Big Nick's: Where Everything About the Burger Is Fine, Except for the Beef
2175 Broadway, New York NY 10024 (at W 77th St.; map); 212-362-9238; bignicksnyc.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A technically well executed burger let down by less than stellar beef and curious seasoning
Want Fries with That? More than decent steak fries
Price: American cheeseburger, $6.30; deluxe, $8.80
Last week I gave a less than favorable review to the Chicago style deep dish pizza at Big Nick's Burger and Pizza Joint. It was a review that, as I stated in my opening sentence, gave me no joy to write. Here we go again.
Big Nick's is a New York City institution. Dating back to 1962 it has been the value staple on the Upper West Side offering generous portions of pizza, burgers, and other diner fare for not too much money. It is, for better or worse, the quintessential greasy spoon. It has served generations of New Yorkers and in an increasingly changing cityscape it provides a sense of tradition and permanence amongst all the flux. The menu is a sprawling affair—the delivery/take out menu is 24 pages long. Can a jack of all trades be the master of pizza and bun?
The good news is that the burger is much better than the deep dish pizza I had at Big Nick's. It is also ridiculously cheap (too cheap in fact)—a half pound burger with cheese cost $6.30. I know that compared to fast food drek that might be pricey, but compared to other places that serve fresh beef burgers it's on the lower end of things.
Personally I would rather eat less beef (or pay more for the same amount) of a higher quality than what is offered at Big Nick's. In its favor they use fresh ground Angus beef sourced only from steer. That's a good start. But the beef is ground into such a fine consistency that it becomes mushy. Also the patties, despite being eight ounces, are sort of on the skinny side. They are wide and flat, which makes a rare burger harder to cook, especially while getting nice char marks on them.
This proved to be the case with the first burger that I ordered, which looked simply wonderful when it was delivered to my cramped booth. The cheese, a patchwork of American slices that showed off the patty's size, dripped off the side of the burger as if it was styled for a photo shoot. Unfortunately it wasn't completely melted in the middle. But at least the beef had impressive grill marks and a perfect cross hatch pattern.
Even the brioche, a bread that I generally abhor, looked great—plump and deeply bronzed. It was light and airy within and blessedly bereft of the cloying sweetness that so many brioche exhibit.
But the burger was cooked almost all the way through. It was dull and lifeless, mealy and dry. It also had an odd flavoring that sort of reminded me of a gyro spice blend.
I imagine that loaded with toppings the burger would be improved, if only because it would help to mask the beef itself.
The replacement looked just as good as the first one. There was no doubt that the ingredients were all fresh—the vegetables were crisp and colorful, and even the steak fries, which I am usually not a fan of, had an unexpected crispness. The beef was delivered medium rare.
But while it had more moisture than the first burger it had a disconcerting mushiness and the beef was rather gray in color. And again, that odd seasoning was rather prevalent on the palate.
Big Nick's burger is technically well constructed with fresh ingredients, but the beef is a letdown, aided and abetted by the curious seasoning choice. One of the claims they make is that their burgers are "charcoal broiled—not steamed." It is a decades-old battle, no doubt a response to the rise of Jackson Hole and the slew of copy cats burgers (Soup n Burger, Silver Spurs, Paul's Da Burger Joint) that serve burgers so big that they have to cover them with metal bowls to steam them.
These days with the likes of Shake Shack selling the prized La Frieda blend, Mark on St. Marks Place grinding their own, and The Meat Hook supplying fresh grass fed beef to places like Pies 'N Thighs, New Yorkers expect far more from their beef.
There was a time when Big Nick's was one of the finer burgers in the city. But today it's behind the times, in price (which is a good thing) but also in quality (which, of course, is bad).