101 Rivington Street, New York NY 10002 (map); 212-228-0027; spitzerscorner.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Big and flavorful, but not because of the beef.
Want Fries With That? Yes, crisp and fluffy.
Price: Hickory Burger, $10, Kobe Sliders, $15; fries, $5
When Nick Solares visited Spitzer's Corner back in 2008 for their burgers, he left generally impressed by their inventive gastro-pub fare and beer selection, but underwhelmed by their burgers. Though I don't normally go for the whole gastropub scene, one of my favorite burgers in the city comes from the Spotted Pig—the archetypical gastropub. Perhaps Spitzer's could prove to be as successful? Serious Eats Overlord Ed and I went to check it out.
First things first: the space is nice. Perhaps a bit spartan, but clean, comfortable, and just worn-in-enough since Nick first wrote about it.
Of the two sets of burgers we ordered (we opted to skip the larger Kobe burger—we rarely have a good experience with a full-sized Kobe burger, and Nick's description of this one made us want to pass), the sliders ($15 for three) proved the more successful, albeit extraordinarily pricey at $5 each for burgers that probably weighed in about about an ounce and a half each.
Well balanced, juicy, and cooked to a nice pink medium, they came topped with smoky bacon and melted cheddar on buttery mini brioche buns. The beef was tasty enough that we felt no need to add any toppings or condiments, though the bacon was perhaps a bit distracting.
The Hickory Burger ($10) is a far better deal, at a hefty half pound or so. Biting into it reveals a good balance of flavors, if you enjoy this style of burger. Sweet onions cooked down in barbecue sauce, a good dollop of hickory sauce, and a layer of melted cheddar come together under a brioche bun to provide a sweet and savory contrast. The problem was this:
Despite our request for medium rare, this burger came out almost completely raw in the center—barely warmed through. Even the parts that were cooked properly had the unsettlingly mushy texture of raw, coarsely ground beef with a decided lack of fat. More than anything, it reminded me of the massive burgers I used to get from the Jackson Hole chain as a kid: impressive for its huge expanse of red meat, but ultimately lacking in texture and flavor.
I have a theory that most people who enjoy really rare burgers are used to ordering them that way because they had a few too many bad experiences with overcooked, low-quality ground beef. And this is reasonable. With less than perfect ground beef, overcooking will lead to dry territory, and requesting them rare will at least make sure they are moist. But there's a difference between wet and juicy. With properly ground, nicely textured meat with plenty of fat, even at medium, you'll find that the burger patty is plenty juicy, without the mushy wetness of raw beef.
Spitzer's burger is too coarsely ground and too lean to cook to any stage beyond rare and maintain proper juiciness, which is unfortunate. It has the potential to be a great burger, if only they'd upgrade their beef.
The fries are excellent—crisp and fluffy, though I could do without the distraction of smoked paprika on'em.
Ah, well. I guess I'm still on the hunt for a great gastropub burger beyond the 'Pig's. Any suggestions?