Location Visited: 72 Nassau Street, New York NY 10038; map); 212-571-7272; zaitzeffnyc.com. Additional location at 18 Avenue B, New York NY 10009 (Alphabet City)
The Short Order: Everything points to a dry, disappointing burger here—grass-fed sirloin, nonstandard bun, cooked on a griddle under a weight—but the meat is surprisingly, amazingly juicy and hella flavorful. I am still dreaming of this burger
Want Fries with That? Fresh, hand-cut regular and sweet potato fries have potential but are greasy; skip them, especially at these prices
Price: Sirloin QP, $8.25; HP, $13.50. Kobe QP, $9; HP, $15.25. Fries, $4.25
Further Reading From: Hamburger America, NYC Food Guy, Yelp
Wow. That's all I can say. I finally got my ass to Zaitzeff down in the Financial District. That's a great burger, I'll tell you what.
In a Nutshell
Portuguese Roll: This burger's bread looks sorta like a big English muffin, but it's fluffy, not spongy and chewy. And it looks beautiful all toasted like they do here.
Two Kinds of Beef, Two Sizes: You can either get a "Kobe burger" (actually made with American Wagyu beef) or a sirloin burger. Each version comes in quarter-pound and half-pound sizes.
All-Natural Philosophy: Apparently, founder Zach Zaitzeff saw an underserved niche in the Wall Street eats market—meals made with all-natural, sustainorganical goody-goody ingredients. The sirloin is sourced from D'Artagnan and the Kobe comes from Morgan Ranch. Even the ketchup is the Heinz Organic variety.
Griddled Patties: The burgers are made on a tiny flat-top griddle in an impossibly small kitchen area. The cook does up your burgers while keeping an eye on batches of fresh, hand-cut fries simmering in cast-iron pans nearby.
Pricey: As of publication, a quarter-pound sirloin burger runs $8.25 for burger only; half-pound sirloin is $13.50. "Kobe" burger, quarter-pound, $9; half-pound, $15.25. Wall Streeters can afford this, even in a crap economy, I'm sure.
Juicy as Hell
Now when I hear or read that a place is going out of its way to do the all-natural sustainorganica thing—especially when they're using grass-fed beef—I start to worry that the actual prep, flavor, juiciness, and balance of the burger is going to take a back seat to fuzzy-headed ideals. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for those ideals, but I'm also for burgers tasting good.
This is not an issue at Zaitzeff. The burgers here rock. They're incredibly juicy and have a great beefy flavor that's just slightly sweet, no doubt from all those grass dinners the cows ate before getting whacked. And the fact that they grind the beef in-house probably doesn't hurt things, either.
I had no idea where the meat was from as I was eating the burger and yet I was amazed at the juiciness of the meat. Moreso when my lunch companion, George "Hamburger America" Motz, asked and was told it was from D'Artagnan and was grass-fed—because grass-fed beef is generally leaner than grain-fed. Even the fact that the regular burger is made from sirloin (itself a leaner cut) is mind-boggling in the face of the juice level here.
The Standard Package, Options, Upgrades, and Tips
As this was my first time at Zaitzeff, I stuck with the smaller quarter-pound burger ($8.25) while George ordered a half-pounder ($13.50). We both went with the sirloin. George told me that the more expensive "Kobe" burger ($9 for QP; $15.25 for HP) wasn't worth it and that he really couldn't tell the difference between the meats in burger form.
Unless otherwise directed, the staff will prep your burger with a healthy-looking leaf of bibb lettuce, a thick slice of tomato, and grilled onions. Pony up some extra cash and you can add cheese (Vermont white cheddar only), bacon, avocado, or, strangely enough, sausage. Cheese and avocado, $1 extra; bacon, sausage, $2 extra.
As George notes on his blog, don't ask for mustard unless you like Dijon ("... every burger spot in NYC believes they have to serve high-end mustard with their high-end burgers ..."). But honestly, you don't need condiments for this burger. Its flavor and juiciness are enough to carry the day. I removed the unwanted lettuce and tomato and went to town only with the grilled onions.
You Want Fries with That?
Fries are fresh and hand-cut. You can get regular fries, sweet potato fries, or a mixture of both. As of publication, a plate (and it's a large one) of them costs $4.75. We got the mixed plate. The fries are good but a bit greasy. They'd do well from some time among some paper towels or from some other degreasing method. Since I'm not a huge fry guy, I think I'd end up skipping them if this were my go-to lunch spot, especially with the high prices on the burgers themselves.
A wide array of beverages is available, from the prosaic Coke options to goody-goody sodas—and even beer and wine. Classy!