Friday, January 28, 2011

Best Burger in NYC Search: RUB BBQ

208 W. 23rd Street (between 7th & 8th Ave.)
(212) 524-4300
Burger: The RUB Burger ($7.50) 

UPDATE: *Unfortunately, RUB BBQ shuttered in late 2012. Their burgers will be missed!

With each year that passes, the New York culinary landscape evolves. Certainly, the past few years have been no exception. A focus on quality, less frills and more taste has foodies including us at Burger Bedlam caught up in the great new offerings we encounter daily. Particularly due to the sluggish economy, chefs and restaurateurs must now compete harder than ever for foodie affinity with food trucks, stands and pop-up shops. Less decadent meals and a focus on light but tasty bites also helped spawn an intense burger craze around the boroughs. Obviously, such a trend allows our search for the best burger in NYC to assuredly reach new levels of burger bliss. Hopefully, as a result, we’ve become more discerning than ever, allowing our site to make judgments that although subjective, are fair and accurate. Yet, prior to our foray into the business of reviewing burgers and before our city faced economic challenges, the owners of our next review, RUB BBQ in Chelsea, were in the game. Offering delicious BBQ to New Yorkers since 2005, owner Andrew Fischel and his crew, including notorious BBQ Master Paul Kirk, had already won the heart and stomach of our good buddy Rev at Burger Conquest with their RUB Burger (along with the vast menu options as well – burnt ends, smoked BBQ turkey or pastrami anyone?). To quote Rev, “it’s pure divinity.” As you might imagine, such praise had us amped for a taste, albeit with open unbiased minds and empty stomachs.

Our Expectations: The RUB Burger. About a 5 ounce patty (composed of burnt ends, short rib and brisket), Velveeta cheese, caramelized onions, a chipotle based special sauce and a few sliced pickles all on a Pepperidge Farm bun. With a focus on freshness and basic ingredients, the RUB Burger description had us salivating. Offered only on RUB's weekly Monday Burger Night's from 6-9PM and akin to the fast food style burgers we’ve eaten aplenty, this one sounds like a winner from a conceptual standpoint.

The Burger

Meat: Cooked on a skillet and masterfully done to a medium rare state, we were amazed by the temperature execution considering the size and shape of the patty. Often times you’ll see a thinner patty such as this one inaccurately prepared. Thankfully, the RUB Burger was on point, exemplified by the perfect outer crust and beautiful char. Ground daily, the melt-in-your-mouth texture and freshness were key cogs in the scrumptious taste of the meat. We always make a case for the patty on its own, taking a bite without the toppings. Importantly, this burger aced the test as the cut combination yielded the fat content we desired. Supreme flavors engulfed every bite with a salty and expertly seasoned portion of burger meat. Can’t say enough about that char.

Toppings: Well balanced and devoid of pretentiousness, the toppings provided the messy but tasty compliments we hoped for when combined in a bite with the almost perfect patty. Velveeta cheese was a unique choice, as RUB eschews the ubiquitous offerings of most establishments. It was creamy and suitably melted. Though, we may have more so enjoyed the sharp taste of American or Cheddar cheese since the chipotle based special sauce was just as creamy. Finally, the caramelized onions were sweet while not terribly oniony and the pickles contributed another sweet, crunchy texture.

Bun: Whereas the preceding two ranking categories hit the nail on the head, we were disappointed in the choice of bun. With all the makings of a top notch burger, a Pepperidge Farm bun – straight off the grocery store shelf – had us scratching our heads. Sure, it amply covered the patty with a fitting burger to bun ratio, but it didn’t offer any substantial qualities. Lacking on taste, the bottom half of the bun ended up like a wet blanket. A bun needs to compliment the burger its housing, not detract from the eating enjoyment. Still, we’ve had worse but can’t help to wonder what a potato roll would’ve done for our review.

Bedlam's RUB BBQ Judgment

Meat (50): A glorious balance of fat content from the burnt ends, short rib and brisket with a superb char and crust that makes our mouths water at the very thought of it. Freshly ground with great texture.

Toppings (24): Savory and sweet with plenty of balance while supplying abundant flavor. Though not thoroughly suited to our liking, Velveeta was a nice deviation from the norm and the special sauce added creaminess despite the slight redundancy in regard to composition. The onions added pleasant crunch along with the pickles.

Bun (17): A head scratcher, the bun had one main thing going for it – the size. Suitable coverage of the patty but neutral taste and a soggy bottom half had us irked. We admire RUB’s aim to keep things simple, but a touch more effort could have gone a long way.

Ranking: 91 out of 100

Friday, January 7, 2011

Best Burger in NYC Search: Schnipper's Quality Kitchen

620 8th Avenue (cross of 41st St.)
(212) 921-2400
Burger: The Schnipper's Classic ($8.99) 

Your typical jaunt over to the Time Square area of Manhattan is likely to include one of the following activities – Broadway show, a Madame Tussauds or Dave & Busters visit, “relaxing” amongst the tourists in the newly made Broadway plaza, or more than likely an outing to one of many diverse restaurant offerings (national chains be damned!) in the vicinity. Though, despite the hodgepodge of cuisines, following the masses to such establishments would likely leave you empty-handed if you were searching for the best burger in NYC. Thankfully, in recent years we’ve seen a handful of fresh options arise in the form of HB Burger (March 2009), Shake Shack (July 2010 - a Burger Bedlam favorite) and Counter (December 2010) amongst others. If you’re willing to travel to the outskirts of Times Square, you’d also find more seasoned choices (pun intended) in Five Napkin Burger or Island Burgers & Shakes. We obviously have some eating to do since at publishing time we’ve yet to visit all locales mentioned, but we made the effort to cover the area by heading over to another relatively new entrant in the mix, Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen. A fast-food-esque option created by the ever successful owners of the Hale & Hearty Soups chain, brothers Jonathan and Andrew Schnipper, it’s known for quick comfort food with burgers being no exception, if not the focus.

Our Expectations: The Schnipper’s Classic. A 5-6 ounce patty care of – stop us if you’ve heard this before – Pat La Frieda, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, special cheese blend and Schnipper’s Special Sauce. As first impressions go, the composition sounds glorious. The size of the patty pays homage to fast food style burgers and it clearly speaks to our tendency of enjoying a burger which isn’t such a monstrosity. The topping components are more or less consistent with a classic option you’d find elsewhere.

The Burger

Meat: Much to our dismay, Schnipper’s well-sized patty let us down, despite the sourcing from Pat La Frieda. Maybe it was the time of day we visited – late on a Sunday evening with no crowd – but the meat lacked character. Overcooked and bearing a funky color, the taste was a bit porous. Absent any savory saltiness and sans pleasant juice factor, we wish we could throw a bit of praise its way, but it’s not in the cards. Even the outer coating was devoid of a true char or glaze.

Toppings: A little more pleasing in this category, the bacon matched tasty expectations and the special sauce added a nice kick. Though, that special cheese blend left us in a quandary, not so sure what to make of it as is didn’t provide much taste. The onions could’ve been handled a bit better as they overpowered the burger without delivering the caramelized texture and execution they promised.

Bun: Last but certainly not least, the bun was the best part of the burger. As our counterpart Nick Solares at A Hamburger Today wrote over the summer, it’s an almost perfectly formed fast-food bun. Great flavor with a zing of sweetness in every bite and perfect bun to beef ratio, we took solace in the fact that the bun held court.

Bedlam's Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen Judgment

Meat (33): Likely a result of the execution, the meat failed to live up to our high expectations. We’d love to get a taste on a day when the griddled patty is handled with care. On our visit, the overcooked and funky color just didn’t do it for us.

Toppings (17): Questionable choice on the cheese blend and strong onions weighed poorly on the rating. The special sauce and bacon performed admirably and counter-balanced the negative effects of the preceding options.

Bun (24): MVP of the burger experience, the bun won us over with a clear sweet punch and quality consistency throughout the meal while providing ample patty coverage.

Ranking: 74 out of 100