Tuesday, October 17, 2006

because every food blogger has to blog about hamburgers

Hamburgers are one of those things that I could never cook for myself and enjoy. It is the food of kicking back and relaxing, it’s a craving happily satiated, it’s a night off – and if I’m going to have a hamburger, damn it, it had better be good.

I’ve noticed an outcropping of trendy burger “eateries” popping up around the city over the past year or so, places offering organic burgers on homemade bread, every incarnation of veggie burger, turkey burger, bison burger, kobi burger, etc. All these places seem to have a very modern-trendy, clean lined and sterile feel about them – not entirely unlikable, but when I think hamburger I feel much more drawn to the places better referred to as a ‘joint’ rather than an ‘eatery’.

I confess to being totally biased on the subject of what environment I like to eat my hamburger in, to the point that I haven’t even stepped foot in one of these newfangled hamburger places. Perhaps, for posterity or in the name of scientific research, I should check one of these places out. But when I want a burger I don’t want a white table clothe restaurant, I don’t want to be staring out the window checking out the shoes and handbags of the passers-by on the streets, or pompously displayed New Yorker, Zagat and/or Wine Spectator reviews stuck on the wall. I want a place where unfettered pleasure is the goal; a place where I can guiltlessly and blissfully throw down a pint and a burger without being reminded that there are vegetarians in this world, without having to debate whether I should go for the healthier choice on the menu, without having to choose whether I want foie gras or truffles. I want the decision making process to be simple and straightforward, streamlined in fact. Choice 1: Hamburger, Choice 2: Cheeseburger. Choice 3: There is no choice 3. Rare/ Medium Rare/ Medium/ Well (God forbid!). I don’t want a bun so thick or crusty that I must disconnect my jaw, like a boa constrictor, before taking the first splendid bite. I don’t want some fruity, homemade ketchup or fancy ingredients.

I want it medium-rare on a soft, white, fluffy cloudlike bun. Mayo, pickles, lettuce and ketchup. Lots and lots of ketchup. Ketchup on the bun, ketchup to dip it in. I love ketchup. I hate broccoli. And much to my parents dismay, that’s just about the only thing a Bush president and I will ever agree upon. But I digress.

One of my favorite places to get a hamburger is Café Fanelli on Prince and Mercer. That place never ceases to be an experience. A dark wood interior, long bar and comfy barstools, old black and white boxing pictures line the walls, two-tops in a row along the wall opposite the bar, the staff as checkered as the table clothes. The tattooed and pierced waitresses have a look like you’d better be careful how you behave or they just might kick your ass. The bartenders are salty, surly and sarcastic – just the way I like them. The clientele too is a pretty checkered bunch. The same drunk has been at the end of the bar since I first started going there eight years ago, and their is a cross between old-school SoHo artists (can you say, “rent controlled apartment”?), a few businessmen, a tourist or two and a few starlets who’ve wandered in off the street to use the toilet. The place is strangely unchanged and unaffected by the retail storm that has slaughtered much of the neighborhood charm, unfazed by the mignons of fashionistas and bankers that have come through its doors and replaced the old artists, bohemians and mobsters of yesteryear. Amazingly, it maintains a little bit of what the rest of SoHo used to be - brash, eccentric, and smug.

They have a decent burger served on a soft onion roll. But the pickles are on the side, and aren’t cut for proper placement on a hamburger. Their fries are good and they have Heffeweisen, Guiness, Stella, Bass and Brooklyn Lager on tap on tap so I can’t complain.

But recently, I found a new favorite hamburger joint (sacre bleu!). And I can’t believe it, but I was taken there by friends from South Africa! How is it that someone from S.A. knows where to get a great burger in this town without me knowing about that place first?! Impossible, or so I thought. I was hesitant but by my friends description, I knew I had to investigate.

We pulled up on 56th Street in my friends bright orange rental car. It was like riding in a pumpkin, perfect for the season. By some strange stroke of luck (that I never seem to have), we found a parking spot right in front of the Le Parker Meridien Hotel and I thought to myself, how good could it really be? We walked into the grandiose lobby; polished, chic and trendy and I thought, “oh no, here we go”. We ducked behind a long, curtained wall behind the front desk and I felt like Jody Foster in Contact when she slid through the worm hole to another dimension. Suddenly I was in this tiny cube shaped hovel, maybe 400 square feet – maybe. Ramones and Soprano’s posters adorned the wood panneled walls, thick wood tables and walls carved up with initials “J.M.” heart “B.L.”, autographs, stickers from the women’s roller ball league, a few carved-up, vandalized booths, a large communal table in the middle. The counter and kitchen open to view and two guys working – one taking orders, the other flipping burgers over a flaming grill. And the best part was the smell – it smelled like grill smoke, char and sizzling meat. The menu was written in magic marker on torn cardboard and states:

If you aren’t ready you go to the back of the line.

They also had fries, milkshakes, Sam Adams and sodas.

I waited in line and mulled my choice, sure to be prepared when it was my turn at the front. I wasn’t going to be sent to the back of the line for not having my order ready. I waited and waited and like a good New Yorker, when I got to the front of the line and spat out my order so quickly the guy told me to slow down and repeat myself…

After a weekend of gluttony cooking (and drinking) up a storm at a friends farm in Pennsylvania, a stop for lunch at my favorite Middle-Eastern restaurant in Bay Ridge where we gorged ourselves yet again, I thought that there was no way I would possibly be hungry for dinner, much less a hamburger. I was thinking more like Perrier and a lemon…

But once I smelled that fine, fine smell of fat dripping into a fiery grill, I was suddenly famished. It was my dream come true and I was taken their by a tourist! Say it isn’t so… The burger was great, the flaming grill leaving its stamp on every tasty bite. The pickles fit, the bun was soft and fluffy. Perfection. I can’t wait, wait, wait to go back again – many more times before I leave for the Caribbean.

The Crew at The Hamburger Joint at Le Parker Meridien

On a side note, I know many New Yorkers will say Corner Bistro (Burger Bistro, as some call it) is the place to go for burgers. It was my favorite for years – but ever since a friend of mine got a glue trap with a rat on it stuck to his foot there, I can’t ever go back.

So happy to have finely found a decent replacement. Plus, you won’t have to endure the frat boys and drunk chicks at The Burger Joint.

The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien
118 W. 57th Street
Between 6th and 7th

Cafe Fanelli
Corner of Mercer and Spring

1 comment:

Ian said...

Wait, what?
Greg was eating burgers with you, but I wasn't invited?
Oh! you are going DOWN. (Don't read into that too much.)
Beer-off is ON!

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