Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Shack Is Open

Jeff and Ed have done it again. After opening 67 Burger in Fort Greene Jeff Maslanka has brought his less-expensive burger concept Black Shack to Midtown Manhattan. Though the name sounds like an amalgam of Shake Shack and Pat LaFrieda's Black Label blend, the idea for Black Shack was kicking around far before the two burger staples even existed. "I wanted to open Black Shack before 67," Jeff told me.

The burger at Black Shack is cooked the same way as at 67 (over a flame grill) but is half the size (and almost half the price). Although the burgers are cooked over a flame, the obligatory propane taste that most gas-driven restaurant 'grills' impart is surprisingly absent. That's because...well, I'm not telling you - this secret is too good. Some of you know that I'm not a fan of the gas-grilled burger and let's just say that Jeff's method made me a believer.

Where the signature 67 Burger is a beast (a glorious, blue cheese-and-bacon beast), the burgers at Black Shack are very manageable and depending on your appetite may require a second patty (offered at a cheap $2 extra.) There are three burgers on the menu (which I just noticed offers things like a chicken sandwich and something called 'tofu'.) Expert burger taster Kris B and myself opted for the Black Shack Burger and the Western Burger. The Black Shack is a tasty, straightforward, loaded burger and the Western is piled high with thin house-made crispy onions and a tangy BBQ sauce. Kris asked for the extra patty on his Western and the toasted white squishy was up to the task. The Western was a hit with both Kris and I, those onions...

After eating a signature 67 Burger a few months back my wife (a recently converted vegetarian) exclaimed, "This is one of the most amazing burgers I've ever had - I have to stop eating burgers." A ridiculous statement, I agree. Let's see if I can get her to Black Shack so she can swear off those too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monday Night Burgers at R.U.B.

My good friends Andrew and Scott at RUB BBQ have been talking about their plans to create the perfect burger for years. The one item missing from their extensive barbeque menu was only going to get there after much trial and error in the kitchen. Every once in a while I'd get a call from Andrew saying, "Come on in tomorrow, we are doing a tasting of our new burger," only to be followed up the next day by, "We're not ready, yet. We'll call you." Fast forward to this past October when they suddenly started serving up the fabled burger without warning ONLY on Monday nights. I finally found a way to be there this past Monday and I'm sure glad I did.

The burger at RUB is made with a 'secret blend' that they are grinding in-house, smash-cooked at a super-high temp somewhere around 500 degrees on a plancha, and served on a toasted white squishy bun. The options are hamburger, cheeseburger, and an unnamed signature burger that is topped with cheese, pickles, sauteed onion, and a spicy mayo. I opted for the latter and was presented with a perfect specimen - a hot, oniony, soft, salty burger exploding with flavor that had ample griddle crunch.

Did I mention that the burger is NOT on the menu? Just shy of a secret handshake you'll need to be in-the-know to get a burger there, which is to say, only on Monday nights. "We sold a few on the first Monday, 40 the next, and 80 last Monday, all word of mouth," Andrew told me.

The reality is that Andrew and Scott are friends of mine. Honestly, if the burger was bad I wouldn't give it a bad review, I just wouldn't write about it at all. Fortunately, all those years of searching for the perfect blend and cooking method have paid off - this burger kicks some ass.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Apple Pan in Men's Health

The piece I wrote for Men's Health on the Apple Pan is in stores now. The article is part of a feature called 'America's Greatest Guy Foods' (and fits nicely between 'Read Her Dirty Mind' and 'Is She Really Just A Friend?'). If you can get past the 3 perfume tabs (yuck) make your way to page 118. There are seven other odes to favorites, 2 of them by friends Robb Walsh and Ed Levine, and others by Michael Stern, Jonathan Gold, and Jeff Steingarten. I think the feature should have had its own perfume tab that smelled like the steak pictured in the lead photo..

I'm very happy with this piece (and the 7 others) but keep in mind that although I chose to gush about the Apple Pan I'm not saying it's my favorite burger (only because I never play favorites, it's too hard to choose). It really is a great burger experience though and definitely one of my many favorites.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bill's 'Bobcat' Burger

I need to start by saying this is a great burger. That said, it ain't a Bobcat Bite Green Chile Cheeseburger. When I noticed the Bobcat burger listed on the menu at the then-yet-to-be-opened Bill's Bar & Burger I got excited. Assuming they were using real green chile from New Mexico (and using the name of the restaurant in NM that arguably serves the best example) they would be the first to present the beloved burger of the Southwest in NYC. But after consuming the Bobcat last Saturday at Bill's I can safely say they are making a great, spicy burger that is not a green chile cheeseburger. After close inspection I believe the spice comes from sliced pickled jalepenos. I've often described the difference between the two like this: A jalepeno hits you like a slap in the face whereas the green chile is like a punch in the gut - a stinging pain versus a deep, slow pain. I'll take the punch in the gut any day. And anyone who has had the good fortune to eat green chile before can attest to its powers.

Photo courtesy of Eating in Translation

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Trip To The Burger Maker Processing Plant

At the last Burger Bash I saw a lot of familiar faces in the burger world and made a few new friends. After sampling a few of Bobby Flay's Crunchburgers and boozy shakes I was introduced to the ground beef supplier who just happened to be standing right there. One thing led to another and I was invited to check out their facility in NJ. I had never been to a meat processing plant so I jumped at the opportunity.

Burger Maker is a processing facility, not a meat packer (no feedlot and whole cows here). Cuts of chuck shoulder are shipped to their plant so they can do one thing and pretty much one thing only - make ground beef for burgers. It wasn't a huge place but they manage to produce over 200,000 pounds of ground beef a day. Whoa. That may be because one of their clients requires a lot of fresh-ground beef for their burgers, a place that just happens to be one of my favorite East Coast burger chains - Five Guys.

I'm not going to go into detail about the facility (because I promised) and because some of it was a bit gnarly anyway. Let's just say that I'm glad we visited Burger Maker before lunch and not after.

That said, the most important thing I took away from our visit was that this was one clean operation. There were basically three industrial meat grinders larger than 18-wheelers pushing out fresh-ground product into stainless steel bins at a rate of about 300 pounds every 5 minutes. It was freezing in the plant so we had to wear supplied jackets (pictured below, with Expert Burger Taster Kris B). We also had to wear hairnets and probably should have had beard nets too.

In addition to sending out bags of fresh-ground beef Burger Maker also makes patties of every size for a few other large national burger chains. Although I'm not a fan of them, the patty machines were fascinating. Another amazing piece of machinery we saw in action was the Fat Analyzer - a machine that gives a readout of the exact fat-to-lean ratio in the grind. The mix is tested often to ensure exact ratios.

After a whirl through the grinding floor we met the resident lab technician. He showed us some paperwork for tests he was working on and I was glad to see column after column of the word 'negative' under the word 'e-coli'. Testing is big here.

Not surprisingly we had burgers for lunch in their company kitchen. The chef was the lab tech we had met earlier (which was a little weird). We did not question the freshness of the product however. Burger Maker is working on a new ground beef blend to sell to higher end restaurants so we tried the new blend. It was good except it was a formed patty. Next time I have to try it as a smashburger. I also noticed a few boxes of fresh-ground beef in the refrigerated shipping area heading to Fresh Direct. Now you can order Burger Maker patties to your doorstep (in NYC).

After we left Burger Maker we headed over to nearby White Manna where we were underwhelmed by the sliders for the first time ever. I said to Kris about halfway thru my first double, "The onions taste weird, right," and he said, "Yeah, they do. I thought it was just me." We rectified the situation by heading over to nearby ice cream counter Bischcoff's for chocolate malts. They never fail to satisfy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Burgers In Men's Health

I was asked to pen an ode to a great burger for the December issue of Men's Health and chose the Apple Pan since it was the site of my life-changing burger epiphany way back in 1991. The magazine just sent me the page with my article and it looks pretty good! Look for it mid-November.