Not only am I over Corner Bistro, I was never under it. Unless you count underwhelmed. I’d been there in the afternoon, ordered it up with a root beer. Done. And it was “eh,” at best. Ordered one up late night in a drunken must-have, must-do decision. Still, the square root of “eh.” I think people like to say they like it more than they actually do. That’s how I feel about receiving oral sex. But you knew that. Or at least now you do. It’s as if by naming Corner Bistro as your top burger bet, people will trust you with other things, like their money.
If you’re going to fancy yourself old school, smacking burgers on flimsy paper plates, grease pooling, cheddar and bacon folding off sloppy, you better mean it. Corner Bistro is new school in old school clothing. Where’s the waxy paper, wrapping the burger as if it’s a jewel? Now that’s a good time.
I like my burgers to taste like childhood cookouts. Friday nights with the glossy packets of ketchup, wheels of pickles, square of American cheese. Raw onion. Soft negligible bun. Burgers should taste like camping, not like what your mother tried to make you. Every mother in this country has tried, at one time or another, to flatten a ball of choice meat to please her children. “See, it’s just like a McDonald’s happy meal now sweetie.” She’s delighted with herself. She even got a soft dented roll instead of a shiny-topped adult bun made of brioche.
“No. It’s too thick, and it’s…" the child peeks beneath the yellow bun, "it’s gray.” For starters, it’s juicy! Kids don’t want juicy. They want thin, smacked down to nothing, the kind of food they’ve seen in their plastic cookout set. Then said child pushes the plate away. This was me. This was everyone.
Then we grow up and prefer a half-pound of meat on a proper adult bun with fancy cheese and caramelized onions. Garlic aoli. I’m a snob about a lot of things, but when it comes to the burger, I want it to remind me of a public park and picnic benches. I want to taste the carcinogens. It’s not easy to find in a cosmopolitan metropolis.
It all started with the burger non-date. It wasn’t his idea, but he’ll claim it was because he put the verb in it. I proposed a burger non-date with a new male friend (bruised from a recent break-up), where we’d split hamburgers at a few different places throughout the city. A bit of travel and cab time to digest between bites. Is there anything, I beg to ask, better than a burger date? Yes. A burger non-date that begins at DB Bistro Moderne, but that’s where the action verbs kick in.
He took the initiative and spoke with someone in the DB Bistro PR department. He might have mentioned that we’d write about the experience, but he assured them we weren’t looking for a free meal. A bit of "he said, she said," he confided, but the focus wouldn’t be on comparing the DB burger to the JG Melon burger, or any other initial-clad establishment. We’d be comparing “the experiences” he stressed. Whatever that means. A burger is a burger my friend, even if it is packed with braised short ribs and a pocket of foie gras.
At DB Bistro Moderne, here’s how it went down: Her idea of “all the way” means buttoning her shirt to the very top. “I’m very boring,” she tells the DB Bistro waiter. “I like fish well done. Is this salmon, well, is it, is it wild? Oh, it is?” She surveys the rest of the menu, hesitating because everything about her is farm-raised. “I need more time then,” she says as she rubs her thumb over her fingernails one at a time. The waiter scurries off and stands at attention near my table.
Three–no strike that–four men surround me.
-One with the water.
-One leaning over my table offering an amuse bushe of frozen beef consume housed in a shot glass with a thin layer of horseradish sauce concealing the ice like a new layer of snow. Condensed beet syrup is the final layer. They call it The Tonya Harding. Okay, no they didn’t.
-One with the fresh basket of warm dinner rolls.
-One staring at me, sitting across the table, as if no one is surrounding us at all. But it’s a non-date, so he stops that and asks what I’m writing. I smile in response. Then he orders more martinis. We get drunk and think the fries look a bit like testicle wafers. By "we," I mean "I." L’ addition, s’il vous plaît.
At Island Burgers & Shakes, who knew BYOB meant Beyond Your Obvious Burger? They have 64 choices in hamburgers. Choice of bun, pita bread, rye, dark rye, pullman sourdough, or ciabata for an additional $50. It was close quarters with a woman in black clogs and white gym socks, toasting a sloppy "cheers" with another North Face hood-wearing character. They set their cans of byob beside the condiment squeeze bottles. And that’s it. That’s the differnce. Beyond the duck liver, nice places disguise condiments in pots with fancy spoons. There it’s tomato confit, not ketchup. Old school means there’s something to squeeze.
Which brings me full circle. Back to my favorite old-school burgers, the kind wrapped in waxy paper, with wheels of pickles. JG Melon’s is solid. I gotta say, I’m partial to the cheeseburger, medium-rare, fries well-done from the frickin’ Greek diner. I’m still undecided on the best, but right up there was Shake Shack. That might have just been the company. It was a real date, the kind I didn’t want to end. The kind with squeeze in it. Now that’s old school and delicious.