Big Daddy's Diner Redeems Itself with Improved Beef and Buns

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[Photographs: Nick Solares]

Big Daddy's Diner

239 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10003 (b/n 19th and 20th Streets; map); 212-477-1500; bigdaddysnyc.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A hamburger much improved by the adoption of a proper seeded bun. It is now can rightly live up to its moniker: American Cheeseburger 101
Want Fries with That? Yes, unless you prefer tater tots
Price: Cheeseburger, $12

I got an email from the director of marketing for Branded Restaurants (Duke's, City Crab and Big Daddy's) this week regarding the negative review I gave the hamburger at Big Daddy's Diner in March:

Everyone at Big Daddy's took your review with great consideration, and since your review we have changed the roll and hamburger meat (it is now farm-raised and grass fed) . . . Please let me know if I can arrange for another meal for you.

I am pretty sure that if you want to try a hamburger from Big Daddy's the director of marketing won't be arranging the meal for you, so I declined the offer and went on my own to the Park Avenue location and see what you would get.

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The menu didn't mention the revised bun specifically, but it did tell of the new beef that is 100 percent naturally farm raised and grass fed, sourced from Wolfe's Neck Farms, Maine. The use of grass fed, sustainable beef seems just a little discordant with the rest of the menu, which is chock full decidedly unsustainable product sourced from the likes of Coca-Cola, Unsinger's hot dogs, and Heinz. Ask for mayo and you will be given a plastic squeeze bottle of Hellmann's. It is not that I am necessarily opposed to grass fed burgers—although I generally prefer grain finished beef—but I'm not sure it makes contextual sense at Big Daddy's any more than the brioche that they used to use on their hamburger did. Still, I suppose that some might feel better about eating the burger here now that it is sustainable, even if they do slather it in Heinz, order a side of tater tots to go with it, and wash it all down with a Coke.

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But environmental/ethical concerns aside, the hamburger at Big Daddy's has improved in every important parameter. The patty retained its positive traits: Just as on my initial visit it was "nicely grilled with pronounced hatch marks and that familiar bitter-sweet acridity from the flame grilling process," and again, "it was delivered rare and was moderately juicy...and predictably under-seasoned." But where I last found it to have a "fresh but rather dull flavor," this time it had a more hearty taste, a more apparent beefiness. It did not have the soapy, herbaceous flavor that is often associated with grass fed beef. In fact, it was largely indistinguishable from the old burger in terms of texture and succulence.

The new bun—a soft, airy, white seeded affair—is wonderful. It's in perfect proportion to the beef and holds the half-pound patty snugly in a pillowy embrace. Add cheese and other toppings and it will hold up well. It's a marked improvement over the brioche of old both in terms of freshness, form and function.

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The tater tots were improved as well, being warm and crispy compared to the tepid ones I had last time.

I appreciate the effort Big Daddy's has put into their reworked burger. The new bun is very good and while I'm not sure anyone was really looking for a grass fed burger here, it has resulted in a slightly improved patty. The hamburger at Big Daddy now lives up to its moniker on the menu and can now rightly be called All American.

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