A Hamburger Today
A Visit to Pat La Frieda Wholesale Meats
Pat La Frieda
601 Washington Street New York, NY 10014 map); 1-888-LaFrieda (523-7433); lafrieda.com
You can try La Frieda burgers at: Shake Shack, Primehouse, Kenn's Broome Street Bar, Spotted Pig, Little Owl, Market Table
Notes: Wholesale only
For over nine decades Pat La Frieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors have sold steaks, chops, and hamburgers to restaurants in New York City. Originally located in the Meatpacking District on West 14th, the company founded by patriarch Pat La Frieda has moved to three locations and has been handed down through an equal number of generations. Pat La Frieda's son, also named Pat, now runs the company with his son Pat Jr. (technically Pat the III) and cousin Mark Pastore. Because Pat La Frieda supplies the beef that make some of the city's most celebrated burgers they have become synonymous with quality. Using La Frieda beef does not guarantee a great burger, but it is a good start.
A Hamburger Today was recently given a tour of the La Frieda facility located on the corner of Washington Street and Leroy street, which is also known as Pat La Frieda Way. The plant runs 24 hours a day, five days a week, and a bank of phone operators take orders late into the night while next door burgers are custom ground to order. La Frieda offer up to 25 different burger blends including ones using short rib, American Kobe, and dry-aged beef. But even the standard La Frieda blend is exotic by most standards, being comprised of USDA Prime chuck, shoulder clod, and brisket sourced from Nebraska and Creekstone Farms, Kentucky.
Only whole muscles are used to ensure correct texture and flavor, and the beef is ground in small batches so as to not overwork the product. The grinding process involves several steps. First, the whole muscles are sliced in to strips on a band saw and then ground with a 3/16 inch blade. The beef is then mixed just enough to blend the disparate cuts and then ground with a 1/8 inch blade. The meat is chilled before grinding to insure that the beef "blooms"—reaches the perfect red hue—later that day.
Pat Sr. and Mark Pastore run the day shift, marketing their product and managing the fleet of La Frieda trucks delivering burgers and meats to as far away as Atlantic City. But most of their business is right here in New York City and they supply the likes: The Spotted Pig, BLT Burger, Primehouse, Broome Street Tavern, Lever House, and, of course, Shake Shack.
Pat La Frieda Jr. runs the night shift by overseeing the butchering and grinding.
Most of their clients order ground meat, and La Frieda can form it in to patty using a rather unassuming machine (left). Shake Shack, for example, get their burgers pre-formed. Notice the tall, cylindrical shape ready for smashing (right)
The Shake Shack burger, more than any other, has seared the La Frieda name in to the hearts of burger lovers. Not wishing to rest on their laurels, La Frieda set out to redefine the high-end burger with the exclusive Black Label blend that was announced back in early October.
The Black Label has been modified since the original taste test. Pat and Mark felt the burger was just a bit too juicy after repeated flare-ups on the test grill. The fat content has since been scaled back to around 80/20 lean to fat, rather than the original blend that was closer to 70/30. To achieve this they substituted the dry-aged ribeye with dry-aged New York strip. Same flavor, less fat. The rest of the blend remains the same—an intensely marbled boneless short rib and the second cut brisket, which barbecue fanatics will often refer to as the "moist" cut. The result in an intoxicating blend that is more akin to steak than a burger, so pronounced is that musky, mineral-rich tang imparted by the dry aging process and the rich mouth feel from the fat.
The dry aging room.
The Black Label blend is only ground once through the coarser 1/8 blade and then mixed by hand. Pat Jr. uses scent and sight to ensure that the correct flavor balance is achieved. Sold in numbered batches, the mix is aimed at high-end restaurants.
With a proven track record and a dedication to, as Pat Jr. says, "getting it right," La Frieda must surely be considered the gold standard of hamburger. They can provide a restaurant with the foundation for a great burger, but that, of course, is no guarantee that the results will be perfect. If La Frieda beef is used, you can be assured that the potential for burger greatness exists, but if that expectation is not met, blame the chef, not the boys down on Pat La Frieda Way.
The Pat La Frieda Black Label
Primehouse Serves a Great Steakhouse Burger, But Without Dry Aged Flavor
The Spotted Pig Burger, Nekkid
Shake Shack: A New York Spin on the West Coast–Style Burger
If It's on a Pita, Is It a Burger? Kenn's Broome Street Bar in SoHo