35 Union Sq West, New York, NY 10003 (map); 212-645-3400; heartlandbrewery.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A more than decent pub burger that despite the name is most assuredly not the one the author recently listed as his top 5 faves in NYC
Want Fries with That? Comes with, and they are good—crispy and fresh
Price: "HB Burger," $12
UPDATE (12/3/09): Heartland Brewery will start offering the real HB Burgers in January! More info here.
As I was walking through Union Square recently I happened upon a large sign outside of Heartland Brewery with several quotes from Josh Ozersky (remember him?), Time Out NY, and myself all praising HB Burger. HB Burger opened earlier this year as a dedicated hamburger spin off of the Heartland Brewery (the local brew-pub chain) and turned out a burger that I (and apparently others) found exceptional. So much so that I listed it as one of my top five favorites in the city. HB Burger is situated in Midtown on 43rd Street, which is not with in walking distance of my apartment, but the Heartland Brewery in Union Square is, and I was enthused by the prospect that the HB Burger would be available far closer to home.
First, a Beer Tasting
Because I assumed the burger would be the same, given the fact that it is listed as the "HB Burger" on the menu, I though I would take a break from the standard reviewing process and discuss pairing the burger with some beer. Heartland, who exclusively sell beer that they produce, offer a "flight" or tasting selection of six of their brews, ranging from light lagers and fuller ales all the way to a heavy porter. Offering such a wide range of styles, I figured that I would be able to find a brew or two that would match up nicely to the beefy flavor of the HB Burger. The cynical might claim that I was just doing this so as to be able to have a few rounds on the Serious Eats tab while catching a nice buzz in the middle of the afternoon. I, of course, vehemently deny the charge—my intentions were purely journalistic.
Everything was going swimmingly once the beer was served. I sipped each of the brews in anticipation of the burger arriving to try to get a handle on the flavor profiles and viscosity of the beers. I had no doubt that one or two of these brews would match up perfectly with the toothsome burger that was about to show up. Unfortunately, my plan was completely disrupted by the appearance of an impostor.
The HB Burger Imposter
The burger that was deposited in front of me was not the HB Burger that I thought I was ordering. It was certainly not the one that I endorsed, looking markedly differently from the one served uptown. For starters, the potato roll that I described as the "perfect vessel" for the patty in my original review is gone, replaced with a seeded bun (it appears to be a Big Marty's roll) Also, the burger patty itself looked bigger, and while it was clearly griddled it completely lacked the "craggy, salty crust that (was) as thick as that on a prime steak" that I so loved on the HB Burger from uptown.
The beef had the same essential taste and was clearly a high quality grind, but it lacked the juiciness of the original burger. I suspect the culprit is the cooking time. While the HB Burger uptown was delivered quickly with an aggressively seared crust, the HB Burger downtown took a long while to get to me and despite being rare as ordered, I suspect it cooked slowly on the griddle, robbing it of juiciness.
To be fair, there was nothing at all wrong with the burger—it was a fine example of a "pub style" burger and, at $12 with fries and rabbit food, it was fairly priced. The burger is just fine judged on its own merits, but it did not scale the lofty heights that the original HB Burger attained. It was certainly not a burger that I would place in my top five.
Heartland Brewery is free to call the burger on the menu downtown anything they like, but you should know that it is not the HB Burger that I regard so highly. I don't so much hope that the Heartland Brewery will remove my quotes form their placards regarding the downtown version of the HB Burger (what writer doesn't want to see their name in print and their words quoted?) as much as I hope that they will start offering the HB Burger that I so love at the Union Square location. Then I can go about the business of finding the perfect beer to pair with it.
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