Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Best Burger in NYC Search: Burger & Barrel

25 W. Houston St. (cross of Mercer St.)
(212) 334-7320
Burger: Mexico City Burger ($15)

UPDATE: *Sadly, the Mexico City Burger was retired from B&B in early 2013. Though, they still serve up fantastic burgers, including their famous and award-winning Bash Burger.

If you’re anything like us, reading about food – the latest trends, up-and-coming chefs, newest NYC hot spots – can become an obsession. Since we began our quest to find the best burger in NYC, we’ve encountered plenty of the aforementioned subject matter. That said, following our first review of a restaurant headed by Chef Josh Capon, the perpetual Soho hot spot Lure Fishbar, we’ve seen the rise of “burger madness” or “Burger Bedlam,” if you will. It appears that every big name chef is getting in on the burger game – and we can’t blame them. The trend of adding a burger to the menu seems now inherently embedded in the minds of restaurateurs when strategizing their kitchen offerings. Being no exception, since the ascension of Chef Capon’s stature among the burger world, pursuant to his 2009 Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash win (and maybe with some assistance from our praises?), it would seem he was destined to open a spin-off based on said success. Thus, Burger & Barrel was born this past October. While serving up his lauded Bash Burger was an obvious choice, Chef Capon expanded his repertoire to a veritable pantheon of burgers, often varying the selection with the seasons. Therefore, it was only natural for us to venture a stones throw from Lure on Mercer St. for a taste of one of the new burgers at Burger & Barrel.

Our Expectations: The Mexico City Burger. A six ounce patty of Pat LaFrieda blended chuck, short rib and brisket topped with mozzarella, avocado relish, pickled jalapenos, Bibb lettuce and tomato. Placed on a custom built roll deemed by Chef Capon as similar to a Parker House roll (generally buttery, soft, and slightly sweet with a crispy shell), then topped with the B&B and Lure signature staple, two big fat onion rings. Drooling yet?

The Burger

Meat: Pat LaFrieda can do no wrong. At this point along our search for NYC’s best burger it may be as obvious as calling the sky blue or the grass green, but every time we taste a LaFrieda blend, its killer. Still, the Chef has to do his part with the execution – LaFrieda can’t season and cook the meat himself. Though, Chef Capon does him justice. With just the right amount of seasoning and a successful by the book medium rare grilling, we loved the outcome. It’s juicy, tasty and texturally mouth-watering. Almost identical to the Bash Burger, if not exact, the meat isn’t overwhelmed by the toppings – it stands tall on its own. If anything, we wanted more.

Toppings: Variations on the classic cheeseburger are always easy to point to with skepticism and a Mexican style burger obviously is cause for some. Regardless, B&B put together a combination worthy of winning over any skeptics. It’s readily apparent that Chef Capon turns toppings into an art form when constructing his burgers, as this one was delicately balanced. The jalapenos provide the kick you’re looking for when Mexican comes to mind, while the avocado relish delectably counter-balances the bite from the peppers. Mozzarella was a pleasant choice as it added a touch of creaminess. Though, the cheese wasn’t as heavily cut as some other burgers we’ve had, and for that reason it didn’t pack the savory punch we so desire. Lastly, the Bibb lettuce was a good touch but next time we’d leave off the tomato, just unnecessary and we’d rather focus on the other toppings for taste.

Bun: The saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and once we heard the change in bun for the burgers at Burger & Barrel – from a Big Marty’s potato roll to a custom built Parker House style bun – admittedly, our eyes rolled a bit. Our affinity for potato rolls has been long documented, but we obviously need to trust the professionals – they do this for a living – because Chef Capon got this right. Light and buttery with a slight glaze, the bun added a harmonizing sweetness to each bite. Though, as compared to a potato roll and its soft texture, the bun did have a bit of chewiness to it. Not a terribly bad thing, but if we’re comparing apples to apples, we’d choose the Lure bun by a nose. Nevertheless, the beef to bun ratio is spot on and the customized bun remained intact throughout consumption.

Bedlam's Burger & Barrel Judgment

Meat (49): Tops marks on seasoning, temperature execution, freshness and texture. LaFrieda is a dominant force in the meat purveyor industry and The Mexico City Burger is a great example of why. A superb blend with excellent fat content made for a succulent patty – we just wanted more of it.

Toppings (23): We ended up drinking the Kool-aid with this one as the toppings came with the right amount of balance. Nice bite from the jalapenos was pleasantly countered by the rich and smooth texture of the avocado relish. The mozzarella also provided a bit of texture but didn’t do much else flavor-wise despite having a nice melt.

Bun (23): Sweet, buttery and fresh, the custom bun made us fans of the unique Parker House style. We’d prefer a touch less chewiness but still felt satisfied with the taste. Holding form as we ate and adding ample coverage of the patty as well, custom was a nice touch.

Ranking: 95 out of 100

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