The Haute-Burger Stampede
My frenetic, grease-stained burger-blogging colleagues have been stumbling over themselves to declare the classic $5.95 “smash” burger at Bill’s Bar & Burger, in the meatpacking district, the best burger in this burger-addled town. Is it better than the original smash burger at Danny Meyer’s hallowed Shake Shack? No. But the plastic green checkered tablecloths at Stephen Hanson’s faux-honky-tonk bar are suitably greasy, and the menu contains several artful variations on the standard roadhouse burger, particularly the Fat Cat, which is garnished with a mound of sweet caramelized onions and served between a toasty English muffin. On the other end of the spectrum, the endlessly hyped $26 Black Label burger at the Minetta Tavern is Mrs. Platt’s favorite haute burger of the year, although when I’m in need of an upscale-burger fix in the middle of the day, my own choice is Txikito, in Chelsea, where it’s a pleasure to sit at the sleek tapas-style bar and gobble down Alex Raij’s beautifully proportioned El Doble, which costs $15 less than McNally’s burger and is dressed, in elegant gourmet style, with a special sauce ingeniously spiked with crème fraîche.
My favorite burger on the Upper West Side is a Cheddar-slathered goliath at Tom Valenti’s West Branch, and if you’re looking for an impressively towering business-lunch hamburger in midtown, you’ll find it among the skyscrapers on 42nd Street at Charlie Palmer’s strangely impersonal new Aureole outlet. Govind Armstrong’s signature L.A.-style 8 Oz. Burger at Table 8, in the modish new Cooper Square Hotel on the Bowery, is another very good burger in a not very good restaurant, although it’s best enjoyed at lunchtime, when the little shoebox-size space in the back of the lobby isn’t so earsplittingly loud. The great French chef Cyril Renaud serves his gourmet burger on a butcher board, with a hunk of melted Cheddar, and it’s worth visiting his Fifth Avenue bistro, Bar Breton, just to get a taste of the perfectly crisped Parisian-style fries. Similar beefy pleasures are also available at Daniel Boulud’s latest experiment in low-end cooking, DBGB Kitchen and Bar. The chef’s much-blogged-about $19 “Piggie” burger is weirdly muffled in jalapeños and too much pork fat, so order the relatively spare Yankee, and garnish it the way my burger-chomping brother likes to do, with several strips of bacon. If you’re wise, you’ll also save room for the fourteen varieties of inspired house sausage, like the plump pork “Beaujolaise” or the richly greasy “Boudin Basque,” concocted by acolytes of the Parisian pâté genius Gilles Vérot, before concluding your old-world banquet in high trencherman style with a taste or two of crispy fried tripe, that great Lyonnais comfort-food delicacy.