Grilled: Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch


Burger-centric interviews with chefs, writers, and other food lovers.

Note: This week we're grilling New York City-based blogger Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch, your most trusted source for all things edible, cheap, and available during lunchtime in Midtown. Zach and the Midtown Lunch crew have well deserved accolades up the wazoo for their unmatchable reporting on what most people refer to as a "food wasteland." You can also check out Zach's contributions on Serious Eats.

20090730-zachbrooks.jpgName: Zach Brooks
Location: Midtown
Occupation: Midtown Lunch

How often do you eat burgers? Not nearly as often as I'd like.

Where did you eat your most recent one? HB Burger in Midtown.

Cheese: American, cheddar, other? If AHT is asking, it's American. (But secretly, I'm a fan of swiss.)

Ketchup or mustard? Ketchup (no question).

Sesame-seed or plain? Sesame.

Grilled, griddled, or broiled? That's tough. Of course griddled tastes the best, but there's nothing like the smell and char of a great backyard, grilled hamburger.

And how would you like that done, sir? Medium rare.

Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? I know this is probably sacrilegious, but I'm a toppings kind of guy. Not the cold stuff though (no thanks to the lettuce, tomato, and pickles), but more the hot grilled onions. I love me some grilled onions on a burger. (And if there is good guac at a BBQ, that's going on my burger every time.)

The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest encounter with this delicious dish? My earliest memory of burgers was eating at Fuddruckers in South Florida. The 1/2 pound burger always seemed monstrous (I usually got the 1/3 pound), and I always ordered the grilled onions (which came covered in black pepper). I also remember the dead cows hanging in the front window, and I mention the grilled onions. Man I loved those grilled onions. Haven't been back since I was 10, so I have no concept of where it exists on the current quality spectrum of fast food burgers.

What's your favorite fast-food burger? In-N-Out. (Is there any question?)

What topping or condiment, in your opinion, should never grace a burger? Uh... my mind doesn't really work that way. If you'd like a list of unlikely burger toppings that I'd still be interested in trying, I could do that for you.

What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? Most unusual would have to be the ones in Junior High. Looking back on what passed for a "hamburger" in my school's cafeteria is kind of shocking. I still can picture the meat now...

What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Most underrated? I think Five Guys is kind of underrated. People get all huffy about the "we serve all our burgers well done" thing, but so does In-N-Out—and you never hear anybody complain about that. For a thin patty fast food burger, I think Five Guys is just as good as In-N-Out (although In-N-Out wins on price). I think Shake Shack is kind of overrated. I like the burger. It's a good burger. But given a choice, (with or without the long line) there are other burgers at the same price I'd chose over a Shack Burger.

For some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with that term....vege-what? I would probably splurge and get one of those $30+ foie gras stuffed, truffle topped burgers. (I think the most famous one is at DB Bistro Moderne, right?)

Best and worst Midtown burgers? Tough to say. Fast food, thin burger: Five Guys. Fast food, thicker burger: Burger Joint. Burger from a Cart: Carnegie John's. As for the more expensive, sit down burgers, I haven't had very many. But HB Burger and Beacon are both really good. And the worst burger I've ever had in Midtown was at this place called Aroma Cafe on 32nd between Broadway and 7th Avenue. Somebody twittered @midtownlunch that their burger was "$5.50 and bangin'". Against my better judgment (Aroma Cafe is one of those terrible generic delis that Midtown is famous for, and Midtown Lunch does its best to fight against) I tried the terrible terrible burger. Bad meat (not unlike what I got in my Jr. High Cafeteria), bad flavor, poorly cooked. Couldn't even finish it. Damn you, Twitter!