Wednesday: Going Halvesies (aka the “La Palette Burger Fallacy” Post)

I eat enough burgers to know that the big boys are 8 oz. and up, the average burgers 6-8 oz. and fast-food style burgers, i.e. Shake Shack (which I adore) and 5 Guys (which I hate), are a slim 3-4 oz. These are just the rules of the burger kingdom.

photo-9So when I spotted a 12 oz. burger on the menu at La Palette, both when I was browsing their online menu and also later on the menu in the restaurant, I’m pretty sure my eyes bugged out in that cartoon-y way, just a little bit. TWELVE OUNCES?! This thing has got to be just gargantuan.

And cheap, at $13 for a burger (add $1 for a fried egg) plus fries and salad. This sounds like an impossibly good deal; I had to try it. Sometimes, impossibly good deals do exist. Not sure I could do this alone, I convinced my friend to split the “Tudo” burger me: 12 oz. of top sirloin beef, melted mozzarella, mayo, boston lettuce, tomato and a fried egg.

photo-10We were half-way on our back to watching Top Chef when it dawned on me that we hadn’t even looked at it yet. Let’s see this thing. And … disappointment. My first though was, “There is no way that can be 12 ounces.”

Next, optimism. Outloud I said, “I wonder if there’s two patties? One on each side of the bun, like an open-faced burger?”

Then, realism sets in. “Nah, that’s just the egg,” my friend says, referring to the lumpy shape on the top half of the bun that, in the darkness, I’d been *hoping* was melted cheese obscuring a second patty — not because a burger needs that much beef, but on principle. But she was right. It was just the egg.

photo-11A block later we came upon a mostly empty Magnolia Bakery.

“Eff it, let’s get a cupcake to split, too,” I said.

Spontaneity is the key to my Magnolia Bakery strategy: If you happen to walk by and it happens to not have a hoard of tourists queuing up down the street, go.

Because they do make really great cupcakes: Light and cakey with a tall head of frosting, neither top nor bottom too sweet, Magnolia’s cupcakes are all about classicism: cake flavors are typically vanilla, chocolate or red velvet; the frosting either white or brown or lightly tinted in pretty pastel shades, with plenty of peaks and curves in which to catch traditional toppings, like sprinkles or chopped walnuts.

Half a cupcake (two big bites) was the perfect pairing to half a burger (about five bites); I’d even choose to do it again, on purpose. The burger was well-seasoned, well-executed, and generally a success — aside from the false advertising. It would behoove La Palette to fix their menu; it’s not like they’d have to lower the price.

Saturday: “i am so hungry after looking at this” (Burger Slideshow Post, Part 1)

That was the title of the email that inspired this burger triple-header — the “this” mentioned is this stunning sideshow of 82 of NYC’s best burgers, published by NY Mag’s Grubstreet blog, which kicked off a lively debate: How many can I check as “done”? Which great burgers are missing from this list? Which ones am I now dying to try?*

One thing led to another, and we were standing in line at Pop Burger in the Meatpacking District, the closest burger detour adjacent to Chelsea Market. Just to tide us over, we agreed. Until we can really roll up our sleeves and get eating later.

I hadn’t had Pop Burger before (more background after the jump below), but their burgers are exactly what you’d expect, given the setting:

photoCheeky, retro-inspired and oh so much more about looks than substance. There is no deviation in ordering, because the cheeseburgers are sitting, already made and packaged into their two-fer containers, keeping warmish on a cooktop within arm’s reach of the cashier.

These petite, four-bite burgers look pretty enough, but a bite reveals the bottom bun has gotten hard from the perpetual low-heat warming, the shredded iceberg lettuce is miserably wilted and the cheese has almost resolidified entirely. We didn’t order any, but the onion rings and fries were also sitting in large steel trays waiting to be scooped up. Those are the first, and last, Pop Burgers I’ll ever have.

The Pop Burger experience only compounded the importance of making “just the right choice” of burger later — we already knew one contender photo-2was going to be a Five Guys double-patty cheeseburger, “with everything” (which is a style of menu ordering), and for the second, a mid-to-upscale burger in the West Village vicinity that I hadn’t had before (a surprisingly short list).

In part because we’d just tried one of Rare Bar & Grill’s unusual Steakhouse Burgers ($21) the other week, we went back to Rare for a plain ole’ cheeseburger, “8 oz. of 100% Grade “A” American chuck beef, ground and freshly prepared daily in our kitchen.”

How’d they stack up? Well, I still am not a fan of Five Guys. I have nothing against thin patties, but when one patty is so thin to the point of being holey, thereby necessitating two patties, not a good burger. Same thing goes for the laundry list of condiments — sure, they’re fun, and there are some good ones on there … is it a possibility that Five Guys is compensating for anything, much? (I think so.)

photo-1photoRare’s burger is solid: A small brick cooked-to-order (medium rare) and topped with melty cheese-of-the-week from Murray’s Cheese Shop, thick slice of tomato, romaine, onion — on top of that we added bacon and egg — all supported by what the menu calls a “homemade sweet toasted bun.” (Sturdy and fluffy, the bun is a notch upgrade from the white-bun category.)

Rare’s is not my favorite $12 burger — I like my beef a little more rough-ground, for starters, not so smooth, and my bun a little more distinctive — but hands down, the best of the bunch that day. And one more tick-mark off that list.

Continue reading “Saturday: “i am so hungry after looking at this” (Burger Slideshow Post, Part 1)”

Lunch: Burger Bomb at Federal Cafe (Take My Word For It)

New York has spoiled me. This city has killer burgers. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t remember the last time I had a “bad” burger, and that’s  made me reckless. For some months now I’ve been waltzing around, ordering burgers willy-nilly, gambling that the quality of the meat, the execution of the cooking, the stature of the bun and the overall assemblage will deliver a decent, and possibly even good, or possibly even great, burger.

photo(5)photo(7)Well, I got checked today by Federal Cafe‘s Inside Out Burger, and I’m not beyond admitting that I probably deserved it. Damn, I wanted so badly to be the one to discover that Federal Cafe’s “9 to 5er’s Lunch Special” — “Any item on our menu for only $9.99” — wasn’t a gimmick but an under-the-radar lunching gem.

And … fail. In reality, the “regular” menu prices, which range from $8 – $19, are probably inflated to make the $9.99 price point attractive. I doubt that anything on photo(3)their menu is worth more than $9.99, and certainly not the Inside Out Burger “8 oz. Black Angus burger grilled to perfection topped with cheddar, bacon & mushrooms” — listed for $16 regularly.

Here’s my laundry list: While cooked properly, the patty was definitely some previously-frozen, machine-formed number, bearing no evidence of (how’d they cook it?) griddle or grill marks. While the bun top looked promising, dotted with sesame seeds, the bottom half was soggy almost immediately (and that from a non-juicy burger!) and began crumbling immediately upon touch or handling.

photo(4)And the fries. Quite possibly the worst sweet potato fries I’ve ever had. They tasted (and sort of looked) like orange-colored french fries. You order sweet potato fries for the ways they’re different from regular fries. These fries were so bland, so blah, they’d struggle to compete with fast food fries. In fact, I think they’d loose.

If you’re as attracted to the potential of Federal Cafe’s $9.99 lunch special — and I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s thinking that it’s only the burger that’s bad, that the $18 cheesesteak (for $9.99) might be the key — go for it. Just skip the burgers.

TIP: I saw a spinach salad going out — piled high with tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, hard-boiled egg, and, at the tippity-top, a tangle of bacon — that looked decent …

Sunday, April 26, 2009

photo-44What a weekend. The weather has been absolutely hot and gorgeous. New Yorkers stripped down into some of the most funkdafied, bizarre, sometimes just barely-there clothing that is the epitome of summer in this city (which is still a month-and-a-half away, technically).

Me? All I wanted today, besides to visit my friend Lacey Lechner‘s studio during TOAST (Tribeca Open Artist Studio Tour), was to have dinner outdoors, on a sidewalk somewhere, with friends.

photo-117It worked out brilliantly. We scored the end table at Noho Star and I ended up sharing a NoHo burger (cheddar, bacon, guacamole, tomato and watercress. The burger had me at “watercress”) and an overpriced but still delicious fried chicken salad (with endive and Neal’s Yard stilton) with a friend of a friend who also couldn’t decide between burger and salad.

I even had flower petals on my chair …  (see after the jump)

COST: >$20
PREP TIME: No prep, just timing

Continue reading “Sunday, April 26, 2009”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Patio season is back! 

photo-3Sometimes Avenue C feels like a looong ways east, but Royale‘s monster burger, $3 Miller High Life beer specials (it is the champagne of beer) and a back patio that comfortably seats 50 is well worth the trek. 

photo8Now, back to that burger: Not the prettiest picture, I know. Where these guys found such a plump, ripe, red tomato this time of year I have no idea, but it was no toss-away slice. 

In fact nothing’s half-assed, from the size of the patty to the stature of the bun (which actually holds up the whole way through!), to the crunchy, crinkle-cut pickles, the Royale burger with bacon and cheese was a pleasure to consume. 

More patio and a close up of onion rings the way I like them — onion to batter ratio heavier on the onion side —after the jump: 

Continue reading “Sunday, April 5, 2009”