on the griddle and placed a bottom bun, then a top bun on top of each to steam the bread. When it’s all done, in a matter of a couple of minutes, the top buns were lifted off, the patty-and-bottom-buns were flipped onto a paper plate and the tops were replaced into the common burger assemblage. Throw some pickles on the side, and “here you go, buddy.”

White Mana burgersMy only point of reference is obviously White Castle, and they definitely tasted similar. The onion really makes that flavor distinct to a slider. The top bun wasn’t far past room temperature and hadn’t softened at all. Its inclusion in the cooking process was pointless. Otherwise, they were simple and flavorful. I put the pickles on, squirted some ketchup on my plate to dip, and really enjoyed them. Getting out there is a pain; the Jersey City bus system is a headache. I liked it, and at $1.12 for a hamburger and 10 cents more for cheese, the novelty is more than worth it, but at the end of the day, whatever White Castle is doing now tastes pretty much the same without the top bun issue.

No. 4.5: Spicy Chicken Sandwich at Fuku

Fuku Spicy Chicken SandwichI took the PATH back to Manhattan and got on the L back to the East Village to hit up the Momofuku Noodle Bar for a bowl of their famous ramen. I magically showed up at a golden moment when there wasn’t a line, and got a seat at the bar, quickly ordered, ate, and squeezed out past the amassed masses outside to head a couple of doors down to Momofuku’s fried chicken sandwich joint, Fuku, in Noodle Bar’s original location.

The chicken sandwich is all thigh, brined with habañero peppers, breaded in a batter that stays impossibly crispy throughout its consumption on a Martin’s Potato Roll slathered in mayo with a few slices of pickled cucumber. It’s really really good, and I’m not surprised that New York’s been going nuts for them.

It’s only kind of a burger, though. It’s on a bun, but there’s no ground patty. But I ate one, and this is my blog and you can’t tell me what to do. Who cares? It’s good, go eat one.

To be continued tomorrow with my further burgventures in the East Village, here