If it's Tuesday, it must be time for another review from Nick Solares. Nick is also the publisher of Beef Aficionado, his blog that explores beef beyond burgerdom.
Spitzer’s Corner unabashedly bills itself as a “gastro pub.” A perusal of the menu indicates that it's paying more than lip service to that concept, as it was created by Wayne Nish and includes such esoteric fare as foie gras–stuffed prunes, a duck confit sandwich and a sweetbread po'boy, as well as three different hamburgers.
The room is designed by Asfour Guzy of Blue Ribbon fame and, while I appreciate the Spartan design, some might find it rather austere. The walls, which are lined with wood from floor to ceiling, are supposedly made from recycled pickle barrels. Long communal picnic tables line the interior, and large windows provide plenty of light during the day and a good view of the local fashionista parade at night.
Spitzer’s Corner has a generous—some might say dizzying—selection of beers. With 39 on tap (but sadly no hand-drawn ales) and well more than 40 bottled beers, the beverage options dwarf the food menu. While the former might be a tyranny of choices, the burgers on offer are easier to choose between. They are the Kobe beef burger, the hickory short-rib burger, and the three-to-an-order Spitzer’s sliders.
The Hickory burger comes with barbecue onions and hickory sauce and is available either plain or with bacon, cheddar, blue cheese, or even a cheval—with a fried egg on top. The sliders come with bacon and cheddar, and the Kobe burger comes naked. All the burgers are served on brioche buns. Fries are not included and cost $4; while not cheap, they are quite good, being both golden and crisp. But for a real treat, try the duck-fat potato cake ($6).
The Kobe Burger
The Kobe burger is billed as “100 percent Kobe beef.” I doubted this when I noticed that it cost but $16. While $16 is admittedly a lot to pay for a plain hamburger, it would likely cost several multiples of this amount if it were indeed made of real Kobe beef. You see, like Champagne, which can only come from France, Kobe beef can only come from Japan, specifically from the Hyogo Prefecture. True Kobe beef comes from a narrowly defined breed of Wagyu cattle. What is often called “American Kobe” is the result of a cross between the Japanese Black Wagyu and either Black Angus or, in some cases, Longhorn cattle.
I have eaten an alarming amount of both true Japanese Kobe and American Kobe–style beef, and there is no comparison between the two. The former has far more intense marbling and an ethereal butteriness that domestic breeds just do not match; it also is far more expensive. That said, American Kobe can be exquisite, often achieving marbling that could be considered “beyond” the Prime designation established by your good friends at the USDA. The waiter confirmed that the beef here is from American Kobe cattle, so billing the burger as “100 percent Kobe” is a little disingenuous.
In any event, I was heartened that the burger was served plain with only a leaf of (wilted) lettuce as a garnish on the side. While the menu makes the claim that it is “simply the best,” in my opinion it isn’t even the best burger available at Spitzer's Corner. I cannot imagine that a burger, especially one costing as much as this, could be so utterly devoid of juiciness. I ordered mine rare, and yet it exhibited absolutely no succulence. Having it cooked anything beyond medium-rare would doubtless result in a product fit only for National Hockey League use.
In terms of flavor, the patty was unevenly seasoned and, to add insult to injury, was only seasoned on one side. Some bites were salty while others were quite peppery; but there was never a consistent balance of seasoning. The beef itself did not have tremendous flavor either, certainly not what you would expect from Kobe beef.
Texturally it was ground quite coarsely and did not appear to have a very high fat content, not a good formula for achieving juiciness in burgers. The brioche bun was a bit too big for the svelte Kobe patty. I am not a big fan of brioche buns generally; I like the chewy texture they have and they are good at absorbing burger juice (assuming there is any), but I don’t care for the added sweetness they imbue, and I find that their glazed skin can be somewhat unyielding. In this application, the brioche tended to overpower the patty texturally and mask what little flavor could be elicited from the beef.
The Hickory Burger
The hickory burger, priced at $10, has a far better beef-to-bun ratio than the Kobe burger but again suffers from a rather coarse grind and also seems to lack fat content. The beef is from short rib, which is generally a nicely marbled cut, but this burger is too lean to be really juicy. Further, between the brioche, the Hickory sauce, and the barbecue onions that adorn it, the Hickory burger is just too sweet for my palate. The beef, which to be fair, has a pretty good flavor on its own, cannot overcome this sweetness, even a generous slice of Grafton Cheddar was not enough to bring the sandwich back to the savory.
The sliders are better, although I don’t think they necessarily benefit from the bacon. I know I am in the minority here, but I am not a big fan of bacon on burgers. I find that it tends to dominate the palate and obscure the other flavors. I would recommend ordering the sliders here sans sauce and bacon. Despite the obfuscation of flavor from the bacon and sauce, the slider patties are quite tasty and the relative leanness of the beef mix is less offensive in the smaller form. I should note that all the burgers, even the sliders, came out at the correct temperature and even when rare had a decently charred exterior.
I should also mention the service, which is positively glacial. On one visit in the middle of the afternoon, my order was completely forgotten about and had to be retaken half an hour after it was placed. Yet even on subsequent visits, everything took a lot longer than it should have—this is not a well-managed enterprise. Having said that, there is much to like at Spitzer’s Corner: a massive beverage selection, an interestingly designed room, a bustling street scene, and some inventive “gastro pub” cuisine—unfortunately, just not a great burger.
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