Last week I made the great/horrible decision to try three of New York’s best hamburger joints in less than half a day, sandwiched around a formal awards dinner…yeah yeah, but you know what, why the hell not! The three contenders were the Burger Joint in the Parker Meridian hotel, ubiquitous Shake Shack and the crème de la crème of Minetta Tavern.
The day started with a late lunch at Burger Joint; tucked away around the side of the reception desk in the hotel, you would not be keen to its presence if not for a neon burger lighting a dark hallway…
The space around the corner is small, totally outdated and different to anything you would expect to find in this upscale midtown hotel.
The only thing they serve here is burgers, and they’re damn good, but they’re super busy; be prepared to wait for at least 30 minutes, even at 2:30 in afternoon. The good news is that the cooks and cashiers are awesome, engaging and generally happy to be part of this; I loved watching the burgers prepared and the general ribbing going on!
I had the cheeseburger with the works, and it did not disappoint; oozing juices and full of flavor…this is the “white trash” thick burger compared to the corporate-ish Shake Shack edition.
I left The Burger Joint (TBJ) satisfied and made my way 12 blocks south to the Hell’s Kitchen/Times Square outpost of Shake Shack; unlike TBJ, the Shack is hard to miss…
Shake Shack is Ricky Schroeder to TBJ’s Pony Boy…very clean, corporate and orderly; it feels safe and familiar.
Despite all the standardization and cookie cutter feel, they don’t lose sight of what’s most important…having a damn tasty burger. I ordered the double Shack Burger; two thinly (but not too thin) smashed patties melded together with a copious amount of top quality cheese that makes the burger…ever bite is ridiculous juicy, thus requiring several napkins!
One hour down and two burgers in, I had to squeeze into my suit for a formal awards dinner (i.e. crappy food) thinking only of what awaited on the other side…burger royalty: The infamous Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern.
From the outside, Minetta doesn’t look like much, appearing to be nothing more than a neighborhood dive, but as you pass through the red velvet curtain into the dimly lit bar area you instantly know this place is special. I could wax poetic about the other great French/steakhouse dishes here but I was here for one thing, the $26 Black Label… yeah that’s the most I’ve ever paid for a burger, but it was worth it; beautifully constructed with caramelized onions on a buttery brioche bun, the prime dry aged beef patty was thick, juicy and well-seasoned…
By this point, I had downed two burgers, 3 – 4 drinks and a small spattering of reception food so I hadn’t planned on finishing the thing…but I did so with pleasure; to make myself feel better I did get a side salad instead of fries. The burger was amazing, but so was the service and ambiance of the place; it just felt special and I had a feeling of nirvana the entire meal.
Overall, the Black Label burger was the best of the day, but in the end it’s really in a different category than either Shake Shack or The Burger Joint; all three are very different experiences and tastes and all three shall see me again in the future!