LABP x NYC: Bareburger

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Some of you may have been expecting a review of The Spotted Pig. Well, plans change. Bareburger ended up being the choice for a variety of reasons. First, because it’s coming to Santa Monica, which makes it more relevant to the focus of this Project. Secondly, it was voted the best burger in New York City by the New York Post. Lastly (and admittedly, probably most importantly), it’s really, really close to Julie’s apartment, and we were hungry.

I went with Dec, Brittany, and Julie to see what this place was all about. I know this is neither here nor there, but they should consider serving beverages that sound less like deviant sex acts. I’m sorry, but asking whether I want my beer with a cinnamon rim, or if if I want to follow my burger with a hot honey milkshake? Leaving aside that I said yes to both, that’s creepy and weird.

The Place
Bareburger
313 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

The Order: Bareburger, elk patty, aged cheddar, country bacon, pickled jalapeños, stone mustard, tomato fig jam

The Price: $15.25 ($8.80 base; $1.10 for elk; $1.20 for cheese; $1.65 for bacon, $0.75 for jalapeños; $1.75 for tomato fig jam)

The Burger
Okay, so it’s quite possible that I got suckered into the whole gimmicky meat phenomenon here (if there is such a phenomenon), because I saw elk and didn’t think twice about it. One might accuse me, therefore, of missing out on the “typical” Bareburger experience. I don’t know. I’m just anticipating here.

I think anyone who so accused me would be wrong, though, and here’s why. My feeling is that the central (purported) virtue the Bareburger model is that there is no “typical” Bareburger experience. Part of their schtick is that you could go there a few times a week, and never eat two burgers that were even remotely similar to one another over the span of at least a couple months. Bareburger gives the diner the yoke, and with it, the freedom to, as James Mercer wrote, fly the whole mess into the sea.

So you have ten choices of patty (beef, bison, elk, wild boar, duck, grilled lemon chicken, sweet potato and wild rice, black bean, and farmer’s quinoa), four different buns (brioche, sprout, tapioca rice, or a collard green wrapping), nine cheeses (Colby, aged cheddar, pepper jack, manchego, queso fresco, gouda, pimento, amish blue, or vegan cheddar), three bacons (country, duck, or brisket), fourteen garnishes (alfalfa, green leaf, spinach, red onions, tomato, dill pickles, spicy pickles, pickled jalapeños, chickpea onions, stout onions, pickled red onions, sweet pickles, pickled green tomatoes, and wild mushrooms), eleven sauces (mayo, ketchup, buffalo sauce, stone mustard, special sauce, habanero mayo, paprika mayo, horseradish remoulade, curry ginger ketchup, smoke sauce, and buttermilk ranch), and five spreads (spicy pico de gallo, piquante relish, pineapple relish, tomato fig jam, and guacamole).

I know. It’s a lot. Take a minute. I’ll wait.

Now, it’s not clear to me that there is such thing as “too much choice,” but if there is, Bareburger is getting there. At some point, the thrill of customizability is outweighed by the overwhelming multiplicity of options. Decision trees become labyrinthine tangles of equally appealing options. Alternatives become conceptually indistinguishable. And before you know it, you’re more exhausted than you were after dragging your suitcases to your friend’s fourth floor walkup (that was a New York joke).

For that reason, it’s a little tricky to review Bareburger, per se. I can tell you how the burger I got was, as long as you understand that there is statistically zero chance that you order the same one when you go. I can tell you the elk was prepared with surprising facility, which indicates to me that they know how to work with these meats. It’s nice to know that it’s more than just a gimmick. These patties are prepared thoughtfully.

On the point of thoughtfulness, though, I have to return to the abundance of choices. With so many meat, cheese, garnish, sauce, and spread options, it becomes pretty clear pretty fast that Bareburger is concerned more with quantity than synergy. That is to say, they’ll wow you with the amount of options they have, but there’s no guarantee that any assortment of toppings will work well together (Julie, for instance, was less pleased with her choice). It’s that uncertainty that distinguishes Bareburger from other, superior build-your-own outfits.

But going back to my burger, the cheddar was generously portioned, a thick and bubbling sheet atop the elk. The bacon was rich and smoky. The sauce and spread were uninspiring: the mustard was too scarce to make an impression and the tomato-fig jam was a little insipid. Both were lost in the proverbial shuffle. The jalapeños had no heat, so they were essentially duplicative of the pickles, which themselves were a touch on the sad and soggy end. All told, the toppings were good, not great, and reinforced my nagging suspicion that Bareburger is more committed to quantity than to quality.

I went to Bareburger hungry, and left sated. Was it worth the three-minute walk from Julie’s apartment? Yes. Was it worth the $15.25 price tag? Less yes. Would I be confident that I could get an equally good burger the next time I went, regardless of what I ordered? Not at all yes. So…no. Bareburger’s vast array of toppings pits garnish against garnish. And they don’t always work together well. Ultimately, the abundance of items gives rise to some weird tragedy of the commons, where ingredients stand alone rather than collaborating to form a coherent whole. That makes Bareburger an inconsistent roll of the dice. If you’re feeling lucky, go for it.

The Ratings
Flavor: 8.40 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 9.00 / 10.00
Value: 7.10 / 10.00
Efficiency: 7.00 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 9.20 / 10.00
Bun: 8.00 / 10.00
Patty: 9.10 / 10.00
Toppings: 7.60 / 10.00
Sauce: 6.50 / 10.00
Balance: 8.00 / 10.00

Total: 79.90 / 100.00

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