Mulberry Street Bar
176 Mulberry Street, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-226-9345
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A fine patty of Pat LaFrieda beef, cooked well, on a great bun
Want Fries With That? There are no fries, but the homemade potato chips are thick, crunchy, and potato-ey
It seems like nearly every movie shot in Little Italy has a scene shot in the Mulberry Street Bar, the dive just north of Grand that looks like it hasn't changed its pressed-tin ceilings, tiled floors, or wooden bar since it opened in 1908. The Sopranos, Contract on Cherry Street, Donnie Brasco, and multiple episodes of Law & Order have been shot here, just to name a few. Despite this Hollywood pedigree, it remained a local hangout. The kind of place you could stop by on a Wednesday afternoon and share a pint with the old guy on the respirator in the corner, or perhaps a visiting crew of bikers from Philly.
I liked the place. There was nothing fancy except the space-age jukebox (which featured Sinatra classics alongside Baha Men), tall boys of PBR were $2, pitchers of beer pulled from clean, cold taps were $12, the servers and bartenders were comely in that slightly busted way, and you never had to worry about what to order because there was no menu.
I first noticed the change about a month ago when the back side of the restaurant was shut down for renovations. What are they doing to my bar? I thought to myself. The bartender—between getting her photo shot with a dozen dirty old men on the street and delivering a few free shots of Jameson to regulars—confirmed: the place was under new management, and they were making an effort to be "I dunno, classier, I guess."
Was Mulberry Street Bar destined to become yet another Little Italy tourist-trap red sauce Italian joint complete with menu hawker and cheesy Italian music?
Thank god when they opened it was with very little fanfare and a very small menu. Mulberry Street Bar might not be quite the dive it used to be—after all, you can't be considered a dive if you're making brick oven pizza to order and firing off Pat LaFrieda burgers, can you?—but it's still got it where it counts, and, as it turns out, cooks a mean burger to boot.
Made from a six-ounce patty of Pat Lafrieda beef, the burger starts with a mix of chuck, sirloin, and brisket, heavily seasoned with salt and pepper, and grilled over an open flame. The cooking on these patties is pretty consistently a shade under the medium rare I request, but with beef this good, it doesn't matter much.
It comes topped with your choice of cheese, along with a handful of crinkle cut dill chips, Romaine lettuce, freshly sliced red onions, and predictably bland, mealy tomatoes. I left the tomatoes off. It's a classic burger all around, and one that's executed extremely well. Seasoning, fat content, cheese melting, bun-toasting, everything is spot on—practically the platonic ideal of a pub-style fat grilled burger.
The bun itself is exceptional. A soft roll dusted with semolina for a bit of texture, it comes well-domed, but squishes down nicely when you bite into it, with a mild sweetness that complements the beef nicely. A nice even golden brown toasting helps it to stand up against the voluminous juices that squeeze out of the patty as you bite.
They've also got a few serviceable sandwiches and salads, along with some damn fine pizza (more on that later). A 1/4-pound grilled hot dog comes on a similarly great bun, though I wish they'd used natural casing Sabrett's dogs instead of the skinless kind.
Perhaps the best part of the whole deal is the house-made potato chips. They're thick-cut and robust with great potato flavor. It may be seen as a flaw, but I like that their thickness gives them some spots that are shatter-crisp, while other areas stay soft and fluffy, kind of like a potato chip-french fry hybrid.
I will still lament the loss of my favorite neighborhood dive, but a good burger is always a welcome addition, particularly in the sea of red sauce that surrounds it. I bet even Old Blue Eyes would take a bite.