BURGERS!!! - Part One


Shake Shack
CLOSED - Zip Burger

Since the first Indian moved south to the plains of Montana from the snowy northern tundra, stumbled upon the bison, ground that bison into a pasty goop and slapped it into a Kaiser roll, since the first European jumped onto the sandy shoreline of Virginia, popped open a bottle of ketchup and sliced some Vlasics into round chips, America has had the hamburger. Legends abound. Some say that George Washington refused to cross the Delaware until he had a nicely charred burger fresh off his Weber. It's alleged that the reason that the FBI went into overtime hunting down John Dillinger was because he inadvertently robbed the Fed’s favorite In-N-Out, thinking its long lines led to a bank teller.

Lately, here in NYC, the hamburger has made a resurgence. No longer the food of fast-food chains and diners, some restaurants have tried to demonstrate their youthful, brash hipness by serving up their version of the burger, often in the form of the mini-burger. The mini-burger, for those who are unfamiliar with them, is a smaller, more expensive, fancy, and universally unsatisfying lunch item. The dainty mini-burger is a re-design meant to appeal to those who eat pizza with a knife and fork.

But now, real hamburgers have taken center stage as the focus of menus at restaurants created specifically to take on the singular task of creating a great one. So far I’ve only been to those in Manhattan, but if anyone out there knows of any burger joints outside Manhattan, send me an email.

I decided to try as many as I could, but to make this thoroughly subjective and wholly unscientific study as objectively scientific as possible, I wanted to keep as many variables as constant as possible. So I have rules:

1. Burger joints only. For example, I recently went to Wollensky’s Grill and had their signature burger. They don’t count.
2. I always ordered the same thing: a cheeseburger with American cheese, a diet cola, and because ordering a hamburger without french fries is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and/or three days in the clink, fries, too.
3. I always tried to go on the same days of the week and at the same times of the day: Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday between 7:01PM and 8:59PM. This was to ensure I got a seat by avoiding the midday lunch crowds and end-of-the-week date crowds... and a less busy chef is a better chef.

Other than the obvious aesthetics of the burger joint and the taste of the burgers, I also noted the cost and the time it took between ordering and digging in. After all, these are hamburgers, not filet mignons.

So after a lengthy introduction and ignoring my South Beach Diet obligations for what I deem a worthy cause, I begin…

Madison Square Park
Southeast Corner at 23rd Street
(212) 889-6600

Shake Shack sits in Madison Square Park and is entirely outdoors, so it's only open for about half the year. The warm half. Bro and I arrived at Shake Shack and did what everyone does when they get there: stand on line. Literally, the line stretches to the entrance of the park. Of all the places I've tried so far (these reviews are not in the order in which I went), Shake Shack is the cheapest by far. $8.00 for everything, plus tax. The atmosphere here is unparalleled. Sitting outside in the park at bistro tables, with trees above you and skyscrapers above them is something that almost no other place in the city can match for the price.

Shake Shack's fries were probably among the best of any of the burger joints so far. Thick cut and crisp, but not burned. The burger was equally good. Shake Shack cooks them all to medium and they come fully dressed, but with onions on the side, chopped up in a little cup. You can choose from a selection of beers and half-bottles of wine as well. Should you not want hamburgers, Shake Shack has a separate line for desserts and they have ice cream cones, shakes, and sundaes.

But there are setbacks. First, the wait was very long. 45 minutes, and the people who got there after us had even more time to kill. Secondly, there aren't nearly enough tables or chairs. Of course, there would have been more chairs but some girls decided that their handbags needed a place at the table, too.

Wait to order: 45 minutes
Wait for food: 13 minutes
Cost: $8.00
Burger: Very good
Fries: Very good
Atmosphere: Bar none
Verdict: One of the best spring/summer places to eat… if you can get a table and the person or people you’re with don’t die of old age on line.

287 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
(212) 488-7500

I was initially supposed to go to Brgr opening night with M, who somehow knows the owners or the owners' cousin's stylist's neighbor or something. Anyway, we were on the list. But the problem was that M's a vegetarian and they were out of veggie burgers by the time we got there. Luckily for me, Brgr just happened to be down the block from my old office and staying late gave me the perfect opportunity to try it out. Walking in they seem like they could be fast food. You order your burger from a menu with numbers (number one is the standard cheeseburger) and then tack on extras like french fries or onion rings and soda.

Brgr has what would appear at first to be a pretty limited menu, especially when you grow up with the voluminous menus that have become part of any regular fast food visit. But that’s the point. This isn't fast food or a diner, and nothing will be served to you after it's visited the heat lamp. But the menu’s actually got quite a bit of choice. If you don’t want the standard 1/3-pound Montana Angus, you can get a veggie or turkey burger. See?

And what fast food place serves beer? Choose between a Moretti or Brooklyn Brewery Reserve. If you’re more of a wine person, Brgr offers four: “Good” and “Better” red and white. Milkshakes and fresh-squeezed lemonade is available. For dessert, Brgr has an agreement with a bakery that gives them cookie dough rolls to be cut and baked fresh behind the counter. The cookies are actually really good.

The front of the restaurant is modern and bright. The back of the restaurant is the open kitchen. The walls are exposed brick, the chairs are clear plastic, and the booth cushions look like humongous, comfy Skittles. You can also sit at the bar watching the cooks do their thing, but these stools aren’t very easy on the kiester.

I waited 18 minutes for my hamburger to arrive, which is no small chunk of time. It was worth the wait, but I have to ask where the 1/3 pound of meat went. It seemed awfully small. The burger was delicious and came with the usual fixings of lettuce, tomato, and pickle, plus some pink sauce I can’t put my finger on. Still, do I feel like it was worth eight bucks? Maybe.

Where the burger was great, the fries were weak. They’re freshly cut and made right in front of you, skin and all. But they come soggy. If they were crisp, they’d have tasted fine, but I just can’t get past their droop factor. Additionally, they’re unsalted. Some people may like being able to add their own salt. I, on the other hand, think that one of the marks of a good fry is when the salt already on it does the job. My final annoyance was the ketchup, which comes in one of those plain red plastic diner squeeze bottles. Truck stop style. The ketchup itself was fine, but the bottle was so greasy, sticky, and disgustng that I was didn't want ot touch it and used a napkin to hold it over my fries.

Wait for food: 18 minutes.
Cost: $11.92 for everything.
Burger: A smally but a goody.
Fries: Not very good.
Atmosphere: Aside from the kechup bottle, fast food with class.
Verdict: Next time, I’ll skip the fries and get an extra burger.

For a more thorough review of all that Brgr has to offer (with way better photos), check out NYCnosh's thoughts. They tried more than I did, and their most noted issue was that they weren't too thrilled with the service, which I had no problems with... although one over-zealous cleaner took the cup off my table before I even got to fill it with soda. I got it back.


300 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022
(212) 308-1308

Much as Brgr was near my old office, Zip Burger is near my new one, and thus comes another perfect opportunity to try something after work and avoid having to do dishes at home.

Zip Burger is two small floors tall. The first floor is where you order and the second floor is where you eat. Everything is cow themed, from the smiling, I'm-so-happy-you're-eating-me cow mascot riding a Vespa, to the faux bossie seats upstairs. Zip Burger is unlike the other burger places I've been to thus far because at Zip Burger, you build your burger from the ground up. So while a $4.50 hamburger looks cheap at first, you have to pay extra for pretty much any modification that isn't a pickle. This includes lettuce and tomato. Zip Burger's menu is strictly a burger one: beef, turkey, salmon or veggie. No hoity-toity wines or microbrews here.

The staff was very nice, and one even waved for a photo (though I didn't use it). But the burgers are a different story. The Hereford beef ranchers call the midwest where they raise their cattle "the Napa Valley of beef", but I think they sold Zip Burger the meat from the Two-Buck-Chuck vineyard. The burger itself looked really good. Looks can be deceiving. As someone on the Chowhound message-board said, the burger, bun, and toppings were perfectly proportioned and it's delivered to your table piping-hot. But that's not enough when you can't taste the meat. I could feel the texture, but other than that, there didn't seem to be any evidence of the beef's existence. That and it was pretty greasy.

The fries were equally unimpressive since they were over-fried and brittle. Like pretzel sticks made from potato. Half of them had no requisite creamy middle. Half of them were left on the plate.

I am possibly alone in my opinion. Or perhaps I went on an oddball day. For example, Frank Bruni writes in his NY Times blog/review of Zip Burger that he found beef the enjoyable in large part because it allegedly held it's taste over the presence of the bun and cheese. His major lament was over soggy, as opposed to burned-to-a-crisp, fries. Now, I'll be the first to say that he's an actual reporter whose opinon counts at least enough for someone to write him a check to give it. But I think it demonstrates that he ate somewhere else.

Wait for food: 12 minutes.
Cost: $11.65 for everything.
Burger: Where's the beef?
Fries: Potato splinters.
Atmosphere: Cow-themed diner.
Verdict: I hate giving bad reviews, but...

Coming in Part Two:
BLT Burger, NY Burger Company, and Burgers & Cupcakes.

Shake Shack (Madison Square Park) on Urbanspoon Brgr on Urbanspoon

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