The Hot Grill
669 Lexington Ave, Clifton, NJ 07011; map); 973-772-6000; hotgrill.org
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Hamburgers are made fresh everyday, but the patties are wafer thin and need to be doubled up, or better yet served "all the way."
Want Fries with That? Sure; get them "all the way" as well for a goopy treat.
Price: Hamburger, $2.05; cheeseburger, $2.30
The Hot Grill dates back to 1961 and is best known as a purveyor of Texas Weiners, a unique method of dog preparation that has nothing to do with with Texas, but rather has its roots in Paterson, New Jersey. As Serious Eats' Hawk Krall recently illustrated, a Texas Weiner is a deep fried hot dog served with Greek sauce—"a smooth, slow cooked meat sauce spiced with cayenne, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and cumin," while getting it "all the way" adds on mustard and diced onions. The Texas Weiner is seemingly the raison d'être of The Hot Grill, as a large hot dog dominates the restaurant's sign and the tag line listed underneath claims that they serve the "World's Tastiest Weiners." But they also serve hamburgers that are fresh made in-house daily. Can they stand up to the legendary dogs?
Lately, I have been eating my hamburgers plain without condiments or cheese—at least, if that is offered on the menu. I won't deconstruct a burger that is only offered in a specific way, but, as a reviewer, I want to see what is going on between the buns. This method of consumption ruthlessly reveals substandard ingredients, but at the same time, when everything is right, the simplicity can breed perfection.
The plain hamburger comes on a lovely white squishy bun. The wafer thin patty is overwhelmed by the bread, but it has decent flavor. Although it might look like a frozen fast food patty, it sure doesn't taste like it—the beef had a fresh flavor and was far juicier than it appeared. The burger is not exactly slider sized—the patty probably clocks in at around three ounces—but it is diminutive enough to be eaten easily with one hand.
Despite decent beef and a great bun, doubling up on the patty to address the disproportionate beef-to-bun ratio would still result in an uninteresting burger. It's certainly not as compelling as the remaining slider emporiums that exist in Northern New Jersey.
For a unique burger experience, ask for yours to be served "all the way"—smothered in Greek sauce and diced onions and spiked with spicy mustard—the same way the Texas Weiners are served. Add a slice of white American cheese to complete the transformation, and the burger goes from being a rather dry sandwich dominated by bread to a goopy, spicy, sloppy, drip-down-your-sleeve flavor bomb. The mild heat from the Greek sauce is nicely balanced by the creamy cheese, with the raw onion adding a pleasing pungency. Although the deluge of toppings somewhat masks the flavorful beef, this sandwich works better than the plain version.
Going "all the way" redeems the imbalance of the single patty against the tyranny of bun and creates a tasty sandwich that is admittedly a sloppy eating experience. Certainly the hot dog is a more appropriate candidate for the "all the way" treatment—the sauce tends to leak out only at the ends of the bun whereas on the burger it seeps out in 360 degrees—but the synthesis of ingredients is equally compelling. The Hot Grill hamburger might not be the most obvious menu choice given the renown of the Texas Weiner, but it makes for a tasty and unique hamburger experience.
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Guide to Sliders in Northern New Jersey
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