My 8-year-old daughter, Jane, used to agitate on Saturday afternoons for excursions to famous pasta or pizza outposts like Lupa or Otto. But in this burger-obsessed age, her favorite new venue for a communal family feed is Five Napkin Burger, in Hell’s Kitchen, where the giant house specialty (ten ounces of freshly ground beef with melted Comté cheese and caramelized onions between a toasted brioche bun) looks like a pie plate in her tiny hands. For a slightly less messy and more elevated burger outing in the same general vicinity, her father prefers the lunchtime burger at Telepan, up on 69th Street, which chef Bill Telepan dresses with “house brined” pickles and an impressive volcano of sourdough onion rings. If you’re craving a burger at dinnertime, join the rest of the knowledgeable burger hounds crowding the bar these days at Irving Mill, near Union Square Park, where that master of meathead cuisine, Ryan Skeen, has recently taken over the kitchen. Skeen’s elegant little beef bomb is made with bavette, beef cheeks, and pork fatback, and adorned with a slab of melting Cheddar. If you’re feeling reckless, do what my friend the Burger Loon does and complement it with bites of crispy deboned pig’s trotter from the chef’s legendary “charcroute plate,” or squares of sinfully delicious deep-fried “pork toast” topped with regal spoonfuls of caviar.
The lunchtime business hordes in midtown are still stampeding into the great neo-Greek restaurant Anthos for a taste of Michael Psilakis’s fabled lamb burger, but when I’m in the mood for a more traditionalist lunchtime power burger, I repair to the bar at the Lever House, where the restaurant’s new chef, Brad Thompson, stacks his elegantly restrained $22 deluxe burger with layers of tangy baked tomato, more farmhouse Cheddar, and a mound of sweet onions softened in red wine and balsamic vinegar. But the blue ribbon for the best burger in town goes to Joey Campanaro’s perpetually bustling flagship establishment in the West Village, The Little Owl. Campanaro’s bacon cheeseburger is available on the new lunchtime and brunch menus, and it features all the elements of the new deluxe burger revolution, including a blend of brisket and short ribs from the gourmet-beef suppliers Pat La Frieda, twirls of maple-smoked bacon, and brined pickles from Gus’s. But the thing that really sets this epic creation apart from worthy neighborhood competitors like BLT Burger and the Spotted Pig is the bun, which is baked each morning in the restaurant’s own ovens and laced, according to my spies, with the faintest—and most addictive—little trace of molasses.