A Hamburger Today loves Burger Joint. How could we not? Besides serving some of the best hamburgers we've had in New York City, the place has a kookyif very deliberatedown-at-the-heels charm (right) that runs squarely at odds with its surroundings, namely those of fancy-pants hotel Le Parker Meridien (top left).
While Burger Joint is a touch difficult to find, tucked away behind a curtain to the north of the lobby desk with only a small iconic neon sign pointing the way, it's never empty. Between besuited Midtown businessfolk on lunch break and travelers grabbing dinner downstairs from their rooms, you're lucky to grab a stool or a booth in the wood-paneled, '70s rec roomstyle diner. The Meridien, just off Sixth Avenue, has doors on 56th and 57th, and though its easier to access Burger Joint from the 56th Street side, we recommend you make a grand entrance from 57th Street. That's because you'll find yourself in a soaring mirror-walled atrium with marble floors (top right)all the better to enhance the cognitive dissonance you'll experience once inside the restaurant.
We also recommend grabbing any open table right away, if you're with someone who can hold it while you stand in line to order. It's counter service, and there's no host to seat you or take names. While you stand in line, you can contemplate your order, but that won't take long. The menu's simple: a hamburger or cheeseburger (both $5 at the time of this review) topped with any or all choices of lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, pickles, mustard, ketchup, or mayo. Also on the menu: Fries, shakes (after 3 p.m. only), beer, and brownies.
On a recent afternoon, I visited Burger Joint to grab some photos along with a late lunch. I ordered a hamburger, cooked medium-well, keeping in mind that Burger Joint's doneness scale skews toward the underdone, at least from what I've observed. A medium-well here, for instance, comes out more what I'd call medium; a medium more along the lines of a medium-rare, etc. While we're talking about doneness, Burger Joint is not a place that denies your wishes. While eating my burger, I witnessed a fellow connoisseur order a burger and a cheeseburger rare, to nary a bat of an eye from the BJ staff.
That's probably because, as all good burger places should, Burger Joint uses fresh, high-quality meat in its hamburger sandwiches, and those sandwiches are among the best I've hadplenty juicy and thick, but not annoyingly thick. The bun gets a light toasting over the same flame the patties cook over and is otherwise soft and fluffy.
While taking photos at my hard-won table, I attracted the attention of another Burger Joint patron. "Excuse me, but may I ask why you're taking photos of your burger?" he asked. Turns out this fellow was none other than filmmaker George Motz, the man behind burger biopic Hamburger America. Mr. Motz and I had been in contact since I placed an order for the DVD of his movie, and when I revealed my photographic motivation, he knew at once who I was. After suggesting moving my burger to a spot with better lighting (which still didn't help in the dim light of Burger Joint), he told me that his movie had been picked up by for airing by the Sundance Channel. So, congrats to Mr. Motz, whose film we review here.
Had I been in a better headspace, I would have chatted more with Mr. Motz and asked him for his thoughts on Burger Joint. As it was, I was late in getting back to work and had to rush. As I rode the subway back to the office, I couldn't think of anything Burger Joint could do to improve upon its formula. The men and women behind the curtain run a grade-A operation. If only New Yorkers and hungry hotel guests would pay no attention to them, then A Hamburger Today editors could more easily walk the road to this hamburger haven.
Location: 118 W 57th ST, New York City NY 10019. Which is to say, in the lobby of Le Parker Meridien hotel, behind the curtain to the north of the check-in desk
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m to 11:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. to midnight
Payment: Cash only
What's Cookin': This hidden gem serves some of New York's best burgers. Don't let the fancy address put you off: You'll feel right at home in the rec roomlike dining area of this burger shop. The burgers tend to come a little less done than you ordered; that is, a medium burger here might be more like a medium-rare burger elsewhere.
Menu: Click here for offerings
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