People are always asking me what the best burger is in New York City. I respond that since I have not eaten every burger in the Big Apple I could not possibly know. When the question is re-phrased to which burger is my favorite burger I still have a hard time answering, but it usually revolves around Shake Shack, JG Melon, or the La Frieda Black Label at City Burger. Conversely, no one ever asks me which the worst or which is the most average burger I have tried in the city. Even though no one asked, I am going to tell you anyway. I will get to the worst in a moment, but let's start in the middle.
339 1st Ave, New York NY 10003 (b/n 19th & 20th St; map); 212-677-7811
Cooking Method: Flame broiled
Short Order: Average diner serving average burger
Want Fries with That? Not unless you are hungry—average frozen fries
Price: Averagely priced: Cheeseburger, $5.20; Deluxe, $7.85
Notes: Did I mention just how average this burger is?
Coopertown Diner is as good example of a Greek diner as you will find. It dates back to 1984, which in automobile terms makes it a classic. Of course, there are plenty of cars that may be a quarter century old, but will never be considered true classics simply because they happen to be uninspired and mundane. That pretty much describes the hamburger at Coopertown Diner. There is nothing really wrong with the burger here—fresh ground chuck (delivered to the diner in patty form) is flame broiled and served on a generic, lightly seeded bun. Get it deluxe and you receive a heaping portion of frozen fries, some pale looking rabbit food, and a couple of onion rings that curiously come served on top of the burger.
On paper the burger has the potential to be very good, but it is actually the most average burger I can remember eating. It is far from the best burger out there, but it is just as far from the worst—it really falls perfectly in the middle. The beef—under-seasoned, but cooked to the requested rare temperature—tastes fine, but does not have the rewarding mouthfeel of the best of the breed. The bun is not stale, but it is hardly the last word in freshness either. It looks like it saw a bit of time under the flame broiler—sporadic black grill marks grace the buns surface—but not enough time to actually toast it properly.
The cheese is just about melted, the center being perhaps a touch cool, and while the burger is moderately juicy—hardly dried out, but not the most succulent burger either—the synthesis of beef-bun-cheese is, well, mediocre.
37 St Marks Place New York, NY 10003 (b/n 3rd Ave & 2nd Ave; map); 212-677-7811; bamnfood.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: The worst burger ever
Want Fries with That? Not available, thankfully
Price: Super Double Cheeseburger, $3.25
I admit that I was not expecting much when I rolled into Bamn Automat on St. Marks Place. But even my low expectations were shattered, the result plummeting the depths of inadequacy. I was out on the town with Josh "Mr. Cutlets" Ozerky looking for some cheap eats and for a lark we decided to try Bamn. We are both burger purists gravitating towards simple, griddle-cooked burgers with American cheese on generic buns, but when it came to the burgers lurking behind the glass doors at Bamn we had but two choices: the Wyoming Bacon Cheeseburger (onion rings, barbecue sauce) or the Super Double Cheeseburger (lettuce, onion, tomato, Russian dressing).
Ozersky's proclivity for pork led him to blurt out, "Let's get the Wyoming," but since I am not a fan of bacon on burgers I countered, "Forget that, look at the Super Double—it looks like a Double Double from In-N-Out!" Indeed it did, but that is where the similarities ended. Ozersky acquiesced and deposited a handful of quarters in to the coin slot.
Ozersky took the first bite and after gulping it down let out a deep, rumbling laugh. It was well disguised. I couldn't tell if it was a laugh of triumph—we had discovered a diamond in the rough—or a laugh that indicated the sheer awfulness of what I was about to consume. Was he laughing at or with the burger? I would soon find out.
I took a bite—the soft, mushy bun easily succumbed to the slightest pressure, and the tomato was equally mushy, closer to ketchup than a fruit/vegetable. I remember the beef itself making my tongue feel like melting Styrofoam, but my mind has blotted out the rest, probably to save me from a lifetime of trauma. I spat out the bite into a napkin and threw both it and the burger itself in to the trash. In retrospect I should have sought out a hazmat bin. I can only suspect that there was something very wrong with the burger—the beef was surely rancid. I cannot imagine that Bamn would stay open serving food that was as awful as the Super Double. It didn't kill Ozersky, but the man has a cast iron stomach. As I write this his Twitter feed informs me that the last thing he ate was a "single go-go taquito at the Avenue Z 7-11."