605 Carlton Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-942-4255; jamesrestaurantny.com
Cooking Method: Seared in a cast-iron pan, oven-finished
Short Order: Remarkably satisfying high-end burger that isn't too cheffy
Want Fries with That? Crisp, well-salted, and plentiful
Price: James burger w/fries, $14 (brunch), $15 (dinner), $9.50 (Mondays)
I'd been meaning to check out the burger at Prospect Heights restaurant James ever since I moved to the neighborhood nearly two years ago, but now that I've tried it, I'm kicking myself for failing to stop by earlier. Because these past two years could have been filled with a lot more tasty burgers.
Upscale-casual, a neighborhood restaurant that's a little bit more than that, the James burger is predictably cheffy: an eight-ouncer with Cabot cheddar, served prettily on a brioche bun, priced in the double digits. But beyond that, it's remarkably simple, which is, in my mind, why it's so good. This meat, cheese, and bun need no adornment.
First, the beef. It's a thick eight-ounce round made from a custom blend of ground beef (short rib, extra lean chuck, beef shin) cooked to temperature. While mine was a little on the rare side of medium rare, I'd a hundred times rather it that way than the other way around. The meat was loosely packed and given a great sear in a cast-iron pan, a real contrast to the soft, juicy interior. It's a neat burger, not leaking drippings the moment you bite in—but every bite is a juicy one, and by the time you're halfway through the burger, its juices have soaked well into the bun, not enough to soften the whole thing, but more than enough to flavor every bite.
On top is a slowly oozing puddle of Cabot Vermont extra sharp cheddar that's melted through, contributing an aged flavor and even more moisture; the brioche bun from Tom Cat is a touch sweet, but not nearly enough to detract from the meat-cheese action. It's sized and structured to contain.
There's a great deal of thought put into this burger, and while it may not be remarkable enough to warrant a subway ride, it's an incredibly enjoyable creation. If $15 seems steep, every Monday brings the burger price down to $9.50—a pretty great deal for a tasty cheffy burger that's more than meal-sized.