54 Prince Street, New York NY 10012 (at Lafayette Street; map); 212-226-0211; www.delicatessennyc.com
The Short Order: A potentially decent burger completely ruined by a sugary brioche bun
Want Fries with That? Comes with fries but they are not very good
Price: cheeseburger $10
Notes: Open seven days a week, 7:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Almost everything about Delicatessen is a facade, starting with the name. Delicatessen is not a delicatessen at all. Aside from paying lip service to the name via the inclusion of a few traditional deli items—a riff on the Ruben sandwich and a Matzo ball soup—the bulk of the menu is self described as "international comfort food" and features such diverse items as fried chicken, fish and chips and, for our purposes, a hamburger.
The service is far from hospitable. The hosts, ostensibly the people who welcome and seat you, don't do much hosting. They mostly ignore you until you press them, at which point they'll give you a vague answer that a table will be available in ten minutes despite that almost half the restaurant is empty (or half full depending on your level of optimism). It's only when you express an intent on dining elsewhere that a seat will miraculously open up. The waiters are also misnamed: They don't wait on you, you wait on them. And wait and wait. Even the busboys need to be asked to actually clear your table.
But it doesn't matter—no one goes to Delicatessen because they're looking for an authentic New York deli or service that is mediocre at best. In fact, I doubt anyone goes to Delicatessen for the food at all; the principle draw here comes down to two factors: location and avocation.
It's About Appearance, Not Food
Occupying the space that formally housed Buffa's, a longtime neighborhood mainstay whose demise is much lamented by locals, Delicatessen benefits from its location: It resides in the geographic nexus between Little Italy and Soho, two of Manhattan's most burgeoning neighborhoods. If it were located in a more obscure, less accessible neighborhood, it's doubtful that the gaggles of pretty young things would flock there as they do now. And that is what is the draw here—it is a scene. The patrons here are far more concerned with keeping the food off of their Alexander Wang than what that food actually tastes like. iPhones outnumber Blackberries by a three-to-one margin and being seen seems to be far more important than actually eating a decent meal. If you're a young urban professional working in fashion or in the entertainment industry, you will feel right at home. The rest of you will feel out of step.
A Burger Killed by Brioche
The burger is another classic example of a potentially decent sandwich completely undermined—in this case to a degree I never thought imaginable—by poor bun choice. The culprit in this circumstance is one of my most devious advisories: the brioche bun. I simply cannot fathom why anyone would employ the brioche for a burger; it's so ill suited for the task by virtue of its sweetness. The roll used by Delicatessen is so abnormally sweet to the point where it's like eating a dessert—think hamburger French toast. One might expect that type of item at Shopsin's, but Shopsin would actually call it what it is, not foist it upon an unsuspecting public expecting savory and getting sweet instead.
Getting past the bun is impossible, but the beef that lay beneath the chewy yellow blanket of bread showed real potential. It was succulent with generous fat content and was cooked almost perfectly rare. A copious amount of juice flowed from the patty but any flavor that it might have imparted on the bun was obscured by the bun's overpowering sweetness. Commendably, American cheese is offered as an option on the burger and a generous double slice serving comes perfectly melted, but the potentially subtle interplay between cheese, beef, and bun is lost because of the sugary excess of the bread.
Not only is the bread overpoweringly sweet, but the beef-to-bun ratio is way off. The bread is enormous compared to the burger, inevitably leaving one with a thick ring of bread with no beef. The burger is served deluxe style with some fresh rabbit food and stale french fries piled into a small metal bucket and served on top of a cutting board rather than a plate. The fries are of the skin-on shoestring variety, but they appeared to have that coating that Burger King and Shake Shack apply, supposedly to make the fries crispy, yet having the effect of making them taste prefabricated.
I think Delicatessen might be on to something if they made the burger with a generic, white squishy bun, but in its current incarnation the only recommendation I can make about this burger is its avoidance.