Brooklyn: Cheeseburger at The Commodore
366 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map); 718-218-7632
Short Order: A comfortably sized, well balanced, well constructed burger. More burgers should be like this.
Want Fries with That? Skip them; they're on the limp and bland side
Price: Cheeseburger, $7; fries, $4
Notes: Open from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and Sat.; opens around noon on Sundays; food served until 11:30 p.m. on weeknights, 12;30 a.m on the weekend
I sought out the cheeseburger at The Commodore mostly because AHT-er SoundBitesNYC mentioned this burger in the comments of AHT four times since July. (SoundBitesNYC, I await your next fervent recommendation.) Not that he's the only admirer; Time Out chose it as one of the city's best new burgers, and Village Voice food critic Robert Sietsema said in his review, "The hamburger may be the best I've eaten this year."
So was it worth being pelted by snow and hail during last Wednesday night's thunder snowstorm when I made my overdue first visit over there? Yes. ...Well, it was worth it for eating chef Stephen Tanner's (co-founder of the original Pies 'n' Thighs) burger and deservedly lauded fried chicken, but since this site isn't called A Fried Chicken Today, I'm going to stick with describing the burger.
My first thought after one bite: "Reminds me of Shake Shack." And as someone who loves Shake Shack's Shack Burger—it represents my ideal burger style—that's a good thing. As for describing the burger in detail, you'll have to do with my guesswork—a call to The Commodore to ask for more information about the burger was unsuccessful*. I'd estimate that the patty was four to five ounces. The bun tasted like a Martin's potato roll—soft and squishy with a bit of chew—and it was nicely grilled on the filling-side and a smidge burnished on the top. From top to bottom, there was shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, blanket of melted cheese, patty, thick pickle chips, chopped raw onions, and a good slathering of mayo.
Although the bartender said that the patties are thin and come out medium by default, in this photo the burger looks more like medium towards medium rare**. I'm not complaining. The flavor was noticeably beefy—beefiness "sourced from free-range Angus at an upstate farm" says Village Voice. Although not bursting with juice, it was moist, and the mayo just made it more so. Another effect of the mayo: It made the burger quite messy. You probably shouldn't cut the burger in half like I did. At first I thought the cocktail umbrella would keep the burger and its lubricative components together as you eat—and then I realized that unless you enjoy the taste of paper, you can't eat the burger while it's speared with the umbrella. At least it ensures that your burger stays upright until it hits the table.
You can add bacon to your burger for an extra $2, but it doesn't need it. The burger's great just the way it is; all the components come together to make a balanced, nicely sized burger package. My favorite parts—aside from the beef—were the crunchy onions, pickles, and mayo, but I wouldn't want to add or remove anything.
If you want something fried to go with your burger, skip the fries and go for the fried chicken. (I know fried chicken isn't a "side," but you should order it anyway.) The thick, skin-on fries, while not totally limp, weren't crisp either, and they tasted bland. If it sounds like a fluke, let me know.
Since The Commodore is a bar with food, not a restaurant with a bar, during busy times you may have to wait in the wings, vulture-like, for a free table to appear—and when a vacant space does appear, you may end up stuck with a barely-lit table where you'll strain to hear anything your dining companions are saying. It'd be more comfortable to go when it's not super busy (thundersnow did nothing to deter hungry and thirsty Brooklynites) and when your retinas can benefit from natural light. The section of tables near the entrance is best suited for eaters, as opposed to where I sat near the bar, which was possibly the darkest spot in the entire place meant for customers, as opposed to, say, a storage closet.
And related to The Commodore primarily being a bar, there's no table service; to place your order, head straight to the bar and order from a bartender. There, you'll receive a number so your food can be brought to your table (if you can find one).
I'm looking forward to my next visit to The Commodore. I split the burger and an order of fried chicken with a friend, and I have this nagging feeling that the meal won't be fully complete until I eat the other halves of those dishes.
...Also, I want to try the rest of the menu.
* I had a feeling I wouldn't be able to get in contact with Tanner after reading this New York magazine profile describing him as, "one who would apparently rather chew on broken glass and sleep in a hollow log than talk to the food press." But I'll note that the people who picked up the phone at The Commodore were pleasant. Do the details matter much when the overall message is, "Yes, this burger is good; go eat it"? ..Wait, could I have just written that as my whole review? Aw man.
** The light in the room cast a slight reddish glow that may make the meat look more rare than it actually was. I got the photo with the help of a friend's iPhone with a flashlight app. Yeah, we were...that table, the one with the dSLR and a glowing iPhone. Sorry.