33 St. Marks Place, New York NY 10003 (b/n 2nd and 3rd Aves; map); 212-677-3132; stmarksburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddle steamed
Short Order: A change in griddle has made all of the difference, allowing the custom beef blend and adherence to classic slider preparation to shine through—a truly outstanding burger. Ridiculously cheap as well.
Want Fries with That? Hell yes! Golden, salty, and crispy.
Price: Slider, $2; bacon slider, $2.75
Notes: Open 12 p.m. - 3 a.m. daily
Last year I gave a less than favorable review to Mark on St. Marks Place. Having been engaged in an exhaustive study of the few remaining slider emporiums of Northern New Jersey at the time that Mark opened I had spent a lot of time observing the preparation of the little burgers first hand. Mark had the ingredients and the technique down, but there was one problem: the griddle.
While most slider joints use battered, inefficient, old griddles, Mark had originally installed a gleaming Miraclean, a very efficient cooking service but one that I noted at the time,
is not ideal for making sliders, which require more than just direct heat to cook correctly. A regular, less efficient griddle generates a pocket of heat several inches above its cooking surface. This dissipated heat is essential in getting the cheese, bun, and onions to cook correctly on a slider.
The problem with the Miraclean was that by the time the cheese had melted the beef was completely cooked through.
I got an email from Amnon Kahati and Sam Erlich, the owners of Mark last week. They wanted to let me know that they had changed the griddle, which is "now equipped with a cast iron top, it generates enough heat above the cooking surface and therefore the sliders, onions, and cheese all cook correctly." Talk about going beyond the call of duty—cast iron griddles are almost impossible to find. In fact, it turns out that the one at Mark is actually a gas powered flame grill with the grill top removed and in its place a massive hunk of cast iron. It does an excellent job of cooking sliders to soft, gooey perfection.
The griddle puts a wonderful crust on the patty exterior, and the onions and cheese now melt well before the meat dries out. I ordered a rare burger and it came with a pleasing pink interior and a good crust. The cheese, a nice thick slice of American, was completely molten. The potato roll, perfumed by onions and beef juice, was soft and supple. I should also mention that the beef was very well seasoned. The griddle is salted before the burgers are applied, a technique I have seen in some some old cook books. It works—the beef has the perfect salty pitch.
I may have been right about the griddle a year ago, but I was wrong about the custom beef blend that is ground in the basement daily, which I described as "completely unnecessary." While it's true that a lesser blend (or a straight chuck) would work just fine for sliders, the new griddle really lets the beef blend sing. The blend is heavy on the short rib and, indeed, the burger has both a sweetness of steak and the intensity of a braised meat dish.
The shakes and fries are also highly commendable.
A big thumbs up for the reworked Mark. The addition of the new griddle has elevated the burger markedly, and the price—$2 for a single—is absolutely one of the best burger bargains out there (at least in high priced New York City). The sliders that Mark slings these days are a fitting tribute to the slider joints that inspired it.