502 Amsterdam Avenue New York, NY 10024 (at 84th street; map); 212-721-0045; harrietskitchen.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Big, classic cheeseburger with non-descript beef
Want Fries With That? Only if you like'em limp and greasy
Price: Cheeseburger, $7.75; with fries $10.25; chicken tenders, $10; sides, $3.75 to $7.50
My wife and I take the dogs to the run by the Natural History Museum on 81st and Columbus a few times a year for a good runaround followed by—if they're well-behaved—a doggie-sized "Poochini" sundae from the Upper West Side Shake Shack, along with a Shack burger each for us. There's no beating the burger, but truth be told, there are times when I've wished for slightly more expeditious burger service in the neighborhood, so I've been on a constant quest to find a suitable alternative to the Shack.
Next on the hit list: Harriet's Kitchen, an Upper West Side institution known for its large burgers and extensive list of Southern-inspired sides.
The grilled eight-ounce burgers ($7.75) look terrific coming out at you in their styrofoam take-away containers (they'll come that way whether you're taking out or staying in). Thick, glistening with grease, coated in perfectly melted American cheese with a pile of deeply caramelized onions tucked underneath a sesame seed bun.
Cutting it in half reveals a juicy pink center—properly medium-rare, as requested, though a touch gray, as if the meat had already started to oxidize from a bit of overexposure to the air. Biting into it reveals the same story. The patty is plenty juicy, but it's got the bland flavor of generic beef with a hint of staleness to it. Texturally, it's faultless, but in this day and age when every other burger joint in town is taking extra care in sourcing great beef and ensuring that it's fresh, a stale patty like this sticks out like a sore, cheese-coated thumb.
Sides are not all that much better, with greasy, limp fries and sweet potato fries bordering on burnt. I preferred the slightly over-mayo'd cole slaw and the perfectly fine mashed potatoes and gravy.
The place has got enough character that you really want to root for it, but it's tough when something as simple as chicken fingers ($10) come out looking and tasting like they had been forgotten, languishing in the fryer since before styrofoam became un-cool.
The best I can say is that the portions are big and the service and staff are as friendly as can be. The recipes and feel of the joint may be classic, but this is one case where the burger—figuratively and literally—hasn't aged well.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.