a hamburger today

Nondate_067Not 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.

Nondate_099At 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.



  1. Have not written here in quite sometime…but I must say, I agree with the "eh" comment on Corner Bistro burgers. Is it really that good, or is it hip to tell everyone that you'll had it and they HAAAAVE to try it. The burger there is "efficient", at best. An efficient burger…whoopdeedoo! Move Corner Bistro up about 120 blocks north and all the "you GOTTA try Corner Bistro's burger's OOOOOMIGOD" patrons wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. Skip the Corner Bistro and take a short walk over to Pennyfeathers. You'll find some better cow meat over there.

  2. I hear you on the Corner Bistro. I like a nice soft bun like you get a cookout also. My favorite is Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Followed by Burger Joint in Le Parker Meridian. Burger joint may almost get the nod, because of its novelty.

  3. McHales. Best old school burgers, without a doubt. Flat as pancakes. Greasy. Tons of old fashioned toppings.

  4. Just had a burger on Sunday afternoon that hit my top five all-time list.

    We were in Essex, Connecticut and stopped in at The Black Seal. There you will find the Black Seal Burger, which is a must-have.

    Cheddar cheese, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and bacon. It's definitely a "back yard" burger. And most importantly: There's not too much bun (Portugese roll) OR burger that you feel you have to sacrifice one for the other. You can enjoy it ALL…

    Essex is a haul from your neighborhood, but it's a bucolic Connecticut River town that's perfect on wintry weekends, if you do a Black Seal/Griswold Inn combo. Do the burger at The Seal, then hop over to the Tap Room in the Gris for its pot-bellied stove, live music (banjo, spoons, etc., depending on the night), and get a room at the Inn! (Then hit Pepe's or Sally's pizza in New Haven on the way home on Sunday.)

    This is not a Pay-Per-(re)View, but oh dear God, I'm hungry!

  5. I agree with Tim. Shake Shake burgers are the best. Melts in your mouth delicious! Ohhh and they have good root beer floats too.
    Check it out!

  6. Absolutely agreed on McHales. But time is running out for that place — it is slated to close at year-end to make way for the construction of yet another new, overpriced condo/co-op building. And the biggest shame of it all is that the space currently occupied by McHales will likely end up being yet another Duane Reade or Blockbuster. Where is the City that I love disappearing to?

  7. You need to head on over to sunny california and check out 'In-N-Out Burger'. You can't beat a menu that only has five choices AND they peal,cut and fry potatoes on the spot!

  8. CB is a fine neighborhood bar (except when the masses descend on weekends) and a damn fine burger. It's not the holy grail.

    I could handle my girlfriend not liking the Bistro, but not liking oral, well, that might be a problem…

  9. Totally agree on the In and Out Burger. And the wrapping not only let's you feel like Christmas morning … but also keeps the drippings in the burger and you're mouth. They have a pretty good chocolate shake too.

  10. I am an in-and-out fanatic.. which is why I love the shake shack.

    I think they are the closet you can come to In-and-out on the east coast

  11. To eat is human, but to know where the best burgers exist(and are not made) is divine. For the Pacific Northwest, the best are:

    5. Dick's, Seattle and Spokane, Wa. Double Whammy with a bag of fries. After a late night drunk, yeeeowsa. And cheap as hell!*

    *also, make a reservation for Harborview Hospital's cardiac ward-no amount of lipator will save you!

    4. Clark's-Hwy 101, outside of Aberdeen, Washington-Hamburgers the size of bread plates that are thick, jucy,homecut fries and shakes…all served on fiesta wear by a waitress who always calls me honey and remembers me(I hadn't been in there in 3 years and she remembered me, and trust me, I am not that memorable)

    3. The Snake Pit-Cataldo, Id.-If you can get past the usual bar fights on a saturday night(or even monday night for that matter), the burgers are divine and simple. Fry that mofo, and get your meat on!Plus, they used to have swingin little country dance bands in there, and it can be a wild time!

    2. The Knotty Pine, Westport, Wa. Rough little bar, but the homecut fries and wonderful GIGANTO burgers will leave a feeling in your gut that you have just consumed what God had in mind for dinner.

    And finally……

    1. The Plains Cafe(or at least it was the last time I was there)-Plains, Montana. Ever eaten beef and knew that it was making cowpies not long before? This place has the most wonderfull beef that I have ever tasted, the servings are HUGE, the shakes are awesome, a local gal is usually serving you, and it is cheaper than cheap. For my money, this is the best.

    OK, back to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

  12. I may quite possibly be in love with you..because I would take a good burger over a $45 filet any day. Not that I have poor taste. There just isnt anything that hits the spot everytime. Bad burgers should put restuarants out of business. If it doesnt fit bewteen my hands..Im not eating it.

  13. I second Tim's nod to Burger Joint on 56th. It's a block from my office and it's awesome. But a close second — if that — is Brooklyn Diner. I work at that building, so if I'm ever in the mood for a kickin' burger — juicy, with shiny pools of bliss, great rustic fries, and a challah-esque bun that floats. Heaven.

    Island's a good choice, but I made the mistake of making my first trip West (Island's on 8th or 9th or 10th Ave) with a friend visiting NYC; it took us far too long by walking so by the time we got there we had 20 minutes for lunch. It's good eats and a lot cheaper than Brooklyn or Burger Joint, but, at least in this case, you get what you pay for.

    One final mention: if you are brave (and on the Upper East), avoid Sassy's Sliders. Their stuff is a throw-back to White Castle (square burgers that fit in your palm) and quantity is the game here, not quality. In fact, in true tribute to White Castle, you'll end up spending more time in the bathroom than it took you to eat three of the little meat-squares. Nice concept, bad execution.

    And no, I didn't mean to use the word "execution."

    It's just one of life's little bonuses ;)

  14. I really like the Barking Dog – and totally agree about 'In-N-Out Burger' but I can't stand their fries – and there is a place called Barney's in SF that makes the most amazing gourmet burgers.

    The Ivy in LA – $20 burger – worth every bite!

  15. Burger joint is okay, not great. I like the atmosphere there, the whole, hole-in-the-wall, wood-panel walls, type racket inside a hotel is good, but the burgers are "eh."

  16. No one's mentioned Prime Burger–a must go to place! I can't stand J.G.'s "cottage fries"…love Burger Joint, though the first time was the best since getting there is half the fun…and Inn-N-Out oh boy!

  17. I'm sorry, my dear, but you're on the crack. Corner Bistro burgers ooze pure joy, and paired with a Manhattan in an old-school cocktail glass, they've the power to turn an irksome day into one chock-a-block with rainbows and puppydogs. Plus, the pickles are unparallelled.

    And if you deign to hop the 7 train to Woodside, Queens, the burger at Donovan's will kick your ass to Happytown, USA.

  18. "I think people like to say they like it more than they actually do. That’s how I feel about receiving oral sex."

    Maybe you just haven't found a guy who knows what he's doing…

  19. Loved the photos, Stephanie. In college, my all-time favorite burger was the third-pound burgers at Fudruckers in Springfield, Illinois. Yummy! I wish there was a Fudruckers closer to me now.

  20. Since no one has mentioned it, I must. SoupBurg on Madison in the 70s, I think. Stopped in there last time I was in the city and had the best burger EVER. It's a hole-in-the-wall sort of place, but very very good.

  21. I think a burger shouldn't cost more than $10 and should never be cut in half. You should look at it and know that eating it may kill you, but not eating it will kill you. The cheese should be melted and share more ingredents with turtle wax than with milk. You should be able to order it using a name that sounds like someone in prison, like "The Widowmaker" or "Big Mickey". Gourmet and Exotic are not words used to describe a good burger. Greasy and Heart Attack are better descriptives.

  22. I'd have to disagree about not loving the homemade burger as a kid. My parents never let me eat fast food as a child. And even when I was older and finally did eat it, I still preferred their hamburger version to anything else.

  23. 1- mchales
    2- in-and-out
    3- ps450 double bbq burger with bacon
    4- db bistro
    5- Palace Diner on Main St. in Flushing(my drunken memories…)

    it's all about the fries and the doughnut sized onion rings… that and finding a lady that respects eating raw red onion.

  24. The best round burgers are in a square: Bartley's Burgers in Harvard Square. They are worth the weekend trek to Beantown!

  25. This summer if you happen to find yourself on the Jersey Shore in the Atlantic Highlands, Red Bank, Sandy Hook, Sea Brite area you should definitely stop for a burger at Barnacle Bill's where they have the most delicious burgers in the universe…and you can order them smothered with mushrooms and onions and then eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor and drink a beer and watch the sun set over the river and be in paradise.

  26. I just made a burger specific lunch run into the city from Joisey last weekend and was going to hit JG Melon but alas my sister called and recommended the Old Town Bar & Grill. Nice hole in the wall place, bar downstairs and small room upstairs for scoffing down the burgers. No wax paper unfortunately but good eats.

  27. Steak 'n Shake (a Midwestern chain) is where it's at: Thin steakburgers with as much cheese and pickle relish and raw onions as meat. Skinniest (this best) fries, because they're the greasiest. And the best chocolate milkshake I've ever had.

    Fuddruckers has a great toppings bar.

    There's also a chain, at least here in St. Louis, called Red Robin. It's loud, obnoxious and the service is terrible, but they have good guacamole burgers and onion rings.

  28. a) I completely agree. Burgers should not be fancy, and should make the eater think, "grill…summer…good…"

    b) It's very un-trendy of me, but I adore hot dogs. There – I've said it!

  29. If ya'll do make in down to New Orleans, which I hope you do, also get the buger at the Camellia Grill. Greasy, salty, juicy. Damn.

    And as for the oral issue – is it a problem giving or getting? That seems a big issue. So to speak!

  30. If you are ever in New Orleans, and god willing they re-open, Port o'Call on Esplanade serves my all time favorite burgers. They ooze grease, are wrapped in wax paper, and taste absolutely divine, regardless of whether you are sober or not!

  31. Actually she didn't say that she doesn't like rec. oral sex, she said that people like to say they like it more than they actually do. I think this attitude can be applied across the board to many things and it's not so jaw-dropping. One might have that attitude about sex in general.

  32. I don't think fancier is better. McCann's (if it still exists under that name) and the Blarney Stone serve good burgers cheap. They don't offer a lot of toppings, but it is still a good burger. And their steam table fare, while attracting a lower income bracket, is superior to 90% of the places in Manhattan that charge twice as much or more.

    Fuddruckers is pretty good also, even if I haven't been there in a long time.

  33. I agree with Red Robin – yummmmm. Their bleu bacon burger is to die for. And they have a rare, but lovely, commodity in Utah – a full liquor license. Helps when you're planning birthday parties there for the 15 year old with the ex husband and the ex-husband's wife who the 15 year old hates. Greasy burgers and beer – or margaritas – it's what greases those squeaky wheels of life. I've got a call in to my cardiologist as we speak.

  34. i'm sorry, i just don't understand how people can go on and on about hamburgers when she just announced that she DID NOT LIKE RECEIVING ORAL SEX. (talk about burying the lead.) i've literally never heard a woman say this before. please discuss.

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