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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Community Food & Juice

2893 Broadway, New York, NY 10025 (map); 212-665-2800; communityrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Looks great, great vibe, no flavor.
Want Fries with That? Yes, but ask for salt and eat fast—they go soggy real quick.
Prices: Natural Grass Fed Beef Burger w/fries, $14

Growing up in the West Harlem/Morningside Heights neighborhood, I really wanted to love Community Food & Juice when it first opened. It's got a great vibe, a tasty looking menu (pork belly, beets, market salads, lentils, all that good stuff), and a nice location to boot. The only problem: Aside from an excellent matzoh ball soup ($8), the food isn't worth the price. All of it looks pretty, but beauty doesn't run deep.

The Natural Grass Fed Beef Burger ($14) is no exception. Served with caramelized onions and Cabot white cheddar, it's gorgeous in its oozy veil of melted cheese and has the makings of what could be an excellent burger. But it never quite gets there. In fact, it barely leaves the starting blocks.

The real problem is seasoning. A little more salt and pepper would go a long way to bringing out the flavor of the grass-fed beef patty, which was cooked perfectly medium rare as requested. Without salt, even the veil of cheese couldn't help it. Despite being cooked on a grill and sporting distinct grill marks, there was little actual charred flavor. Likewise, the caramelized onions were pale and saltless, with very little caramelization.

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Fat content and grind were also an issue. Despite a perfect pink center, the patty wasn't juicy, bordering on dry, with a fine-textured, pebbly grind.

Indeed, the only truly redeeming factor here was the bun, which was excellent—one of the best burger buns I've had. At first it appears like its going to be too tough with its open crumb and significant height and girth (the patty fell short of the bun edges by a good 1/2-inch on all sides), but it compresses nicely and doesn't compete with the burger texturewise. It's got a nice, thin, crisp crust like a good slice of pizza, with a tender, buttery crumb. I'd like to find out where they get them.

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Fries are hand cut and fried pretty deep golden brown. Straight out of the kitchen, they're great. Thick, crisp, and full of potato flavor. Let'em sit for a few minutes though, and they quickly turn greasy.

If this burger proves anything, it's that appearances can be deceiving: The bun looked like the worst part of an excellent looking burger, but turned out to be the only part really worth eating.

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