My brother Dante, and his two friends, went on a burger expedition this past Thursday. Dante offered to write about it for my blog. How could I turn down such a gracious offer. I hope you find it just as amusing as I did.
The waitress at The Dram Shop in Park Slope must’ve thought we were nuts. Three dudes walk in around dinnertime, order one burger, split it three ways, and then start to grab their stomachs and moan like they had just eaten an entire cow. No one can get that full off a third of a burger– she must have thought– especially three dude-sized dudes. What she didn’t know was that this wasn’t the first burger joint we’d been to that day, nor was it our second, nor our third, fourth, nor the fifth. It was the seventh. January 2nd 2014 may have been just a regular day for the rest of humanity, but for three guys in New York City it was the Ultimate Burger Day.
It seems odd that a day of such high esteem would start off with such dysfunction but it did. One of the trio (who will remain nameless, since he is a vital consultant and contributor to Brooklyn POV) overslept while sleeping at his girlfriend’s house and arrived three hours late to the Ultimate Burger Day. Which would come to bite us in the ass later on.
After retrieving the third member of our crew from the canoodling arms of his lover, we set some parameters. We could only visit said burger joints under a few conditions. Condition one: all three of us had to be virgins to the burger joint in question. This ruled out fine establishments such as the Burger Joint, Shake Shack, Minetta Tavern, The Corner Bistro, The DuMont Burger and Umami Burger. Condition two: if we wanted to incorporate a burger into our route that had not been planned prior to the venture, i.e. the ‘Wild Card’ clause, there must be consensus from all three parties and verification from an online source that this wild card burger was indeed well loved. Condition three: due to time constraints we could only consume burgers that were on the way from the Upper East side to Park Slope via the Williamsburg bridge. Condition four: since this was the Ultimate Burger Day and not the Ultimate Quinoa Day, we had to walk between each restaurant.
Our first stop was at the NYC burger chain The Burger Bistro. Although we arrived at the bistro three hours behind schedule—at 2pm instead of 11—we decided to have our ‘breakfast burger’. The Burger Bistro has a specialty burger, which is a burger on a glazed doughnut bun topped with bacon, egg, and cheese. Every a self-respecting New Yorker knows that bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel is the Holy Trinity of Deli breakfast sandwiches. That is why we commended The Burger Bistro for being ballsy enough to attempt to marry burger meat and doughnut with the formidable breakfast triumvirate. But the end result, however tasty, was overwhelming, which is not the adjective I want to use for an eighteen-dollar burger.
The next stop was at the venerable JG Melon, nestled in the epicenter of hoity-toity land on 74th and 3rd. It was packed and had an insanely long line for lunchtime on a weekday. Our day had just begun and we had many burgers to conquer so we passed it over.
The third stop was a little controversial. This burger had had some mixed reviews. I’ll admit, I was very skeptical—this restaurant is in midtown and has a cheesy ‘real New York’ vibe, which panders to the bewildered tourist who even feels uncomfortable leaving the confines of Time Square. But I have to say; P.J Clarke’s on 55th surprised the three of us. We received a damn good classic burger. It was a burger without bullshit, devoid of glamour or glitz. The burger, the cheese, and the bun were excellent. A burger is what a burger does and we did not leave disappointed.
We were pretty excited about the next burger. When we did our research we had heard some great things about Ngam’s Thai Burger. But we arrived during a pretty sleepy time of day and the waiter was pretty blasé. He spent the vast majority of the time chatting with the kitchen staff and served us our burger medium instead of the medium-rare we had asked for. Despite these initial setbacks, Ngam’s burger rocked. Our. World. The Chiang Mai fries were the best sweet potato fries we’d ever had. They were fried in this sweet coconut panco that made them irresistible. At first glance it was just a burger. There were the customary sesame seeds on a toasted bun surrounding a cooked piece of meat but flavored and topped with fantastic Thai spices and condiments. The burger had Thai flavoring but without losing the burgers integrity. Overall it was the perfect combination of ingenuity and tastiness.
Unfortunately, due to our late start, the Brindle Room a few blocks east was closed for dinner prep. Since Calliope was a little out of our price range, we threw in our first wild card. We went down to The Black Iron Burger on 5th and avenue B. We had just had a pretty crazy burger at Ngam so we decided to just get a classic burger. I had a good feeling about it when I saw the jolly heavyset Latino gentleman manning the griddle, which is situated right behind the bar. Two foodie rules to live by: where there’s jolly fat guys there’s always good eating and never take advice on where to eat from a scrawny blond woman. Scrawny blond women are content to munch on carrot sticks and hummus and wouldn’t know a great burger if it stood up and taught their Bikram Yoga class. Black Iron served us a great classic burger. It was considerably cheaper than P.J Clarke’s (7$) and had a tastier patty.
We needed that extra fortification for our long trek over the Williamsburg Bridge to Blue Collar in south Williamsburg. Although I am a Brooklyn boy, I have always been partial to the West Coast In N’ Out style burger, which is why I especially loved Blue Collar’s greasy double cheeseburger. But, my two companions were not as impressed. I believe it was because the cashier was very rude to us. After having walked the Williamsburg Bridge on a windy day in January, we did not love her attitude. The three of us are not snobs. We’re young guys, who know what its like to have a shitty day at work at a shitty job. But, no matter the circumstances, she was working and our money was green, which made her behavior unacceptable.
We skipped burgers in northern Brooklyn (Bushwhick, Greenpoint, and the rest of Williamsburg) due to the cold and hopped on the G down to Fort Greene and walked into Park Slope. We were already starting to feel a little burgered out at this point so when we got to Pork Slope we decided to change it up a little bit. We’d heard that this place served up a mean cheeseburger but we decided to go with a Porky Melt. At a Porky Melt’s core is a patty, the same as any hamburger; we felt that we weren’t deviating too far from the mission’s objective. No matter the sacrilegious implications of ingesting pork on burger day, Pork Slope opened our eyes to the pork patty and eased us into it with some awesome cornbread.
Snow was falling fast and thick at this point. The weather that day had been miserable but now it was unbearable. But despite the adversity we marched on through the bitter cold and stinging snow. The Dram Shop had a cozy atmosphere, but most things appear cozy when the weather outside is down right Siberian. Despite the good vibes and the pretty waitress, who was very nice, the burger was underwhelming. Yes, there is a definite bias, it being the last burger of the tour, but it honestly was nothing special. For twelve dollars, it tasted and looked too much like a burger from Wendy’s. Overall, it was a tasty burger it just didn’t go the extra mile.
After the final stop we trudged back up Fifth Avenue towards the Barclay’s Center and stopped at a twenty-four hour coffee shop to discuss the final results. The burgers are ranked in order from best to worst. The three main categories we used to scrutinize each burger where taste, cost efficiency, and ingenuity. We voted not by consensus but by majority since there were three of us and we were pretty exhausted from ingesting greasy meat all day.
- Ngam (ingenious award)
- Black Iron Burger (best meat award)
- P.J Clarke’s (most classic award)
- Blue Collar (best bang for buck award)
- Pork Slope (best cornbread award)
- Burger Bistro (the what the fuck award)
- Dram Shop (hottest waitress award)