Friday, April 16, 2010

Best Burger in NYC Search: Minetta Tavern

Minetta Tavern Restaurant
113 MacDougal St. (cross st: Minetta Lane)
(212) 475-3850
Burger: The Black Label Burger ($26) 

From the start of our search for the best burger in NYC, Minetta Tavern has been acclaimed, lauded, worshiped and whatever other adjective you care to fill in the blanks with, to us. People come from far and wide to try the notorious Black Label Burger, a collaboration between the blend of Pat LaFrieda Wholesalers (care of Creekstone Farms ) and preparation by Chefs Nasr and Hanson of Minetta. The unrelenting praise for the Black Label Burger from many distinguished publications and websites can be overwhelming at times. A negative review or account is extremely hard to come by, almost as eluding as a vaunted 8pm Saturday night reservation at the Tavern. Moreover, every detail of preparation, ingredient sourcing and cooking process has been noted in many eating instances - our friends at A Hamburger Today have the best breakdown here. As for us at Burger Bedlam, the anticipation of taking a bite of the Black Label Burger might be as high as any we can recollect. With a dinner reservation booked A MONTH in advance, we took a trip the MacDougal St. to enjoy what has become our most eagerly anticipated eating experience.

Our Expectations: The Black Label Burger. Featuring an eight-ounce patty, caramelized onions and a custom sesame seed covered brioche style bun. As noted previously, the burger is famous for its secret blend by meat wholesaler Pat LaFrieda and with meat from the highly regarded Creekstone Farm in Arkansas City, Kansas. Recently, there were a couple of fantastic write-ups in both the New York Times and New York Magazine regarding Creekstone Farms and Pat LaFrieda, respectively. Those should emphasize what diligent and concentrated efforts go into making the Black Label Burger. We’ve read countless reviews of the burger, with the majority of them claiming it’s the best burger in NYC. So, naturally, we hoped to add our two cents.

The Burger

Meat: Much can be argued, both positively and negatively, regarding the meat flavoring and seasoning of prior burger’s we’ve tried on our search for the best NYC burger. That topic is quite subjective. Yet, when it comes to the meat of the Black Label Burger, there should be no discussion, it’s near flawless. From the copious amount of dry-aged Ribeye (as well as Skirt and Brisket) packed within to the clarified butter drizzled throughout, the meat is as tasty as it sounds. Encompassed in a glazed crust, every bite is magnificent. Though, the butter magnitude is not for the faint of heart, it’s heavy and often too powerful. Regardless, the fact that you’re eating a heaping amount of muscular Ribeye that normally goes for $90 on the menu as an entrée, it can be characterized as a steal of a deal. The cooked temperature is perfect and the juiciness lasts to the last bite. It’s a freshly made patty that deserves all the praise thrown its way.

Toppings: Sometimes they say less is more, but in this instance, less might need to be even less. As much as the meat deserves its due, the single topping of caramelized onions failed to impress. We’ve had plenty of crunchy, sweet onions but these were quite soggy. Tasty, sure, but much too soggy. Our guests for the review even mentioned how much they wished the burger came without onions so one could enjoy the overwhelming star that was the patty. We agree. Not to say that the onions were bad, because they were obviously meticulously prepared and generously draped on the burger, but they didn’t win us over.

Bun: With a considerable size, the eight ounces of meat in the Black Label Burger require a bun that can withstand the entire eating experience. With that in mind, it was clear to us that potato rolls might not make an appearance with such an entrée. Thus, Minetta and their chefs decided on a custom sesame seed brioche bun with a fluffy interior and dark coloring. Notably, the bun did have that greasy, glazed feel on the bottom half as noted in A Hamburger Today’s article linked earlier. Though, we can’t help but imagine what the burger would have tasted like with a sweeter flavoring rather than the “nuttiness” of the brioche. It held up well as we ate, but added nothing to our taste buds.

Bedlam's Minetta Tavern Judgment

Meat (49): As near flawless as you can get but we deducted one point for the overwhelming taste of butter with every bite. Yes, there is more muscle than marbled fat in the patty and the flavoring needs a boost, but the butter could be lessened slightly.

Toppings (19): An average showing from the caramelized onions, we wish they had more crunch and less moisture.

Bun (20): A great bun to burger ratio and a solid texture. Yet, the bland nutty flavor was a bit disappointing.

Ranking: 88 out of 100

Friday, April 2, 2010

Best Burger in NYC Search: Black Iron Burger Shop

540 E. 5th Street (between Avenue A & Avenue B)
(212) 677-6067
Burger: The Iron Horse Burger ($10) 

Continuing the predictable theme of a pilgrimage to the East Village (they have tons of burger joints!), up next on our best NYC burger “to eat and review” list comes Black Iron Burger Shop. Somewhat hidden in Alphabet City from the majority of locals and almost all tourists – because who really visits Manhattan to see that part of town? – Black Iron Burger has developed a solid reputation amongst burger connoisseurs. Boasting a Keating Miraclean $3,000 grill, craft beers on tap, dive atmosphere with a “cleaned-up” feel, and best of all sublime burgers, we had to stop by. Though, given we don’t always like to come out of a burger dining experience smelling of burger “cologne” if you will, we had reservations about the grill location as its right behind the bar, not in an enclosed kitchen. Moreover, with a small space and limited seating you’ve got to expect some increasingly potent burger smells taking over the joint. Nevertheless, as it’s all about the burger on our reviews, we’re always willing to sacrifice our bodies for the Burger Bedlam quest. With that, we liked reading a previous quote from the Black Iron owner regarding the grill: “The griddle gives the hamburgers a unique flavor because the smooth chrome surface locks flavor and freshness in.” Amen, lock it in Black Iron.

Our Expectations: The Iron Horse Burger. Two six-ounce patties on a sesame seed bun with grilled onions and horseradish cheddar. Sounds like a winning combination. No frills, no special sauces, but lettuce and tomato if you want ‘em. With no fancy toppings in play, the meat better rise to the occasion and deliver. It’s a bold move but done well with fresh and flavorful meat, it can make all the difference. The double patty idea throws a little Shake Shack style into the fray, while the horseradish cheddar has us wondering if we’re in for a sensory overload akin to the blue cheese of The Spotted Pig burger. Based on our research, much like Shack and Pig, Black Iron originally opened up using a Pat LaFrieda beef mixture. Yet, we’ve come to find out that has since changed to a lesser known supplier.

The Burger

Meat: Noticeably fresh and cooked with care, the Iron Horse patties were quite impressive. Seasoned, savory and satisfying, the beef quickly made its mark on our palettes. We wonder though, how much grease one person can handle. The well-documented griddle absolutely delivered a tasty burger, but we’re thinking the grease was a consequence of either heavy-handed oil/butter by the chef or the grilled onions (but we’ll get to those in the next section). Don’t get us wrong, burgers are often messy and that’s how they should be, but at times our bites were overwhelming. No matter, it very well could have been the onions and the meat was well above average and outdid many other best NYC burger contenders, even if the blend isn’t from Pat LaFrieda care of Creekstone Farms.

Toppings: Simple is often the way to go, but in Black Iron’s case, they might need to tweak the formula. We had high hopes for the horseradish cheddar as expectations were for the cheese to yield a slight bite that contrasted the beef. Yet, the cheese had more bark than bite. It could have been any other cheddar and we wouldn’t have known the difference. As for the grilled onions which we previously mentioned, they fell flat. These onions were full of grease and despite our love of a good grease-fest now and again, messing with our taste buds is a recipe for disaster.

Often an overlooked component of the burger tasting experience, buns at many establishments tend to add little value to a burger. Many come on a standard white bun, maybe some sesame seeds on top or even on a brioche bun (not big fans). The Iron Horse comes on a fresh sesame seed bun, one that actually complements the burger. It’s sizing, in terms of width, was spot on, though we could make an argument that the bottom half was sliced too thin. As the grease and juice engulfed the bun, it became slightly soggy, but that’s ok as buns often need to catch the tasty goodness that could tragically hit our plates. Still, we’ve seen some decidedly negative reviews of the Black Iron’s bun, yet we were quite pleased. Slightly sweet and without chewiness, the bun is well above average. Important to mention that our visit took place on a very slow weekend, at the early part of the day, so the buns could have been as fresh as can be.

Bedlam's Black Iron Burger Shop Judgment

Meat (45): All the makings of a satisfying patty: Seasoning on point, passing the freshness test, juiciness flowing and cooked temperature accuracy. A nice blend of tender beef but slightly greasy to the point of distraction.

Toppings (18): Simple? Yes. Tasty? Debatable. The horseradish cheddar was disappointing although still flavorful cheese. The onions were the true burger killer. Although they were sweet, the greasiness engulfed the burger, the bun, and our hands.

Bun (23): Fresh and fluffy and in the top tier of the burger buns we’ve tasted. Bun-to-burger ratio was precise but could’ve been sliced thicker to help the bottom half stay dry to the touch. Providing a simple sweetness to every bite, we were awfully pleased.

Ranking: 86 out of 100