146 Essex St.
Burger: Beauty & Essex Burger ($17)
The Lower East Side – don't be fooled, this ain't your grandparent’s LES. Gone are the days of the full-blown working class community, replaced by trendy shops, indie rock clubs and upscale fine dining establishments. Gentrified and glamorized, the neighborhood has become a destination for what’s cool in cuisine and clubbing. With help from developers and real estate agents, the former ‘hood encompassed what’s now known as the East Village and a post-2005 split provided Generation Y with its current understanding of the Lower East Side. Historically a lower-class worker and immigrant neighborhood, the LES is now home to a hip restaurant row on Clinton Street and scores of food trucks lined up near the relatively fresh Hester Street Fair. Predictably, it has also become a common area to post up a best burger in NYC contender – bringing us such gems as Beauty & Essex. Gaudy signage, a faux pawn shop storefront and an epically detailed glitzy 10,000 square foot interior make up what’s home to one of our favorite entries from the 2011 Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash care of Chef Chris Santos. Drawing praise from far and wide, we visited recently for a bit of sustenance and subterfuge.
Our Expectations: An eight ounce patty of lamb and brisket topped with spicy roasted garlic aioli, goat’s milk feta cheese, lettuce, onions and a beefsteak vine ripened tomato all on a ciabatta bun. The same burger we encountered in sample size at the 2011 Burger Bash, this time in full form, still sounds delightful.
Meat: Cooking a larger patty comes with risks - that of overcooking the outside and undercooking the inside. Frankly, getting it right is an art form. Our burgers came out just a tad overdone to our always medium rare request. That said, it was the only misstep. Still juicy and slightly salted, bearing a unique balance of fresh texture and beautiful crusty char, bite after bite was consistently savory – Umami at its finest.
Toppings: Feta was a fine touch, not too powerful but packing a combination of both tangy and salt while also providing a creamy texture. Garlic roasted aioli yielded another dash of tang and it’s placement on the top bun helped spread an even distribution per bite. Onions were sweet and slightly crunchy, another texture boost. Though, failure came in the form of the poorly placed lettuce. With juices flowing, eaters should expect the bottom half of the bun to catch the remains. Yet, lettuce acted as a barrier to entry and said juices ended up on our hands or sadly, our plates.
Bun: Ciabatta isn’t a terrible choice, but it won't be mistaken for our favorite. The wheat flour based bun is a popular option with rather large and gourmet burgers such as Chef Santos’. While a bit dry, the taste is spot on, but the ratio of bun to patty is off. The bottom half needs to be cut thicker in order to handle the remnant juices, much like it was at our recent review of The Breslin. At Beauty & Essex we were left with a top heavy bun halfway through eating our entrée.
Bedlam’s Beauty & Essex Judgment
Meat (47): Slightly overcooked, so a few points off there, but supreme Umami - tender, fresh, scrumptious and bearing a delicate char.
Toppings (22): Finely tuned feta provided a creaminess to savor while combining with the aioli to give a kick of tang. The lettuce, while not normally a hindrance and more of an afterthought on most burgers, was the detractor.
Bun (19): Somewhat dry and an uneven cut provided the disappointment along with a questionable choice for maximum juice retention. Nice taste, just too topsy turvy.
Ranking: 88 out of 100