BURGERS!!! - Part Five


Corner Bistro
Rare Bar & Grill
Five Napkin Burger

In 1977, the Voyager spacecraft lifted off from Earth and took to the Heavens. A part of it's mission was not scientific. Contained within it was a gold record, on which were as many elements of human culture as could be fit. If, one unlikely day, the craft were to be found by another race, they would be presented with a glimpse into human culture. Quintessential pieces of earthling music, greetings in numerous languages, laughter, and other sounds are, this very minute, streaking across space at 17 kilometers per second. The Voyager does not, it must be said, carry examples of any food. If it did, the burger would have to be on the list. Oh burger, sizzling on the grill, I cannot make my heart stand still.

331 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-9502

Corner Bistro is known for having, and this isn't my advertising campaign talking here, the second-best burger in the city. Second-best? That's either insanely good, or very modest. Either way, does it live up to the quasi-hype?

Corner bistro is less a bistro than it is located on a corner. They're a bar, first and foremost. A bar that only serves hamburgers and that has lines out the door for a seat with waits of over an hour at times. I think that's silly and indicative of a customer base of tourists or name droppers who need to be able to say "I ate at Corner Bistro". The interior is reminiscent of Old Town and looks like a stiff wind will blow everything apart. The furniture would be turned away by the Salvation Army and the floors are like walking on permagum. It's dark as a cave in the afternoon.

Pike and I showed up one random afternoon in the recent past and, grabbing a rickety table in the back, ordered two Bistro Burgers. The burgers are a pretty good size (8 oz.), cost next to nothing, and come standard with a cheap slice of American cheese and a breakfast's worth of bacon. This is what a burger is supposed to be. No pretense, no flash, lots of calories, tastes great The fries were fries.

Wait for food: 10ish minutes.
Cost: Around $12.
Burger: Not the second best, but worth every penny.
Fries: They were fries.
Atmosphere: A seedy dive bar full of yuppies where you're sure the chairs will collapse under you.
Verdict: Definitely worth a trip if there's no line.

303 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 481-1999

Rare, the burger place at the Affinia Shelburne, is the exact opposite of Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien. Burger Joint is a classless greasy spoon in a swank hotel where the poor can feel rich and the rich can feel normal. Rare is an expensive hamburger restaurant with a cocktail list, expensive beer, and burgers for nearly $30 each.

Walk into the lobby and turn left. You'll be presented with a vibrant cross section of New York. At the bar were two corporate types on what was clearly a date. Standing at a tall table were three Hamptonite-esque types in their pastel clothes pondering the cocktail list. A family sat at a corner table. My friends Doc and Turtle were dressed in stark contrast to the suits we stood next to while waiting for a table. When we sat down, it was right by the girls-night-outers.

While I was tempted to try one of Rare's more unique burger concoctions, it would go against the point of being able to compare their normal burgers to the competition. So I got their Rare Burger. Fries were $4 extra. Toppings were extra too. My Heineken Light was $8. I ordered it medium-rare and even though the waiter told me that their medium rare is really closer to rare, it actually came closer to medium, if not medium well. Still, not a big deal. It wasn't worth getting the onions and the burger was too greasy for my taste. Doc ordered the Rare burger as well, and he also found it too greasy. Since Turtle tried the M&M Burger (there are no M&Ms in it) and liked it, I'd like to go back and try one of their other options. The waffle fries were good, but you don't get that many. This is probably a good thing since the meal sat like a brick in my stomach.

Wait for food: 15 minutes for a table. 15 minutes for the food to arrive.
Cost: $30, less if you get soda, more if you get a second beer... which I did.
Burger: Heavy and greasy but it tasted good.
Fries: decent.
Atmosphere: like a midtown restaurant with only hamburgers on the menu.
Verdict: Burgers with pretension.

630 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
(212) 757-2277
2315 Broadway
New York, NY 10024
(212) 333-4488
35-01 36th Street
Astoria, NY 11102
(718) 433-2727

For various reasons, more than one of which involve tourists and Jersey tweens, but which are by no means limited to them, Times Square does not occupy my Top 10 Favorite Parts of NYC list. Still, despite it's enormous lackings, it does have one thing going for it. It's really close to Five Napkin Burger, which just bumped BLT Burger out of my top spot for best hamburger in the city.

Five Napkin is big, with lots of outside tables; outside is where Pike and I were lucky enough to get a seat. Even on a Wednesday night, this large space was packed to the gills. We were handed one of those blinking buzzing doodads that tell you that your seat's ready and proceeded to watch the hostess try (with limited success) to explain to a group of four tourists (whose English was somewhat thin) that they'd have to wait twenty minutes to be seated. As the four tourists stood staring blankly at her, we watched her blood pressure rise steadily and ordered some drinks from the bar. Good times.

Our table came soon, and with it, rain. Pleasantly, the awnings were large enough that we stayed dry. Five Napkin does, sadly, have a menu that stretches beyond the realm of hamburgers, which stretches it out past being purely a burger joint. But I won't belabor this one disappointment. The burger I ordered was the Original Five Napkin Burger, which has a generous helping of sauteed onions, is bathed in Gruyere cheese and comes with a side of fries. It does not come with lettuce or tomato(?!). Pike ordered the Cheddar Bacon Burger and, since he prefers his vitamins in futuristic pill-form, gave his to me. Ask for lettuce and tomato. The result was amazing. I owe much of my joy to the Gruyere. From now on, if it's offered, I'm getting it. The burger was so amazingly good that I'd have ordered another one if I didn't fear exploding. Pike liked his choice, too, but he didn't nearly fall out of his chair when he ate it the way I did. With cheese coating my hands and face, I needed at least two napkins, though five might be pushing it.

Wait for food: 10 minutes for a table. 15 more minutes for burgers.
Cost: $15 for the burger, plus tax and tip and a drink.
Burger: Ohhhhhhhhhhh yeahhhhhhhh
Fries: pretty good
Atmosphere: Restauranty
Verdict: The best burger yet.

Coming up in Burgers!!! - Part Six: Chains - Part One

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