two8two Bar & Burger
282 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn NY 11201 (map); 718-596-2282; two8twoburger.com
Short Order: Not reinventing the wheel, but a delicious burger nonetheless
Want Fries with That? if you insist; they're nothing special and the rings are a bit better
Price: Billy Burger, $7.50; Lamb Burger, $12; Burger and Fries Lunch Special, $8; fries, $3; onion rings, $4
Between Mel's and Bill's (and countless other joints with less personal names), New York City has no shortage of burger bars—fast and simple restaurants that deal exclusively in reasonably priced burgers and craft beers on tap. The average burger bar tends to serve fine, if not revelatory, fresh-ground hamburgers that get the job done, but rarely catch the attention of serious burger fans. These joints have become so ubiquitous that diners, myself included, have come to assume that they are all the same.
A small bar in Cobble Hill, however, seems committed to breaking this cycle. At first glance it seems standard: the interior is distinctively bar-like and the eccentric beers (Arrogant Bastard Ale, Sixpoint Diesel Stout) are still present. Yet two8two Burger is quietly transcending the burger bar stereotype one patty at a time.
Two8two starts taking other burger bars back to school with its beef. Their house blend, ground daily by local butcher Los Paisanos, is coarse, very fatty, and packed gently into plump five-ounce patties. Although the menu provided no specifics about the blend, I figure it must incorporate some short rib or brisket along with the chuck to add fat and deepen the flavor.
On my visit, I opted for the Billy Burger ($7.50), which features cheddar cheese, grilled onions and the mayo-based two8two sauce (à la Big Mac). I placed my order with Taylor, the friendly bartender, and patiently awaited its arrival. The burger appeared in less than ten minutes. The patty sat perfectly atop a butter-toasted Martin's Potato Roll (never a mistake) with a heap of well-browned onions hiding a slice of cheddar cheese. Although all of two8two's burgers come medium by default, I ordered mine medium-rare and the kitchen delivered with a pink inside and well-seared outside. Slicing into it, a small slick of juice leaked from the patty, but most of the fatty goodness remained within.
My first bite evoked what I like to call the Jules Winfield reaction: "Mhm, this is a tasty burger!" The flavors proceed in a sequence that I consider nearly ideal. The meat hits first with a flavorful punch of a well-seasoned flattop-given crust, followed by more complex beefy notes from the high quality blend. Next, the onions, cheese, and mayo cut through the patty's flavor; this tangy trio tends to make even the weakest burgers palatable and here they enhance an already great base. Finally, the toasted potato roll delivers a buttery finish, like icing on the burger cake. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about this type of cheeseburger—it merely works flawlessly. Despite being perfectly content with my order, I kept envisioning how add-ons such as poblano chiles, bacon, and fried eggs could only augment my experience. The burger, though it disappeared faster than I would have liked, was filling and wholly satisfying.
Unfortunately, the second burger I tried was much less impressive. The Lamb Burger ($12) is not necessarily bad, but it fails to justify its price tag. While it boasted with a pretty crust (the cooks work wonders on the flattop) and a dollop of impressive house-made tzatziki, the burger was only okay. Cooked past the requested medium-rare, the patty was still somewhat juicy, but its flavor ultimately suffered from an excess of dried spices and bits of onion mixed in with the patty. I would recommend sticking to the beef offerings, which deliver much better flavor for dollars less.
I hoped two8two's fried sides would be impressive meal additions, yet they were merely okay in light of the delicious burger. The fries ($3) are skin-on, likely frozen spuds that are cooked until crispy (though they look a bit pale) and sufficiently salted. Not bad, but immediately forgettable.
The onion rings ($4), on the other hand, fared a bit better. Beer battered and thick cut with a mild onion flavor, the rings win the fried side contest against the standard french fries. Still, a good pint might be single essential side for any of two8two's burgers.
While two8two may not be changing the hamburger game anytime soon, its standard beef burger exceeds all expectations for a simple neighborhood spot. The burger boasts a notable blend and impressive execution that should put a smile on the face of even the most jaded burger enthusiast. What's more, the low-key environment and friendly service sure beats Shake Shack or another highly trafficked NYC burger destination. Now if only I lived in the neighborhood...
About the author: Sam Levison is a college student, food TV lover, and kinda wishes Big Kahuna Burger were a real thing.