Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Five Guys Opens, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

"HEY! You're OPEN!!" were the words out of the mouth of a very excited employee of nearby Chase Bank as he made his way to the counter. The best part was that he applauded loudly all the way from the front door to the counter as if he were trying to get the 'team' pumped up. This man was clearly excited about opening day.

And he should be. Craig Cohen has done it again and opened his third Five Guys franchise in Brooklyn in just over a year. The first was on Montague St., the second only steps from my apartment in Park Slope. Craig greeted me and expert burger taster Kris Brearton (pictured above) with big handshakes and told us that 2 more stores are in the works for Brooklyn, one in Cobble Hill, and one in MetroTech Center, north of the downtown Marriott.

Many set-in-their-ways locals peered in the window, squinted at the menu, and one skeptical woman even asked Kris, "Is it any good?" Amazingly, Craig has set up shop only a few feet from a Burger King and 4 doors down from the beloved Brooklyn time warp Hinch's Soda Fountain. If I were to guess, Burger King will suffer and Hinch's will be just fine. BK is the only one of the three using frozen patties.

Craig asked me if I needed anything and I told him that I've always wanted a close-up look at the famed proprietary burger smasher. The grill man took a 20 second break from the grill and I was rewarded with this excellent photo op. A unique solution to burger size management that produces the same perfect not-too-thin patty every time.

After eating my usual regular bacon cheeseburger (always a double) We skipped the free soda refill and headed down to Hinch's for a classic soda fountain chocolate malt. The perfect end to a well-balanced, high calorie lunch in Bay Ridge.  

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bobby's Burger Palace

On a recent trip out to visit my parents on Eastern Long Island I decided to swing by Bobby Flay's newest food adventure Bobby's Burger Palace for some meaty nourishment. Currently, the sole location in the future chain is in Lake Grove, NY, in the enormo Smith Haven Mall. The mall is a destination in itself but not really on the way to anywhere, unless you live nearby or are headed to Stony Brook University. It's out there.

The interior is slick but comfortable. The ordering system slightly confusing but very efficient (it's similar to the ordering at brgr where you order/pay first, get a number, and find a seat. The food finds you). And the burgers are pretty damned good. I know that Nick Solares had an unfortunate over-cooked burger experience when he visited but I lucked out I guess. My burger was cooked to a perfect, juicy medium that was pink throughout. They wisely cook on a flattop griddle instead of a gas flame.

There are many wacky burger combos on the menu (the burger piled high with potato chips called the 'Crunchburger' stands out, pictured above with Bobby, Newsday photo) and a few burgers that are trying to be 'regional' but sort of miss the mark (the Santa Fe burger has jalepenos(?) and a queso sauce on it...not many jalepenos in the green chile cheeseburger state. This burger sounds great, but more like a Tex-Mex burger). I stuck with the Palace Classic, a cheeseburger.

I also ordered fries and was surprised to find a very familiar sauce accompanying them...Schnack Sauce! Though that's not what it was called. I asked manager Phil what the ingredients were and he was a bit cagey. When I told him what I thought was in the sauce he smiled. Chipotle and mayo is hard to beat, especially for fries. Cudos to Bobby's Burger Palace for making a very spicy dipping sauce standard with the fries.

I also tried the squirt bottle of Bobby's Burger Sauce that was on the counter and that was amazing. Phil told me it was the same recipe as Flay's signature steak sauce and kicked some ass.

I'll be back, even though it's not really on the way to my parents. They make some kickin' shakes too and I'll need to try this crazy 'Crunchburger' soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shake Shack Burger On Camera!

Josh Ozersky has done something all true burger lovers can appreciate - he has revealed, with video camera in tow, how the Shake Shack makes their burgers. Winners of numerous accolades in their very short history, the Shack invites Josh and camera into their new Upper West Side location.


I'm totally flummoxed by the chrome (?) griddle. How come this is the first I've heard of this surface for burgers? The burgers at Shake Shack really are amazing and I concur with the single-smash method the cooks employ. Thanks for the burger tour, Josh. (Ozersky has a new home at The Feedbag after leaving Grub Street) 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MAJOR Renovation At Stella's, Nebraska

One of the featured spots in my book, Stella's Hamburgers in Bellevue, Nebraska, just completed a major renovation. As you can tell from the pictures above the new barely resembles the old. This is the way I describe Stella's in my book:

"There's no fancy sign out front, pictures of burgers in the window, and no bright colors. Just look for the small, plain-looking house on a hill surrounded by a hard dirt parking lot."

I'm stunned. The new place seems great and sort of has the look of an apres-ski bar in Colorado. I just hope nothing has changed with those amazing burgers. I did hear however that they are still served on napkins. Whew.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crazy Phone Call from Florida

I receive about 15 emails a week from people who have excellent hamburger info to share. This restaurant closed, this one sucks, "How did you miss this one!!", and so on. I also get emails from all of the big burger chains looking for my opinion, and random burger questions from fans ("I loved your book! How long can ground meat last in my freezer?"). Someone once even sent me a song they wrote about a cheeseburger. But a few weeks ago someone from Boynton Beach actually called me on my cellphone to tell me that I left Louis' Lunch out of the book. Louis' Lunch? Did he get a copy of my book that had the Connecticut chapter missing? Of course, they are in the book and one of the 8 burger joints profiled in my film as well. Click here to listen to the crazy phone call (where he pronounces my name wrong and calls my book, "your book in regards to cheeseburgers, etc..."). I've garbled his phone number in the message but the rest is audible and priceless. At least the caller has an unmistakable passion for Louis' (as do I).

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Quick Visit To Harmon's Lunch, Maine

After boarding a flight to Maine last week with the wife to celebrate our 7-year anniversary, I broke it to her that, "We have to stop for a burger near Portland, one that is in the book." How could she say no? It was on the way and it also happened to be my 4oth birthday.

I'm glad to report that nothing has changed at Harmon's since I visited the tiny burger shack almost two years ago for the book. This visit was not just about checking up on a first-rate burger though. On my previous visit I pulled a burger joint faux pas and needed to make amends.

When I sat down to inhale my first Harmon cheeseburger way back in December 2006 I pushed off the red gelatinous goo that was piled on the bun. Owner Pete Wormell caught me doing this and shouted, "Hey! Whataya doin'!" I sheepishly explained that I, "wanted to try it without all of the stuff on top..." Huge mistake. I had broken my own personal rule to eat the burger the locals eat, no matter how weird. That red stuff was weird but I found out this past week it's also pretty damned good. It's a sweet red relish that goes well with the burger, the cheese, the stewed onions, the mustard, and the steamed bun. It's what everyone seems to order there, including me from now on.

Someone please tell Pete I ate the weird red goo, and liked it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Happened To Texas Burger Guy?

One of my favorite sources for Texas burger info seems to have dried up recently. After repeat visits to the well-liked I've noticed that the most recent post to the blog was way back in early January '08. I've emailed TexasBurgerGuy (aka: Noel Kersh, a forensic investigator in Texas) but never got a response. It was his blog that confirmed the greatness of one of the real winners in my book, Christian's Tailgate (formerly Christian's Totem) in Houston (with some help from author Robb Walsh). In the last few years he has reviewed and quaffed burgers at 29 mom & pop joints and dives all over the state. It would be a shame if he has thrown in the towel for some reason.

TexasBurgerGuy uses a quirky but definitive rating system for the burgers he eats known as the TexasBurgerGuy Terminology. Using criteria like 'Oooze Factor' and 'Herd Killer' we are able to know these burgers in a way that most print media and bozos like the Food Network wouldn't recognize. He also shoots priceless, sometimes out-of-focus snapshots of his dining experiences that truly set the tone (see photo above). His everyman approach to reviewing burgers is invaluable. 

If anyone knows why he stopped burger blogging let me know. Has he moved on to BBQ? Left the state? If you are wondering, by the way, what happened to brgr's Chris Russell after he left the successful Chelsea (NY) burger joint he opened, I found him, mystery solved. Turns out he is part of the team that brought Justin Timberlake's BBQ venture to life, Southern Hospitality on the Upper East Side. He told me, "We do, by the way, happen to have a pretty good burger!"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Pat La Frieda New Black Label Taste Test

I was asked by meat expert Josh 'Mr. Cutlets' Ozersky to be on a panel that would taste NYC butcher Pat La Frieda's latest burger blend. The runaway success of their now-famous mix of chuck shoulder and brisket led to the next obvious step - a more complex blend of cuts, all from a cow. 

I'm not a huge fan of blending different cuts of beef myself because I can never really get it right. I usually stick to 80/20 chuck as a safe bet. Pat La Frieda has created a blend that is based on a dry-aged 70/30 ribeye, blended with skirt, brisket, and short rib. That's right, the fat content is high! 

Many great burger minds were in attendance, including Nick Solares (one of my former NYU 'students'), Andrew Fishel and Scott Smith from R.U.B., and Michael White from Alto. We tasted 8oz. hand-formed patties that were dusted with salt and cooked on a flame (Nick took one sniff of the raw patty and exclaimed, correctly, 'dry-aged!'). The high fat content created an exterior char that left the center of the burgers juicy and rare. The buns were sort of ridiculous so I tasted mine without. There were no condiments (I did see some cheese floating around) and none were necessary. These burgers actually tasted like cooked steak.

Even though the burger was amazing, I was wondering how the blend would fare in other, less qualified hands. The chef handling the cooking (forgot his name) did a great job and pointed out that the meat cooked very differently than other blends. And then we found out from Pat La Frieda V.P. Mark Pastore that the blend was going to be very expensive and offered only to some of their high-end clients. My guess, if you want to taste this beef, expect to make a reservation, don a jacket, and pay a premium. It'll be worth it though because this meat needs to be in the hands of a high end chef. This ain't your average backyard barbeque patty.