It doesn't matter that I can't pronounce the name. It also doesn't matter that the place can hold a maximum of 12 hungry burger lovers. I ate a burger today at Zaitzeff on Nassau St. in lower Manhattan that knocked me over. It seems that fewer and fewer burgers in NYC these days are made with good old ground chuck. Everyone seems to have an angle, either stuffing their burgers with things like foie gras and braised short ribs (my friend Daniel Boulud's DB Burger - wow what a burger) or mixing different cuts of beef to make a sort of 'everything' patty (I'm thinking of BLT Burger that boldly mixes chuck, sirloin, short rib, AND brisket to little effect). Zaitzeff is there too, offering a sirloin burger and a Kobe beef burger made from American raised Wagyu cows (not to be confused with Japanese Kobe). I've eaten a ton of burgers in the past 7 years, tons, and even I still can't really tell the difference between Wagyu Kobe and a great beefburger cooked the same way. What I do know however is that the Kobe burger I ate today kicked ass. It was cooked to a perfect medium and served on a decent toasted Portuguese-type bun with sauteed onions. I made the mistake of ordering mine with mustard, a mistake because every burger spot in NYC believes they have to serve high-end mustard with their high-end burgers. If you are into overpowering, makes-your-eyes-water Dijon, go for it. For those who know me, spicy brown (or yellow) is the only way to go. In the tiny kitchen behind the register you can watch your burger being made on the compact flattop (and fries bubbling in a cast-iron skillet, not a deep fryer). It's a great burger spot and glad that good friend Carey tipped me off to the place.
In need of some greasy goodness, wife Casey and I called in an order the other day to the newish Brooklyn outpost of the east coast burger phenomenon Five Guys. Ordering for me is pretty straightforward - I usually get the most popular burger on any menu. Ordering for my vegetarian wife at a burger spot is a little more challenging. Fortunately for the wife, Five Guys has a 'burger' on the menu called a 'veggie cheese' (no photo, sorry). The idea is to take any vegetables offered on the regular burger (lettuce, onions, peppers, pickles, etc.) and add them to a grilled cheese. Their grilled cheese itself is an original - a squishy white bun is turned inside-out and grilled with a slice of cheese between. The veggie can also be ordered without cheese, but what fun is that? The cheese kinda glues the veggie together anyway. The vegetable sandwich is a great idea but by no means a recent invention. During the depression (and the WW2 rationing that followed), the vegetable sandwich made its way onto many a burger joint menu when ground beef was scarce. Throwback burger spots like Kewpee in Lima, OH and Wilson's in Findley, OH still serve the vegetable sandwich and have been for over 70 years.
Just when I thought that I had discovered all of the biblical references on In-N-Out packaging (see previous post) I found yet another. This time the chapter reference was not on a burger wrapper or hidden under a shake cup. I was appreciating my new In-N-Out tee shirt from the company store when I noticed, in the midst of a typically busy late 1960s drive-in scene printed on the shirt, that a Mustang license plate in the foreground had legible characters. Sure enough, Revelation 3:20 was staring me in the face. "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Hears my voice? Eat with him? How much more drive-in can you get in the Bible?
On a quick swing through LA last week I made a stop at one of the burger spots featured in my upcoming book Hamburger America, the timeless Pie 'N Burger in Pasadena. A vestige of the rich diner past of Southern California, Pie 'N Burger still serves fresh ground, griddled burgers delivered to your spot at the Formica wood-grain counter wrapped in wax paper. I dragged some friends along and they were stunned by the quality of the burger. There are many diner standards on the menu but the burger to order here is the double-double, served with lettuce, pickles, and their homemade thousand island dressing. So greasy, and so good. Take note of the buttermilk on the menu.
Today I broke out my newest toy - a KitchenAid grinder attachment for our Artisan stand mixer. My little sister hit the nail on the head when she gave it to me as a Christmas gift this year. I was excited to get grinding and my only apprehension was that there was no going back. I'm happy to report that there is no going back. It was so simple, so easy to clean, that I can't understand why more people don't grind their own (assuming you own a stand mixer). If you buy meat from a butcher nearby there really is no reason to grind your own, but I discovered an entirely different level of flavor being able to grind, patty, and begin cooking in the space of 30 seconds. I read Jeffrey Steingarten's piece in Vogue on burgers and home-grinding last October and thought he was nutz, but could be on to something. I can safely say now that today, right out of the gate, I made the best burger I've ever made.