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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Big Daddy's Diner

2454 Broadway, New York NY 10024 (at 91st Street; map); 212-677-2004; bigdaddysnyc.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Large and pricey, with enough moisture, but little flavor
Want Fries with That? Yes, with chili and cheese sauce
Price: Cheeseburger, $12; Big Mac Daddy, $15

We've already reviewed the Gramercy location of Big Daddy's twice. Our first impression was not great, and the second was only a moderate improvement. With the new location on the Upper West Side opened earlier this summer, it seems they've lost their way yet again.

The space is family friendly with a distinct designed-by-committee look. The requisite tchotchkes and made-to-look-vintage signage and posters are all over the walls, and the menu is written with their hackneyed version of fun and whimsical ("Chicken Love Me Tenders" or an "It's All Greek To Me" omelette anyone?). You get the impression that the space is more of a restaurant concept than an actual restaurant.

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The burgers are big and pricey ($12 and up), cooked over an open-flame grill. Both our regular cheeseburger and our Big Mac Daddy came to the table a few shades past the medium-rare requested. Proportionally, they were spot on, with a soft, fluffy bun somewhere between Wonderbread and brioche that just fit the significant thick patty.

While the meat was plenty juicy, it was devoid of any flavor beyond the slightly sour, sooty flavor of singed beef fat, and was lacking in both salt and pepper. The Big Mac clone should have solved the flavor problem with the addition of caramelized onions and Thousand Island dressing, but remarkably, you couldn't taste either one.

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Far better than the burgers were the fries ($5, and that would be "Lord of the Fries" on the menu), and even more so with added chili and cheese. The cheese sauce was appropriately gooey and salty, and the chili tasted homemade. The fries, which resembled Burger King's with their thin, batter-like coating remained crisp through the whole meal. If you're into mozzarella sticks, the Really Really Good Mozz Styx [sic] are fine. These gigantic, slab-like behemoths that are appropriately stretchy, though a streak of pesto inside the thick breading is distracting, and $8 is way too much to pay for them.

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The Ma's Mac and 3 Cheese (small $8/large $14) is perhaps the safest item on a menu riddled with mines. Again, not too much flavor to speak of, but the noodles are properly cooked and the Velveeta-smooth sauce is comforting in a blue-box kind of way.

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Speaking of mines, two items that should not be ordered, under any circumstances: the massive omelettes ($10 and up), which somehow managed to be overcooked to a dry-sponge texture without having the cheese inside melt, and the Junior Cheese Burgers. As to the latter, if I didn't feel offended just looking at the hard, rubbery pucks of unseasoned dry beef on top of unmelted cheese that had been sloppily slipped into a untoasted, un-steamed, cold Martin's potato rolls (no Martin's product should ever be treated with such indignity), I was positively floored by the fact that I'd just shelled out almost $3.50 for each one of them.

Outrageous pricing aside, the three mini cheeseburgers were far and away the worst burgers I've eaten in several years, fast food chains included. You finish your meal feeling like neither the owners nor the cooks have a passion for burgers.

Has anyone else experienced the Upper West Side Burger Blues? Is Shake Shack really the only place in the neighborhood where you can get a good burger at a reasonable price?

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