110 Avenue A, New York NY 10009 (at 7th Street; map); 212-614-9798
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A fantastic NYC-style burger comes with a salty crust, succulent interior, and a double slice of American cheese on a toasted potato roll.
Want Fries with That? Superb fries come with the burger
Price: Cheeseburger w/fries, $12
Notes: Open Tue. to Sun., 6 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Unlike burger spots that feel they have to offer 10,000 burger options, Black Market keeps things simple by offering only a cheeseburger on the menu. You want options? You can add bacon for a buck or tell them to hold the cheese, although that won't save you any money.
The burger comes with excellent french fries and a cute little bowl of rabbit food—lettuce, tomato, white onion, and pickles stacked up all Jenga-like. The $12 price tag is about the only complaint I could see people leveling at the burger here. Certainly you can get a similarly apportioned burger and fries for less money—if you don't mind eating in a greasy burger joint under merciless neon lights or lining up with the tourists at Shake Shack.
But Black Market is not just about the burger, although the one they serve is good enough to base a restaurant on. Rather, it's an upscale bar serving some fantastic cocktails (don't miss The Bad Seed, maybe my favorite cocktail in all of New York City) and oysters on the half shell that also happens to sell a world-class cheeseburger. The room evokes a speakeasy with Gothic touches (purple walls and chandeliers) with a steady pulsing soundtrack of rock music. Last time I ate there they played Sandinista! by The Clash all the way through. I can't help but think that the name of the bar itself is a reference to 1980 Clash EP Black Market Clash.
Owner Johnny T. took inspiration from two of his favorite haunts: Blue Ribbon for the oysters and Broome Street Bar for the burger. He loved the beef from the latter, which is sourced from Pat La Frieda and ended up working with Pat himself to come up with the burger. But he thought he could improve the bread. To this end he adopted the potato roll as the canvas for his burger-opus and kept things equally simple by adding American cheese.
La Frieda beef, potato roll, and American cheese is a combination that was pioneered by Shake Shack, but it has been so widely adopted that one could argue (as I have in the past) that it has become a distinct New York City style. I wouldn't be surprised if this form of burger becomes as ubiquitous in burger joints here as the New York-style street slice has in neighborhood pizzerias. Black Market does the genre proud.
The presentation is, dare I say it, rather effete. Served in a ceramic coated metal dish with the aforementioned rabbit food set inside it, the toasted potato bun is splayed out on either side of the generous pile of crisp, golden fries that come well salted and doused in a confetti storm of chopped herbs. The patty is set on the bottom bun and served open faced. A beautiful presentation.
The patty comes with an impressive external char that yields to a juicy, fluffy interior. It's perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper and has a supremely beefy, steak-like flavor. It's a taste that is at once both thoroughly modern, but also classic, evocative of the age before beef was commoditized and mass marketed.
The cheese, a double thick slice of American, is more than I thought would be required for the patty size, but it actually works quite well. Because it's so thick it needs to be melted under a salamander rather than griddle top, which causes it to melt as if a food stylist crafted it. The subtle tang and viscosity of the cheese compliment the toothsome patty, and the addition of the spongy, slightly sweet bun forms a fantastic burger.
This symphony of beef, bun, salt, and cheese needs no other players. You could add the roughage, which I found to be crisp, fresh, and vibrantly colored, but why interfere with perfection? The stripped-down simplicity of the plain cheeseburger attains a synergy that escapes those burgers from places that offer virtually limitless combinations. The restaurant's cocktails, service, and vibe make it an easy recommendation and more than justify the price. This is a grown-up burger in a grown-up bar. Black Market would also make a great date destination, which is not something that I can say about most of my favorite burger spots.