Eating out in New York City is expensive. Y’know, I almost wish they had a gift shop that sold t-shirts inscribed with “I can’t believe I paid $16.95 for a deli sandwich!” (And it was a damn good deli sandwich, too, but still…) Suffice to say, I didn’t have le cash to eat at Le Cirque–though I’m sure it’s very nice. Alas, aside from a daring foray into Guy Fieri’s critically disclaimed restaurant and bar, I primarily dined on burgers. Which isn’t all that unusual for me, since I once spent a whole week eating beef here in Toronto not so long ago. (Hey, I am from Alberta, after all!)
Now, while Toronto has its share of gourmet burger joints, you won’t find too many of them on Zagat’s best list–with the exception of The Burger’s Priest, which, I must confess, I still haven’t tried. On the other hand, the best burgers in the Big Apple are adored by critics and commoners alike. They even go as far as to ask you how you’d like your patty cooked, which was a first for me. Of course, I’m from Alberta, so I had mine medium-rare. (Apparently, you’re supposed to cook hamburger for longer to prevent stuff like E. coli. I guess that explains a lot…)
Mind you, I was only in NYC for one weekend, so it was kind of a case of so many burgers, so little time. However, I managed to find two great burger joints that couldn’t have less in common, apart from the main menu item. One was your more traditional fast-food, take-out or dine-in joint (if your traditional fast-food joint serves alcohol) in trendy Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The other, a popular, wait-for-a-table, upscale eatery in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. But in the end, both had some tasty beef. Let’s go to the tale of the tape…
To get to 67 Burger, you’ll hafta take the C Train. This Brooklyn fav boasts two locations a world removed from Times Square; one in yuppified Park Slope and the other in racially-harmonious Fort Greene. (GQ describe the latter hood as a racial mucous membrane, which is definitely a disgusting way to define diversity.) The decor at the Lafayette Ave location leaves little to look at; there is, however, ample seating space if you get there early enough.
As I alluded to earlier, this fairly-fast-food joint also offers a six-dollar selection of beer and wine. But for the price of a pint, you can go one step further and order a beer shake. Admittedly, I wasn’t watching the milkshake machine when they mixed it, but it did taste a little like a light lager…
The nice thing about 67 Burger’s selection is that you can order any of their 13 signature creations with any one of five proteins: beef, chicken, turkey, veggie or tofu. They even offer recommendations as to which patty goes best with each style–while also encouraging experimentation. According to the menu, the southwestern (homemade chipotle mayo, roasted peppers, tomatoes, scallions and pepper jack cheese) tasted best with tofu, but I’d rather shit a brick than eat tofu–though I’m told the two aren’t mutually exclusive. So naturally, I made mine with beef.
Hard to tell if there were roasted peppers on there, but the chipotle mayo blended well with the big block of cheese. I made sure to pile on all the extra toppings on the plate, as well. The pickles were especially fresh and tangy.
Meat: Thick and juicy, this patty practically has its own zip code.
Cheese: The big slab of pepper jack didn’t fully melt on the burger, which allowed it to melt in your mouth instead.
Toppings: Tangy chipotle mayo collides with fresh pickles and purple onions for a nice bite.
Price: $8.75 burger, $6 beer shake (fries are extra)
5 NAPKIN BURGER
Though its namesake started as a popular menu item at Nice Matin on the Upper West Side (not to be confused with the Corsican newspaper), the 5-Napkin Burger simply couldn’t be contained, as it now boasts four New York locations (three in Manhattan, one in Queens) as well as sister franchises in Boston and Miami. The flagship location, at 9th and West 45th in Hell’s Kitchen, is a pretty popular place; you simply cannot just walk in and get a table, not even at 5 pm on a Sunday. But if you time it just right, you can probably grab a barstool. Most people sitting at the bar are waiting for a table, so once their buzzer goes off, jump in and snag their spot.
The 5-Napkin bar itself is a pretty impressive structure. It conceals over 50 beers, 100 wines and several stirring cocktails. I confess, I spent longer looking at the beer menu than I did deciding on food. I was a little disappointed, however, when my drink arrived. I saw Brooklyn Pilsner for seven dollars and assumed it was on tap; nope, that’s seven bucks for a bottle…
Now, I must say, the fare at 5 Napkin was much more diverse. While 67 Burger offered burgers, fries and salads, this Manhattanite’s menu included chicken wings, pork taquitos and a wide variety of sushi maki rolls. No, really. Who goes to a burger joint and eats sushi? Not this guy. Alas, while they also offered turkey, tuna, lamb and veggie burgers, I went back to the beef.
The Bacon-Cheddar almost needs no introduction. It’s sharp cheddar, bacon, raw onion, lettuce & tomato on a soft white roll. As you can see, mine was extra bloody.
Meat: Let’s put it this way; I went to a Rangers game afterwards, and they probably coulda used this patty as a puck–if hockey pucks were meant to explode if your mouth without knocking out your teeth.
Cheese: Smothers the meat like an overbearing mother, or a warm slanket.
Toppings: Top marks for the big pile of thick, crispy bacon; just the way I like it. There wasn’t much else on top of ol’ smoky, but there didn’t really need to be.
Price: $14.95 burger (fries included), $7 beer
Although it’s hindered by a weaker photograph, I’d hafta say 5 Napkin had the slightly better burger. However, for convenience, speedy service and affordability, the edge goes to 67. Uh, I guess it’s a draw, then? (That just means you’ll have to have them both!)