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Burgers are back: Bobby Van's in Bridgehampton

So BG and I spent the weekend out in Bridgehampton, getting some much-needed sun and relaxation.  While out there, I usually stick to grilling up some fresh fare and lazing around.  July 4ths 12-hour smoked pork shoulder was pretty hard to beat.

July 4th Smoked Shoulder

July 4th Smoked Shoulder

However, this time around I had a craving some a little scene and a little ground beef.  My last burger at a restaurant had been DBGB and the “burger” from Mantao really wasn’t cutting it for me.  I also wanted to experience the day scene at Bobby Van’s in Bridgehamton.  Call it my inner 60 year old.

So BG and I prepared physically by going for a nice walk around town.  Walking by BV’s early on, the scene was pretty dead- only a few busboys walked around setting up tables and stuff.  It was pretty much like every other Hamptons hangout by morning light: totally unimpressive.

Later, after soaking in some sun, we headed back.  I was starving so I had a Blue Moon as my pre-appetizer.  Then I settled into a huge salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and roasted golden beets.  Note the order in which I listed the ingredients. The plate had more blue cheese than I knew what to do with (and survive, at least).  But that was ok, I saved half, like the conscientious eater I am, and waited for the main event.

When the burger showed up, I was instantly a little bit disappointed.  Whoever had made it did let it rest, but they let it rest a bit too long– some of the cheese had already congealed on top and had hardened a little bit.  I was mildly disappointed with this, since I like my cheese gooey and my crust crunchy.  This was not the case.  Not sure if it was an off day or what, but I was let down.  The flavor was good, so I knew that the meat was a quality blend and the seasonings were correct.  I usually wouldn’t think to send something back, and I thought about it for a second, but couldn’t do it.  I’d say that if you all head out to Bobby Van’s for lunch in Bridgehampton, do yourself a favor and order it rare– it’ll probably come medium.

Despite this, I still did manage to finish every last bite…

Bobby Van's Burger

Bobby Van's Burger

NB: the fries are excellent– nice crunch and the perfect amount to prevent you from feeling like a fat kid.

4 out of 7 cows.

Bobby Van’s
Main St., Bridgehampton

DBGB: Like CBGB in three letters alone.

So burgergal and I went to DBGB a few weeks back, just because we had a hankering for some sausage and some burgers.  The spot had recently opened, so my GF the BG had called DBGB ASAP and got us a TFT (table for two).

We went on a sweltering evening in July (july 16th if you are curious or were there and saw us).  It was really hot.  Hot enough that I had to stop into Whole Foods to take a breather.  (Side note, the A/C in Whole Foods is quite refreshing.  I’m not sure how green it is to have a 200,000 sq ft grocery store with high ceilings cooled down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but I like it anyway).

Anyway, we walked into DBGB ready to pig out.  I was actually sweating like a pig, so it all fit.  (Another side note.  I realize that these visual images may make you think that I am either a) very out of shape or b) exceptionally heavy-set from eating a lot of hamburgers.  I am in fact neither of those things).  We sat down to a nice table next to a couple of fellow foodies (i heard them talking about markets and momofuku and places in queens i’ve never even heard of), and across from a group of Japanese businessmen.  These guys were classic; they all went out between each course to go smoke cigarettes, and they all ordered the same exact thing.  It was great to watch.

So, we started out with a couple of sausages, because, why not?  We had the boudin, which BG did not eat because of an understandable aversion to sausages that have the consistency of brownies and are made with blood.  We also had the beaujolais sausage, which was delicious.

After fooling around with tubular meats, we went in for the kill: one Yankee burger (a good old american cheeseburger) and one Frenchie (a fancy-pants daniel boulud burger with braised pork belly on it).  Each was different and unqiue, but I’ve gotta give it to the Yankee.  It was a straightforward and simple product that tasted delicious and was well cooked, as a good burger should be.  The Frenchie was just a little too much for me– the pork belly had a slightly oily taste and it just made me feel like I was back in the sweltering heat of the day.

Then BG and I had a sundae for dessert.  It was fatty.  I actually didn’t feel SO bad until I read the below on Grubstreet about Wylie Dufresne and his wife:

“9:50 p.m. We started eating at DBGB, just the two of us. We had the Beaujolais sausage and the blood sausage with mashed potatoes and scallions, which I think has got to be one of the best things I’ve had in a while. They have three burgers. My wife is a fan of the Piggy, but we went for the Yankee because we had some sausage to start.

10:42 p.m. We had dessert. I had a coffee-caramel sundae that was delicious. That being Monday and having had a fairly large dinner, I did not work out that night. Went to bed.”

Now, it seems that Wylie is on some sort of kick to lose weight or something.  But, they “had some sausage to start” and decided to forgo a second burger because of it.  BG and I had sausages to start and continued to order two burgers AND eat dessert.  This makes me feel badly about myself.

But I digress.

The food at DBGB was great.  And it’s not too expensive for a nice weeknight dinner.

299 Bowery (at 1st St)
5 out of 7 cows.

Minetta Tavern: A distant memory.

Up in Cape Cod this weekend, I was reminded of a burger memory that went without documentation.  The Minetta Tavern Black Label burger.  This burger has certainly been all over the blogosphere, mostly due to its La Frieda “Black Label” beef mix, that is supposedly available nowhere else on the planet.

All of that doesn’t really matter to me, the burger was just tremendous.

I feel like it is actually unfair that this burger be included on this site, since I would say that it’s more like a steak on a bun than like any burger I’ve had before.  It’s got this intense mouth feel that feels more like a bite of a perfect grass-fed sirloin than a ground beef burger.  It’s beefy, it’s gamey, it’s sweet from the caramelized onions, it’s fatty from the beef and the clarified butter that’s on the burger.  It’s like the X-men of hamburgers.

Mantao "Burger": Quotes necessary

The burgerboy works in midtown Manhattan, and has been frequenting the relatively new Mantao shop on 53rd street between 2nd and 3rd avenues.  Now, I am not about to get into a full review of the lunch spot, I’ll leave that to the experts over at serious eats and midtown lunch.  However, since they do feature a “burger” on the menu, I felt it should be included within my purview.

I went in the other day, and I had my sights set on the burger.  I had eaten a few of their tasty little gems before, but the burger had always managed to stay under my radar.

Until last Wednesday.

I got the angus beef burger with spicy sambal sauce.  I had a feeling that the sambal sauce wasn’t going to be spicy enough for my taste, so I rocked a side of kim chi with it.  (NB, I also got the braised pork sandwich with pickled cucumber– delicious).

I took my first bite of the burger, not really knowing what to expect.  It was, um, good?

To be honest, I don’t really know how to feel about the whole experience.  I LOVE mantao bread, first of all.  The steamy pockets of goodness, with their slight bite and doughy centers really get me going.  If I had to name the perfect vessel for sweet and salty flavor, it would be mantao bread.  The burgerboy is going to Momofuku Ssam for a bo ssam tomorrow and I am going to stuff my face with them.

But I digress.

The burger was a bit disappointing, to say the least.  The small patty was a bit pathetic, given the majestic mantao bread pocket made for it.  As expected, the sambal sauce was but an afterthought on the overcooked grey patty.  I added the kim chi, which helped perk it up a bit, but I was still left wanting more.  And not more of the burger.

When heading to Mantao, stick with the braised pork, spicy pork, or short rib.

Smokey Saloon: Relatively the best burger in Seoul.

Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

Geographically, Seoul is 25% smaller than New York City, and according to current census figures; Seoul contains two million more people. Of the near eleven million people living in Seoul, the overwhelming majority of them are Korean, born and raised, and eating wonderfully spicy, salty, fiber filled foods. There are thousands of restaurants, and a great number of them are the Korean equivalent to a neighborhood greasy spoon, selling three dollar meals, like kimchi stew with rice and kimchi, or still others may sell slightly more expensive specialty meals like soy sauce steamed chicken with vegetables and glass noodles. When Koreans eat meat as a main dish, it is often grilled at the table, and enjoyed wrapped in lettuce or sesame leaves and accompanied by soup and side dishes. Needless to say, there aren’t many burger joints in Seoul. The last time I visited K-town in the east thirties, I didn’t go there to find a good burger.

Before Smokey Saloon opened in the Itaewon district of Seoul, there were two places I visited regularly for my burger fix: McDonalds and my own kitchen. Behind the main shopping and eating district in the traditional foreigner district of Seoul, this joint serves plates of burgers and fries to craving expatriates and curious Koreans visiting the neighborhood on the weekend. The place is tiny, with four tables on the inside and two more in the covered porch. The walls are painted black with images of jazz musicians spray painted in dark gold and blue on one wall and a mirror blanketing the entire opposite wall. Not matter where you sit, you breathe the effervescent griddle smoke and the greasy smell of burgers tickle your nose to the crackle of beef fat on hot metal. Above, stained glass lamps illuminate the room a dull yellow-orange hue; even on the brightest day, the black walls dampen the natural light to allow the vintage New York burger joint feel to carry homesick foreigners back to their favorite neighborhood spot, or to transport fashionable Korean girls or well dressed business men into a cultural experience they have never lived before and only try to live vicariously through the creative efforts of an American trained restaurateur.

I always choose the classic Smokey burger. The menu, however, caters to the tastes of all eaters who may come, sacrificing the burgers true flavor for a wide assortment of toppings and sauces, the menu reads like a wine list at a well dressed wine bar for educated diners who want to experience the myriad nuances a single culinary item can produce. In any case I went there for the burger, the classic comes with shredded cabbage below and is topped with a lightly grilled, thickly sliced onion with ketchup on top. The bread is a delicious little bun, gently orange in color, and having a girth slightly larger than the whole package. At first glance, the burger appeared to be more vertical than horizontal, so much so, that I was worried at the beginning about its eat-ability.

Cooked slightly more than medium, the burger lacked any savory pink color, however, it was exceptionally juicy. The burger held firm, not crumbly, but the subtle flavor of the meat was hard to find in the heavily salted and spiced patty. The onion and cabbage added a nice crunch, and helped balance the whole experience. As I continued to eat, the juice continued to dribble out and onto my hand through the crumbling bun. Sooner than later, I realized that the bun lacked resilience and elasticity and crumbled like a wet pound cake under the weight of the savory red juices. I was able to handle the burger through the last bites, but my two companions, Koreans lacking proper burger eating skills, had to resort to forks halfway through. At the table across from us, four pretty Korean girls didn’t even try to use their hands, they picked at their burgers with forks and knifes like doctors dissecting the intricate ligaments of a human knee.

Overall, a beautiful burger to look at, with all the tell tale scents of a classic masterpiece, but difficult to handle. The slight shortcomings in the meat can be forgiven in a country where the top domestic meat is reserved for Korean barbeque, and the imported Australian meat is used for cheap Korean barbeque and stews at Korean greasy spoon restaurants. Recently they approved an important free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea and the most contested and publicized product (besides rice) was beef. Maybe this will create a surplus of quality meat in Korea, which can be ground into fresh delicious burgers and will fuel a cottage industry of neighborhood burger joints, but this may just be wishful thinking. Until then, Smokey Saloon in Itaewon is still relatively the best burger in Seoul.

P.S. Smokey’s has opened a new location in the affluent, shopping, dining and living district of Apgu-jeong. I’m off to there next.

– Seoul Brother, 6/25/07

PJ Clarke's Lincoln Center: A copy is never as sharp as the original.

63rd St and Broadway

Overall: Let me start this review by saying that I am hesitant to write a review of a satellite location.  The place is a New York City staple— I feel as though writing about anything other than the original could be construed as heresy.  But I will do it, because it is in the name of burgers.  That said, please treat this as a reflection upon the Lincoln Center location only.

And yes, I do admit that it is reprehensible that I have lived in this city for four years and have not yet been to the original PJ Clarke’s.  Readers (all four of you), please know that I am sorry.

“Hi, I’m….”: “Bill, this is my wife Cheryl, and her brother John, we’re visiting from Chicago!”

It is a tough crowd about which to make generalizations, I would assume, due to its proximity to Lincoln Center.  Many patrons are clearly not from New York.  The plethora of hotels in the area lends itself to creating a “fake” NYC-themed establishment (read, an Irish pub in Beijing without a McCarthy in sight).  The Grizza insists that it is modeled after the East Side location.  I will have to take his word for it (for now, anyway).

If you can, get a table downstairs.  If you squint, it could be 1930, and there could be a thick cloud of cigar smoke, the sounds of an upright piano, and a leggy cigarette girl, all accentuated with the clinging and clanging of glasses filled with bathtub gin.

Sounds like a fun time.

I’m Here, What do I see? : At this particular location- tourists.  And a lot of them. Older single ladies that we “in the biz” might call, ahem, cougars, are hanging around the bar.  So, if you are feeling up for a Mrs. Robinson-esque encounter, come here and hang at the bar for a bit.  The Grizza thought about it, trust me.

The scene is a 1930’s New York pub: dark wood, soft lighting, and a tin ceiling.  A long bar is the centerpiece of the restaurant.  An oyster/clam bar is tucked away in a corner behind the bar.  For a tourist trap, it is a nice place.  A little noisy upstairs, but that’s what all the tourists come for—the energy that only New York has to offer.

The Good Stuff:
I have been hearing about this burger for a long time.  It has, in fact, been uttered in the same sentence as JG Melon.  Needless to say, the expectations were high.  The burger arrived, and I felt good about it at first glance.  Much like the reigning king, the burger arrived on a small glass plate, but PJ’s is accompanied by a pickle wedge instead of the slices.  Where’s the onion?  Strangely enough, it’s underneath the burger.  Not sure why it was there.  Maybe I am oblivious to some age-old tradition involving the onion slice being below the burger.  If so, I don’t care and I think it’s stupid (take that, age-old traditions that I don’t know about!).  Anyway, that’s a trivial detail, I suppose.

Back to the main event.  The burger does have good hand-feel, which is always a plus.  But the hamburger patty was small.  Arguably, a little too small.  As with JG Melon, the meat was coarsely ground and was properly seasoned, but for some reason, the taste got lost along the way.  Where did it go?  I have a theory: the thinness of the patty does not allow for the development of a good caramelized layer without making the inside of the burger sawdust.  If the patty were a little bit thicker, that crunchy sweet crust would develop and we’d have a totally different story.  But alas, we do not.  The burger was good, but not great.  It was not especially memorable; it ended, and I was okay with that.

NB: the fries are great—like old-style McDonald’s fries, before the whole trans-fat, “let’s not make people responsible for their own decisions by making junk food healthy” debacle.

To the east side.  I’m not done with you get, PJ.

Rating (out of 7 cows): 4/7

– burgerboy. 6/3/07