A Hamburger Today
Long Island City: A Taste of Greenwich Village History at Corner Bistro
Corner Bistro LIC
47-18 Vernon Boulevard, Queens NY 11101 (map); 718-606-6500; cornerbistrony.com
Cooking Method: Broiled in modified salamander
Short Order: An NYC classic and arguably the city's first "destination hamburger." This half-pound pub-style burger comes loaded with toppings and served on the perfect white bun.
Price: Bistro Burger, $8; Chili Burger, $8
Few hamburgers have withstood the test of time with more imperviousness than the Bistro Burger at Corner Bistro. It has proven impervious to almost any food trend you can think of since it was crafted back in the 1960s. Impervious to the overnight popularity brought on by a 1977 Mimi Sheraton article in the New York Times. Impervious to the hordes of tourist that quickly followed and never abated. Impervious, thankfully, to the cynical pricing that often follows such success—a Bistro Burger costs $8. Impervious, even, to our own Kenji's less than positive assessment.
One thing that the Corner Bistro is no longer impervious to is branching out. The venerable West Village institution opened an outpost in Long Island City, Queens, last year and one can only assume that more will follow. In a world where chain restaurants go to great lengths to create a feeling of "authenticity" either by inventing some convoluted back story or building a set piece bar designed to look weathered and worn, Corner Bistro is the real deal. So much so that subsequent iterations need to get a few things right to live up to the legacy—they need to be on the corner, they need to have the iconic red neon sign, but most importantly the burger needs to be exactly the same as the one at the original location.
The Bistro Burger ($8) is an eight-ounce patty made from a blend of chuck, sirloin, and top round. The beef is delivered fresh daily and the patties are hand formed before being broiled in a modified salamander. The beef is no longer walked over from the meat packing district the way it was for many years—the Bistro's long time butcher has disappeared along with the rest meat packing industry in downtown Manhattan. These days New England Meats supply the blend for the burger.
The broiler has been modified so as to slow down the cooking and to stop flare-ups from occurring. The meat never gets charred the way it might on a regular broiler but rather develops a crust the color of dark mahogany and flavors that are closer to a roast than a steak. Internally, the lean yet juicy blend remains flaky and tender. This is a patty with a delicate texture, despite the overall heft of the thing.
The Bistro burger sits atop a sliver of white onion and underneath a blanket of American cheese, a slice of tomato, a wedge of iceberg, and a tangle of impossibly crispy deep fried bacon. The bun—which everyone from Mimi Sheraton to herds of Yelper's has complained about—is perfect in my estimation. Studded with sesame seeds, the enriched bread stands little chance under the deluge of beef, bacon, toppings, and any condiments that might be applied.
Because of the sparsity of grill space at the Bistro there is a tendency to pre-cook burgers in anticipation of lunch and late night rushes. This can lead to some rather dried out burgers, as Kenji discovered. The trick, I have found, is to order it rare. This usually ensures that you will get a freshly made burger. Or you could ask for a freshly cooked patty—just be prepared to wait. Because of the size and relatively languid cooking times it could be a while.
At their best—which in my opinion is a freshly broiled patty cooked rare—I liken Bistro Burgers to filet mignon. It isn't abundantly flavorful (in fact the Bistro burger isn't even seasoned), but it's is tender and juicy and comforting. There is no greater advocate of the Bistro Burger than George "Hamburger America" Motz, who considers it his "home town" burger. Its greatness, in his estimation, lies in its simplicity. There is nothing fancy about it—it is just a classic hamburger.
The good news is that the burger at the LIC branch is a virtual clone of the original. The exact same brand of salamander is used with the same modifications and the effect is the same: a dark brown exterior, a plump juicy yet lean interior. Everything is sourced from the same vendors—same beef, same produce and the same bun, which happens to come from a bakery just down the street from the new location.
The only real difference, putting aside the atmosphere of course, is that burger at LIC comes on a real porcelain plate, as opposed to the disposable variety that the original location is famous for. But that aside, the burger really is a taste of Greenwich Village history in a different borough.
It would be unrealistic to expect that ambiance could be as easily exported, and truth be told the story of the Corner Bistro elsewhere will be different. The LIC location seems to be more of a neighborhood sports bar with a wider selection of beers and an expanded menu that includes some terrific chicken wings (fresh, not frozen, just like the burger), a sandwich, and—gasp!—even a salad. But most importantly, the burger is exactly the same as the original.
For more photos of the original and LIC Corner Bistro, check out the slideshow.