Primehouse Serves a Great Steakhouse Burger, But Without Dry Aged Flavor

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Primehouse

381 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10016 (at 27th Street; map); 212-824-2600; brguestrestaurants.com
The Short Order: Huge ten-ounce grilled burger in the classic steakhouse model
Want Fries with That? Comes with superb steak fries
Price: classic cheeseburger $12, steakhouse burger, bacon and blue cheese burger $14
Notes: The burger menu is available in the bar room from 11:30 a.m until closing (10 p.m. Sunday, 11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 12 a.m. Thursday-Saturday) and in the main dinning room during lunch and brunch (11:30 a.m to 4 p.m., 7 days a week)

When Primehouse opened a year ago on the first of this month (happy belated birthday, Primehouse) I questioned whether we really needed another steakhouse in New York City. The three years preceding Primehouse's debut had seen an explosion of new steakhouse openings with the Zagat listings seemingly doubling during that time frame. Its not that I don't love steakhouses (far from it), but how many tired iterations of the same menu—porterhouse for two, creamed spinach, hash browns—does one town really need?

Fortunately and refreshingly, Primehouse managed to differentiate itself from its competitors both by virtue of a bold, contemporary decor and, more importantly, by offering some exceptional cuts of Creek Stone Farms beef from their unique Himalayan salt-lined dry aging room. In fact, Primehouse has quickly become one of my favorite steakhouses in the city.

A Ten-Ounce Bargain Burger

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I don't usually consider a burger that costs over $10—let alone $14—a good value, but the one at Primehouse is actually a veritable bargain considering that it is a full ten ounces of beef and comes with what seems like two large potatoes worth of fries, plus a generous helping of very fresh lettuce, onion, and tomato. In a pound-for-pound comparison, a similar amount of food would cost more at Shake Shack because you would need to order two burgers and two fries to equal the mountain of food that Primehouse serves. Although I am sure it would not be appreciated, you could share this with someone and both leave satisfied.

20081014-primehouse-innards.jpgSpeaking of Shack Shack, the beef used in the Primehouse burger also comes from Pat La Frieda. I was hoping that the burger here would have some dry aged beef but it appears to be the La Frieda blend of brisket, skirt, and shoulder clod. While it's wonderful, I just expected something a bit more exotic, like the La Frieda Black Label that I sampled a few weeks back. The patty is enormous, a full and plump ten ounces of juicy beef that appears to be hand formed. The prodigious output of the Primehouse grill can turn out steaks cooked perfectly black and blue so the exposed fat of the burger easily chars, producing a thick crust that appears to be bursting at the seams. Even when cooked medium the burger is juicy; cooked rare, it positively brims with succulence.

The bun is deceptive: It looks like the bastard love child of a brioche and a pretzel. With a dark tan exterior similar to the latter, the sesame seeds mimicking the salt that you find on the pretzels sold from pushcarts around the city, the bun has a compliance similar to a brioche. This would be a problem on a five to eight-ounce patty, but because the burger here is a massive ten ounces it actually works well. While it does share the slight chewiness of a brioche, it blessedly lacks any sweetness. The bun does a good job of holding the hefty patty, even if it is a bit small, and while it would not be my first (or second) choice, it does little to offend. Unfortunately, like a lot of steakhouse burgers the beef to bun ratio is off, with too much patty and not enough bread.

American Cheese and Nothing Else (Except Fries)

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Primehouse offers three burger variations: the classic cheeseburger, the steakhouse burger (homemade steak sauce, caramelized onions and mushrooms), and a bacon and Maytag blue cheese burger. I skipped the latter since I am not a fan of either bacon or blue cheese on a burger, but I would imagine that if you do the one here will offer a generous portion of both. The other two burgers come with a choice of three cheeses: cheddar, Gruyère, and, most commendably, American. While I like all sorts of funky cheese in my non-burger diet, I am a big proponent of the umami inducing, sheer meltability of plain old American cheese. It was no surprise that my favorite of the burgers I sampled was the classic with American cheese.

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The steakhouse burger comes with a tangy, herbal steak sauce and a gooey mixture of onions and mushrooms cemented together by the cheese. Although I prefer American on a plain burger, in this instance it was overpowered by the other ingredients. If you order the Steakhouse burger I recommend the cheddar to balance out the palate. All the toppings are delicious but the beef was tasty enough that they were superfluous and made the sandwich difficult to eat. I ended up lopping them off with a knife and eating them with the fries.

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The steak fries that come with the burger are absolutely superb. Freshly made from skin-on potatoes, they are deep-fried to a glorious golden hue and come out extremely ridged; they are about as far as possible from the generic, pale, limp, frozen steak fries that you might be familiar with. They remind me of the steak fries that I have been enjoying for years at Smith and Wollensky, another of my favorite steakhouses. It is thus not surprising that original Primehouse chef Jason Miller (since replaced by Brian O’Donohoe) worked for Smith and Wollensky earlier in his career. In this case, however, the student has surpassed the teacher—the Primehouse fries are crispier and have a fresher flavor than those from Smith and Wollensky.

A Good Burger that Could Have Been Better

The Primehouse burger is a good all around effort. The beef is delicious and the grill does an excellent job of cooking it perfectly. I am less enthusiastic about the bun, which was just a tad too small. It could be a lot worse though—at least it isn't a brioche. I would forgo the extra toppings and just stick to the classic burger, which is enormous and has plenty of flavor.

Having said that, I expected more from the burger. Primehouse has managed to differentiate itself from the pack by offering some unique steaks—a dry aged on the bone filet mignon for example, and selected steaks aged for 65 days—but the burger is a fairly generic offering. I would love to see the La Frieda Black Label offered here. It is a steakhouse after all—give us some dry aged flavor!

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