One of my readers told me she was excited to watch me tear New York a new one in this featurette. A few things were noteworthy to me me about that: 1) people read this, 2) I talked to a girl! and 3) she thought I hated New York, and 4) she thought that whatever distaste I have for the city made my negative evaluation of even its best burger a fait accompli.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not nominating myself for a Peabody Award here (that’s your job). When it comes to journalistic integrity, I’m probably more Brian Williams than Walter Cronkite, and probably more Perez Hilton than either one. And sure, sometimes sentimentality gets the better of me. But still, I care about burgers a lot. And my love of burgers is the prime mover here. If the burger is good, I happily will say so.
Having said that, I’m all about context and background, so a comment on the city is in order. There are enough people who sing this city’s praises. So I figured I’d go all Scalia Dissent on the city that never sleeps.
Los Angeles is a wasteland.
It’s a wasteland of casual, laissez-faire cavalierism. It’s a wasteland of surf-salted hair and impromptu long weekends. It’s a wasteland of often-silenced phones and a pervasive repudiation of The Professional Grind. It’s a wasteland where startups will soon outnumber hedge funds, law firms, and consultancies. It’s a place where people go to pursue absurd and wonderful dreams (I want to sell my company to Google, I want to be the next next next James Bond, I want to host a late night show, I want to make chart-topping surf-rock records, et cetera). All that comes with a certain amount of vapidity and obsessiveness about appearance. Our cold-pressed, low-calorie, gluten-conscious, Runyon Canyon hiking, beach-blown lifestyle certainly is not for everyone. I mean, I write a burger blog, for Christ’s sake. You can imagine what I go through here.
But New York is a wasteland as well, and it’s a harder kind of place for me. It is a wasteland of self-satisfaction, of misplaced self-importance, of tall buildings housing diminutive and myopic ambitions, where long hours produce short lists of impactful achievements. It is a place where the best legal minds mire in structuring mid-market bond offers. It is a place where the smartest minds are perverted by the warped minds of the finance world into thinking that mortgage-backed securities are a good idea. Is there more to it than that? Sure. But investment houses and the legal market made New York the center of the universe. Sorry guys, but it’s not your bustling non-profit scene. Just like Los Angeles was built on the back of the entertainment industry, New York lives and dies by high finance.
For every still-exceptional person I know doing exceptional things in New York, there are quite literally thousands of people living life on autopilot, grinding away in some investment house moving around the idea of money. It is a wasteland of squandered potential. It is a place where people get paid to abandon their aspirations in magnificent buildings. It blurs people’s vision with enough fatigue, velocity, cocaine, and booze to make them mistake their paychecks for their dreams.
Where Los Angeles is caked in makeup and exudes laconic superficiality, New Yorkers have the untreated edge that attends an unwavering belief in one’s own superiority. New York, they’ll tell you, is ancient Rome for the modern age. That may be true. But it’s also ancient Rome for the modern age. Here, they drink on Tuesdays because running shit for the whole globe is tiring. In Los Angeles, we drink on Tuesdays too, but we do it to numb the creeping, paralytic hopelessness that stems from our deep, collective insecurity. Boom. AMIRITE U GUYZ?
Anyway, um…right. Moving on.
There’s a weirdly hostile condescension in the way many New Yorkers talk about L.A. To hear them tell it, Los Angeles is a quaint, sun-soaked, beachside hamlet where they make porn. Well, I’m here to set the record straight: Los Angeles is a sprawling, sun-soaked, beachside metropolis where they make porn. So there. And, might I add, a lot of New Yorkers seem to be attracted enough to it. Or repelled enough by New York.
Now, let’s be fair for a second (but only just): I don’t hate New York. I just reject the narrative of unrivaled excellence that seems to have taken hold in the collective consciousness of the city. It’s true: New York is magnificent. I spent my time there in awe of the scope of its greatness, and that awe persists to this day. Without question, New York the greatest city on the face of the planet. It is the ne plus ultra of human achievement. New York is, without qualification, a vastly better city to visit. But also without question, when it comes time to set down roots, Los Angeles is my kind of wasteland.
So how does this all relate to burgers?
Well, New Yorkers pride themselves on having the best of everything. And when it comes to Italian food generally (and pizza specifically), they’re right. They’re the best at those things. The worst slice in New York would be well above-average – maybe excellent – in Los Angeles. A downright mediocre Italian restaurant in Little Italy would absolutely donkey punch nine out of ten similar presentations here.
So New Yorkers also like to think their city has the best of the burger war. Given my passion for Los Angeles burger-craft, I had to put this claim to the test. After soliciting recommendations from my Facebook friends, I decided to check out a couple places. The first was Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien. This spot isn’t exactly a habitual haunt for native New Yorkers. Even so, once upon a time, it was hailed as the best burger in New York. I went with Declan and Brittany to check it out.
Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien
119 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019
The Order: Cheeseburger with “the works” (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard)
The Price: $8.73 (not including fries [$3.90], a Coke [$2.53], and a milkshake [$6.43], for a total of $21.59)
From the moment you walk in, one thing is obvious: Burger Joint is trying really hard. It’s artificially cramped. You can write on the walls, which gives it kind of an “aw, shucks” vibe…until you notice there’s one wall reserved for famous people to write on. Which is less “aw, shucks” and more “look how cool we are!” They’re blasting Classic Music from the 1960s, which really reinforces the Genuine Old School Vibe.
The almost impossibly unfriendly staff serves with practiced impatience; they criticized the manner in which I ordered the burgers, which took about 1.4 seconds longer than our cashier would have liked. After yelling at us for not picking up our order, they gave us the wrong order. Then, not sheepishly enough, they presented us with the food we did order…minus one milkshake.
Not to sound like an annoying, entitled Yelper, but I see red when unfriendly service is not counterbalanced by German efficiency. Be a dick if you must (though, must you?), but you better good and goddamn well get my order perfect. And if you’re going to yell at me, it better not be for nothing. My rule is that I’ll be as reasonable and solicitous as the staff – I’ll meet them right in the middle. So I don’t demand absolute perfection from the staff at a restaurant…unless they demand it from me.
Anyway, that gripe aside, let’s get to the food.
This patty is a mix of top sirloin, shoulder, and chuck. All the meat is freshly ground in-house on a daily basis. The patty is not heavily seasoned nor inherently particularly flavorful; the main source of flavor is the grill. And it does impart a hell of a flavor. The patty’s was infused with the aroma of char and smoke. Cooked medium rare, it was a juicy, just-bloody-enough, smoky delight. The one drawback is that, at five ounces, it’s kind of meager.
The cheese was a hybrid of Colby and Cheddar. I’ve long thought that not enough restaurants incorporate multiple cheeses into their burgers, so this was a refreshing presentation. The cheese was perfectly semisolid, neither too messy nor too stiff, and just melted enough to let the Colby and cheddar bleed into one another. By blurring the boundary between the slices, Burger Joint creates a delicious amorphous cloud on top of the patty that rounds out the burger wonderfully. Colby is basically cheddar that hasn’t undergone the cheddaring process (which gives cheddar cheese its lower whey content and denser texture), the combination of the two cheeses essentially eases you into the crumbly, sharp richness of cheddar. It’s a remarkably simple – but totally brilliant – touch.
The garnishes were all pleasantly fresh (especially the tomato – swoon), but poorly arranged in the burger. Specifically, the razor-sharp tangle of red onions were placed almost entirely on one side, making that side overwhelmingly, well, zippy. On the other hand, it gave the burger a sort of narrative arc: you start slow with the mellow, sunny burst of tomato, and work your way towards the gregarious, brash onion. That would be cool, if it didn’t feel completely unintentional.
The price also bears mention. This was a really, really expensive meal. But the burger itself was not outrageously expensive in and of itself, but it’s still quite expensive, pound for pound. Almost nine bucks for a five ounce burger is pretty steep.
All told, the gripes above are relatively minor. This is a fantastic burger that is well-deserving of the praise it gets. I finished this burger inside of ten minutes. It is eminently edible, and each bite commands another. There is something to be said for a burger you just can’t stop eating, and Burger Joint definitely provides that much. So, if you can stomach the silly and contrived milieu, the oppressively unfriendly staff, and the unreasonably long wait, make the hike to the West 50s and give this burger a try. You’ll see what the fuss is about.
Flavor: 9.60 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 9.50 / 10.00
Value: 7.30 / 10.00
Efficiency: 8.40 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 7.30 / 10.00
Bun: 8.40 / 10.00
Patty: 9.60 / 10.00
Toppings: 9.70 / 10.00
Sauce: 8.70 / 10.00
Balance: 9.30 / 10.00
Total: 87.80 / 100.00