Or, 'Firing on All Cylinders'
The Burger Garage
25-36 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City NY 11101 (at 44th Drive; map); 718-392-0424; theburgergarage.com
Getting there: 7 to 45th Road/Courthouse Square; G to Court Square-LIC; E/M to 23rd Street-Ely
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: If you dig Shake Shack or Five Guys, you'll love Burger Garage. It combines the best of both worlds — great LaFrieda beef cooked right and fresh-cut twice-fried fries. Go for a double over the single. Good cooked even to default medium-well
Want Fries with That? Yes. They're good. Get the half-fries/half-onion-strings order and use the onions to top your burger
Price: Double cheeseburger, $7.45; full meal, $12 to $13
The Burger Garage could have taken the easy road when it opened in late July 2010 in Long Island City, Queens, across from the Citigroup Building. Apart from Sage General Store and maybe Gaw Gai Thai Express, there's not much in the way of serious eats in the area. Owners Jim and Adam Pileski pretty much have a captive audience in the 50-story tower that dominates the skyline here; with even a middle-of-the-road creation slapped together they likely would have garnered enough business from burger-craving office workers to make a go of it.
But these burgers are not just good enough for the neighborhood, or good enough for Long Island City, or even good enough for Queens. The burgers I've sampled there recently are among the best I've had in the last 12 months.
So named because it occupies the space of what was once an industrial garage in the 1950s, the restaurant is the result of the Pileski brothers' search for a good neighborhood in which to open the repair-shop-themed burger joint they'd long imagined. The Burger Garage is clean and spacious, done up in black-and-white subway tile and with automobile geegaws adorning the walls.
Burgers are cooked to order. If you've eaten at Five Guys or Shake Shack, you'll have a pretty good context for Burger Garage — it marries the best elements of both those places.
Like Shake Shack, the beef here comes from Pat LaFrieda, which delivers a custom mixture of Black Angus meat ground fresh daily. Buns are the same Martin's Potato Rolls used at the Shack. Like both the Shack and Five Guys, Burger Garage cooks its flavorful, juicy patties on an ultrahot flat-top griddle, which gives the meat just enough of a sear that you get some chewy surface texture. It's not the craggy, salty, smashed disc you find at, say, RUB (see reference here), but there's enough to please.
A single patty weighs in at four ounces precooked. The resulting burger ($4.20 plain, $4.70 with cheese) will be adequate, but if you really want to experience Burger Garage at its finest, go for the double. Preferably with cheese ($7.45). And hold the toppings, and the condiments. It's good enough without — which, to my mind, is the hallmark of a great burger.
The well-seasoned beef (just enough salt but not too much) is cooked to medium/medium-well unless you specify otherwise. The man working the griddle in the afternoons and evenings, Richie, has always hit the mark when I've asked for medium-rare. Honestly, though, even a default burger is juicy enough here that I don't even bother requesting doneness.
Sides on offer, if that's your thing, include twice-fried fries ($2.75) made from hand-cut Idaho potatoes (this is the best part of the Five Guys equation I mentioned earlier), sweet potato fries ($3), and onion strings ($3.25). A nice touch? You can get a half-and-half order of fries and onion strings for a reasonable $3. Cheese fries ($3.75) and chili-cheese fries ($5.25) are also an option, though I have not yet sampled those. I'm not a fry fan, but I make an exception for these. They're crisp yet tender and fluffy on the inside. The onion strings are good, but the onion is so thin that you mostly taste the batter — I like to order them mostly to use as an impromptu topping.
If you're in the neighborhood, add it to your lunch- or dinnertime roster. It's also worth a detour if you're a 7-, G-, E-, or M-train rider and your commute takes you through the Court Square/23rd-Ely stations. In a city where new burger joints often backfire despite the best intentions, the Burger Garage seems to be firing on all cylinders.