You never overhandle your meat. You wouldn’t be caught dead using anything but salt and pepper to season your patties. And you may even have sweet-talked your butcher into custom grinding a blend of chuck, sirloin, and hanger steak to your specifications. In short, you are an unrepentant burger nerd. But how are you in the buns department? Just in time for a Labor Day cookout, we’ve put some of the city’s best through a rigorous examination, toasting them to a golden brown and weighing them down with drippy bacon cheeseburgers. Because this was a test of strength as much as taste, we didn’t hold the pickles, lettuce, or tomatoes.
1. Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
It’s doubtful that co-owner Bruce Bromberg practiced burger-bun-making during his apprenticeship days at Paris’s legendary Poilâne, but nevertheless, he’s perfected the art on Bedford Street by cleverly crossing the squishy supermarket style with a wider, flatter, more durable fancy-bakery version. The result is a bun that’s slightly sweet, with a rich, challahlike flavor that doesn’t get in the way of the burger, and yet is capable of standing up to a reasonable amount of condiments ($3 for a four-bun bag). 14 Bedford St., nr. Downing St.; 212-647-0408
2. Arnold Select
The Ur-bun. Like the individually wrapped slice of American cheese, it’s a humble team player that knows its calling is to play a supporting but essential role, becoming one with the burger and, for that matter, the greater burger universe ($2.59 for an eight-bun bag). At Gristede’s locations citywide.
3. Amy’s Bread
In spite of its hard crust (maybe it was past its prime when we bought it), it has a light and airy crumb that improves with toasting. It’s a good choice for a bigger burger with unadvisable add-ons like avocado, say, or all the fixings, if that’s your thing (80 cents each). At Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave., nr. 15th St.; 212-462-4338
4. Eli’s Manhattan
You want to like this bun. It’s big and puffy and fragrant and almost too good-looking to eat. As far as burger compatibility goes, however, it’s too bready, although you could try scooping out the middle the way dieting bagel lovers do ($6 for a six-bun bag). 1411 Third Ave., at 80th St.; 212-717-8100
5. Orwasher’s Bakery
This fashionably small bun takes an unfashionable stand against the soft-and-squishy school. Sadly, it’s too tough and chewy and not recommended unless you like that in a burger bun (80 cents each). 308 E. 78th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-288-6569