NYC: HB Burger and Heartland Brewery Redux

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[Photographs: Nick Solares]

Heartland Brewery

35 Union Sq West, New York NY 10003 (b/n 16th and 17th; map); 212-645-3400; heartlandbrewery.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: The HB Burger that I so love in Midtown makes its downtown debut
Want Fries with That? Comes with, and they are good—crispy and fresh
Price: HB Burger, $12

Back in November I was disappointed with the burger served at the Heartland Brewery in Union Square. It wasn't that the burger was bad—it was a perfectly fine example of a pub burger. The problem was that it was not the "HB Burger" that I thought I was getting.

The HB Burger, served at the Heartland Brewery offshoot HB Burger in Midtown, was on my top 5 favorites list of last year. After my initial review of Heartland Brewery ran, Jon Bloostein of Heartland Brewery contacted me and told me that they would be putting the HB Burger that I loved so much on the menu at Heartland Brewery in Union Square. In fact, he reported that he spent "$5,000 to install a new griddle and reconfigure our fire suppression system" to deal with the smoke that putting a serious sear on the patties causes.

I am delighted to report that the burger on the Union Square Heartland Brewery menu is now the same one served at the HB Burger in Midtown.

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The burger consists of a six and a half-ounce patty from Pat La Frieda, griddle seared and served on a Martin's potato roll. This architecture is becoming so commonplace on New York City menus that one could argue that a distinct "New York City" style of burger is emerging, inspired by Shack Shack. The burger at the Heartland has all the attributes of its Midtown sibling: an aggressively seasoned, thick crusted patty brimming with juiciness. The bun was perhaps a tad too cool, but it was otherwise perfect for the task. You can get cheese on your burger if you want, and the burgers come standard with a rabbit food trinity, but you won't need either—unlike many other burger, this one is lessened by the additions.

But that's not the whole story. After Bloostein sent word of the planned change, Serious Eats reader pizzasnob, already a fan of the HB Burger, ended up on going to The Heartland Brewery after being turned away from HB Burger on January 1, the day Bloostein said the new burger would be available. You can probably guess what happened: pizzasnob, who showed remarkable brand loyalty by traveling from midtown for the burger, was served the wrong burger.

Pizzasnob posted about his experience in the comment section of this post. Bloostein must have read the comments because pizzasnob subsequently reported:

After reading about my bad run-ins with HB burger, the management directly contacted me and offered me a do-over. Given my bad experiences, their generosity and willingness to make right their wrongs surprised me. When i warily returned to the place to redeem their offer, they outdid themselves in terms of service to rectify the past.

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HB Burger

127 W 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036 (b/n Broadway and Ave of the Americas; map); 212-575-5848; hbburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A dry aged blend from Pat La Frieda
Want Fries with That? Comes with burger and they are very good
Price: Prime Steak burger $17

Coincidentally, while I was writing my original review of the Heartland Brewery burger I received an email from Bloostein. My first thought was that he somehow got wind that I was going to be chastising the chain for misrepresenting the HB Burger, but when I opened it he was just letting me know that he had added a new burger to the menu up at HB. I wondered if he would have sent the email a day later, after my review published.

Either way, I am glad he did because while I love HB Burger, always being on the search for new burgers means I don't get up there that often. And the one he informed me about certainly piqued my interest: It was from Pat La Frieda and it has dry aged beef in the blend.

And no, it is not the Black Label burger, which is only served at Minetta Tavern, despite the claims otherwise. This blend is not as intense as the Black Label, but it is also cheaper and you don't need a reservation to get it. In terms of flavor it falls somewhere between the now defunct City Burger and the Tanuki Tavern burger I enjoyed a few weeks back, which is not surprising since they all come from the same butcher.

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Listed as the Prime Steak burger on the menu, it mostly lives up to its name. It's juicy, tender, and the earthy tang imparted by the dry aging adds a pleasing depth of flavor. It could have used some more external char, something the regular HB Burger has in spades, but it was at least delivered rare as ordered. I didn't particularly care for the brioche bun—I would have preferred a regular white bun—but the beef had enough flavor to compensate for any sweetness the bun might have imbued. Just like the regular HB Burger, you don't need to add anything to this burger. It's flavorful and toothsome enough to eat plain.

It is heartening that Bloostein is taking both his burgers and customer relations seriously and is not resting on laurels, some of which we bestowed upon him. I can recommend both the burgers at the Heartland in Union Square and at HB Burger in Midtown. If you go and don't agree, don't tell me, tell Bloostein—he is sure to fix it.

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