67 Burger, Fort Greene: Topping Configurations Are Numerous, But Simplicity Rules the Day

If it's Tuesday, it must be time for another review from Nick Solares. Nick is also the publisher of Beef Aficionado, his blog that explores beef beyond burgerdom.

20080527-67comp.jpg

2008052367-Burger-cheeseburger-2.jpg

Ed Tretter is devoted to his burgers. He fawns over 67 Burger, his restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the way doting parents might over their children. I sat down to talk to him recently during a hectic lunch hour, and, despite being constantly distracted by perceived inaccuracies in presentation and production that required his immediate attention, his passion for both his restaurant and hamburgers in general was evident.

He has certainly done his homework, employing many of the trappings of some of New York's more prominent burger houses—flame-broiled, fresh-ground patties; high-quality ingredients; and an ordering system inspired by Brgr. But I don't think it is fair to dismiss 67 Burger as purely derivative. There's a lot of thought put into the way things should be done. Bacon, for example, is deliberately placed beneath the patty for reasons of flavor and texture. The custom-made buns are baked in special muffin tins that Tretter's baker procured to better fit his plump seven-ounce burgers.

Juice to Spare

20080523burger67-autopsy.jpg

67 Burger: The Autopsy.

I first heard about 67 Burger when George Motz mentioned on his blog that it was the "juiciest burger" he had ever eaten. Considering the man has eaten hundreds of burgers in almost every state in the union, that is really saying something. Indeed, in my experience, the burgers here positively brim with juiciness. Cutting a burger in half to take an "autopsy" shot resulted in a thick geyser of juice shooting straight out of the top of the sandwich, a pink streak in the bun would have left no doubt in a crime scene investigator's mind that this was one juicy burger. The bottom portion of the bun became so soaked that it almost completely fell apart.

2008052367room.jpg

67 Burger

67 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (Fort Greene; map); 718-797-7150‎; 67burger.com
The Skinny: One of the juiciest flame-grilled burgers in the city, the beefy flavor of this seven-ounce patty is best savored with simple toppings—though a cornucopia of add-ons is available
Want Fries with That? Passable hand-cut, skin-on fries are extra, at $2.95
Price: Starts at $7 for a basic cheeseburger; adding from copious selection of extras adds up fast
Notes: Closed on Mondays

The aforementioned bun is lightly seeded and contains some egg, which gives it a slightly yellow hue and a squishy fluffiness—although, thankfully, not too much flavor. The bread is a bit chewier than a plain white bun but even thus is no match for the torrents of juice that the patty releases. To be honest, I prefer a plain a white bun, but the 67 bun would be my next best alternative. I certainly prefer it to the brioche or a pita.

Although the beef is 100 percent chuck, I detected something extra in the mix on a couple of the burgers I ate at 67 Burger. I suspected that perhaps there was some brisket present as I experienced a certain stickiness on my molars as I masticated. I get this sensation at Shake Shack, which uses a custom blend that also includes brisket. When I asked Tretter about this, he said his butcher has been known to spike the punch on occasion, throwing in extras when they are available. You are at least getting a burger that is 100 percent chuck, but the fact that you might get a little extra in your patty is added value.

Flame-Grilled Burgers

2008052367-Burger-cheeseburger.jpg

Keep it plain and simple—American or cheddar when cheesing your 67 burger—to better taste the bold, beefy flavor.

The burgers are flame-grilled, and said grill is capable of some serious BTUs, putting a wonderfully seared crust on the patty even when cooked rare. It is a dangerous weapon in novice hands, however, and on one occasion I received two burgers that, despite being ordered rare and medium-rare, came out closer to medium-well and were quite dry. Ed was not happy when I told him about the experience later in the week, and it resulted in a flurry of activity and consultation with various minions. I appreciate Ed's dedication to his craft—he takes criticism personally but deflects praise to his workers, displaying a refreshing humility.

The burgers receive a thorough seasoning on the grill. Motz found his burger "over salted," and I also experienced this on one occasion, but generally the seasoning has been spot on. It is particularly important to vigorously season a flame-grilled burger because a lot of the salt and pepper (which in my opinion is all you need to season a burger) gets lost in the flames and the ether. A griddle-cooked burger by comparison retains a lot more of its seasoning by nature of the direct contact with the cooking surface.

Tons of Toppings for Every Taste

I suppose the burger that comes closest to 67 Burger for the sake of comparison would be those at Goodburger, which offers flame-grilled patties of the same approximate size and with which 67 Burger shares a similar aesthetic. Goodburger grinds its burgers in-house, as opposed to 67 Burger, which has fresh-ground chuck delivered by its butcher. I think the difference is apparent, as the patties at Goodburger are slightly plumper, looser, and flakier; but I have to say that while Goodburger is no slouch in the succulence department, the 67 Burger trumps it in juiciness. The latter also has far more options with a plethora of available toppings. I am a purist, so I generally avoid extraneous additions such as olive tapenade or avocado purée, but if you like such things, you will have a lot of options at 67 Burger.

2008052367goat.jpgIn addition to no less than seven cheeses, including feta and Parmesan, there are an additional 15 toppings, giving you virtually endless potential combinations.To make things easier, 67 Burger offers several preconfigured burger styles, such as the "Goat" (goat cheese and red-wine-pickled onions, pictured at right) and the "Southwestern" (an ungodly sounding concoction of Chipotle mayo, pepper Jack cheese, scallions, and roasted peppers).

The house specialty is called "The 67 Burger" and comes with blue cheese sauce and bacon (beneath the patty, of course). I am not an advocate of either ingredient on burgers—they tend to dominate the palate and obscure the subtle interplay between bread and beef, so I did not find the 67 Burger particularly pleasurable. I may not be alone in this opinion; a report from the Burger Battle of the Boroughs in New York magazine stated that "One burger was slathered with blue cheese, rendering taste—and nearly breathing—impossible."

I strongly suspect that since 67 Burger was one of the contestants, it must have produced the offending sandwich. The blue cheese sauce is indeed most pungent, closer to Gorgonzola than, say, a milder, subtler, and more appropriate blue cheese such as Maytag. I advise you to go for an American or cheddar cheese to fully realize the burger's potential here—leave the blue cheese for salads and hot wings.

Aside from the 67 Burger, which I tried out of morbid curiosity, I avoided the other "style" burgers on the menu. My thinking is that if the fundamentals are sound—good bun; fresh, well-seasoned and properly cooked beef; and a nice slice of cheese—then that's all you really need. If you do decide you want something fancier and more complicated, you can rest assured that there is a decent burger lurking under the bun. I can understand why one might offer so many options—it makes sense to give your customers choice. I can also empathize with the sentiments that Adam raised last week in his review of Kenn's Broome Street Bar that eventually "your taste buds start craving something new and different." Well, I think that 67 Burger can certainly offer that. Whether the alternative is preferable is a personal decision.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, putting aside the myriad of choices that can obfuscate the flavor of the beef, 67 Burger offers a very good hamburger, indeed. The fresh patty has a bold, beefy flavor, the grill is more than up to the task of achieving a nice char, I cannot really quibble with the choice of bun, and the supporting ingredients are all fresh. While heaping topping upon topping on the burger will drive up the cost substantially, I think the basic cheeseburger, around $7 (comes with fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced red onions, whole-leaf lettuce, and thick crinkle-cut garlic pickles), while not a tremendous bargain, is nonetheless fairly priced. Add some decent although not world-beating, skin-on fresh-cut fries for less than $3, and you have a cheeseburger deluxe for around $10 that compares most favorably to 67 Burger's nearby neighbor Junior's, which I reported on a few weeks ago.

If 67 Burger were located in Manhattan, I think it would likely be lost in the shuffle, given the stiff competition it would face. But because it is located in Brooklyn, it has the chance to shine on a virtually solo stage. Ed Tretter's dedication and hands-on approach—not to mention the fact that he is a very affable fellow who takes his burgers seriously—is reflected in the final product. I certainly would not mind at all if this were my local burger spot.