Burger & Barrel
25 West Houston Street New York, NY 10012 (b/n Mercer and Greene; map); 212-334-7320; burgerandbarrel.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Want Fries with That? They come with the burgers and they're excellent.
Price: $13 to $45!
Josh Capon is probably not going to like what I have to say about which burger you should order and how you should order it at Burger & Barrel, his new gastro pub on Houston Street. The menu lives up to the restaurants name by offering a number of thoughtfully composed burgers using top notch ingredients and chefy cooking techniques, including the "People's Choice" winner from the 2009 Burger Bash. And then there's the extravagantly priced white truffle burger that we featured a few weeks back. They are all excellent burgers, worthy of recommendation beyond the spectacle of truffles and awards.
But reduce the burger to its most elemental form and you achieve a zen-like perfection that escape the other burgers and elevates it into my Top 5 Burgers in New York City. Of course, I'm a hamburger purist who rejoices in the simple trinity of beef, bun and cheese. If you prefer your burgers with a little more complexity I think you'll like the regular menu burgers at B&B.
With regards to the truffle burger I sort of feel about it the way that former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni does about Kobe beef: "being tasty (is) less an accomplishment than a contractual obligation." Shaving enough truffles on to a $13 hamburger to make it a $45 hamburger and anything less than deliciousness constitutes consumer fraud.
Fortunately, if you do plunk down $45 you will be rewarded with a ethereal experience: The truffles impart a musky, earthy, deeply intoxicating flavor to the burger. The Robiola cutting the richness of beef and truffle in the way that the cream in a truffled pasta sauce might. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the beef (sourced from La Frieda) and the bun—the constant ingredient through out all the burgers on the menu—are simply superb.
The Classic ($13) comes topped with tomato, lettuce and American cheese.
All the burgers, as with Capon's past effort at Lure Fishbar, come cut in half. I hate this practice, but it probably makes sense within the context of the restaurant, which seems to be all about communal dining and the sharing of dishes. Truth be told, it does make the buxom burgers easier to handle and eat—and it releases a torrent of juices that the bun soaks up. The beef remains juicy within, but imagine how much juicier it would be if left unmolested. And I miss the primal pleasure of biting into a burger and getting that initial mouthful of juice and the accompanying rush of beefy flavor.
The Bash Burger ($14) is topped with caramelized onions, bacon jam, pickles, American cheese.
I may not be down with the cutting in half business, but the rationally priced burgers that I tried at B&B were both very well executed. The classic is topped with the freshest possible ingredients and the Bash burger takes familiar themes—bacon, cooking the patty "animal style" in mustard—and amps them up. The bacon jam, for example, adds the saltiness and pleasing porkiness of bacon, but avoids the structural pitfalls and textural incongruities that crisp, brittle rashers can exhibit.
I hope what I'm about to say doesn't detract from my praises of the composed burgers at B&B. They are beyond reproach and I recommend them highly. But, as with a great many things in life, less is more when it comes to the burgers here. Order a plain cheeseburger and ask them to not cut it in half and you'll find a sandwich that is balanced in every important parameter and one that perfectly encapsulates the essence of the hamburger experience.
The bun, whose provenance Capon rightly refuses to divulge, might just be the best I have ever had on a burger. It is soft, airy, and squishy. The exterior has a beautiful golden hue and the interior is as pure in color as the driven snow. It conforms around the patty holding it snugly in a pillowy embrace. It is not quite a flavor neutral a supermarket bun having a mild yeastness and a hint of sourness.
The patty comes cooked with a nice external crust the color of Mahogany wood and a liberal seasoning of salt and pepper. The interior is succulent and flavorful, and the coarse, chunky grind giving a very pleasing mouth feel. The melted slice of American adds a viscosity and mild tang to the proceedings, its creaminess balancing the sweet juice from the beef.
Burger & Barrel makes a fantastic hamburger by any measure. While the focus might be on the white truffle burger or the more elaborate offerings on the menu, I can't recommend the plain Jane, no-cut cheeseburger highly enough. It's one of my favorite burgers in New York City, or anywhere for that matter.