308 Bleecker St, New York NY 10014 (b/n Grove and Barrow; map); 212-675-2009; choptanknyc.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: There's far too much going on here—too much mayo, too much bun, too many onions, and not enough of what makes a burger a burger: beef
Want Fries with That? That might be all you want; unlike the burger, they're excellent
I first became attracted to criticism as a literary pursuit through the work of the late great J. Gordon Holt, founder of the high end audio magazine Stereophile. Holt, while not entirely discounting scientific measurement from the review process (Stereophile also publishes measurements alongside the written review), felt that audio components needed to be judged on how they sounded to the reviewer, not how they stacked up on the test bench. This is subjective reviewing, as is practiced by art, theater and food critics. But Holt did adopt one metric as an important factors in judging the value of an audio component: Would the reviewer spend their own money on the product?
This came up at a recent meal at Choptank, the West Village restaurant that finds inspiration from Maryland's Eastern shore. Crabs and dips and fish sandwiches and chowder abound on the menu, but there's also a hamburger on there, priced at $15. I ordered it because I needed to review something and because it sounded interesting, but would I have been satisfied with it if I had spent my own money on it?
The Choptank burger comes with a pickled pepper mayo, aged cheddar, bacon jam, and a haystack of fried onion strings. The patty itself appears to be around eight ounces, but it gets completely lost under the deluge of molten cheese that is applied with such generosity—to the detriment of synergy—that it spills over the edge of the burger and forms a pool on the edge of the plate. Underneath the patty was the most mayo I have ever seen on a burger; I cannot imagine that anyone would want or need so much. I don't know where the bacon jam is supposed to fit into all of this, and apparently neither does the kitchen because it comes in a little metal cup on the side.
The onion strings, despite being crispy and flavorful, just add to the problem, sending the assembled burger further skyward and making it impossible to pick up and get all the flavors into the bite. This sort of defeats the purpose of a burger. Even when cut in half the contraption was hard to eat with clumps of mayo and entangled onion strings falling all about. The bun, bronzed and studded with sesame seeds, might have been a brioche, which usually raises my hackles, but its flavor was masked by the mayo and cheese. It was large enough to sort of hold everything together in a Jenga-like stack.
The beef itself, buried under so much obfuscation as it was, came medium rare as ordered but was on the arid side and had only a moderately beefy flavor. I would've preferred a bit more emphasis on the patty and a bit more restraint on all the additions.
Ultimately the Choptank burger lacks synergy. There's simply too much going on with not enough emphasis on the fundamentals of what a burger is. It's overwrought and over thought. And at $15 I would not be happy spending my own money on it. I don't think you would be either.