The Old Homestead Steakhouse
56 9th Ave., New York NY 10011 (map); 212-242-9040; theoldhomesteadsteakhouse.com
Short Order: Lunch deal is solid, but awful preparation mars the full-sized burger
Want Fries with That? Hand-cut fries are a great choice; tots and onion rings also available
Price: Lunch Special (w/ salad, tots and drink), $22; cheeseburger, $15; fries, $7
Walking to Chelsea Market the other day, I passed The Old Homestead Steakhouse to admire the cow (as always) and stumbled upon a curious advertisement: "The Best Lunch Value in NYC." Well, I'm pretty sure the best lunch value in NYC exists in Chinatown, where you can exchange pocket change and lint for steamed pastries. Still, I was interested in trying the over one-hundred-year-old restaurant's take on mini burgers. Of course, mini burgers usually suck, but this spread came with tots...I'm a sucker for tots.
For the low (low?) price of $22, you can receive a glass of wine or beer, a sad Caesar salad, and three mini burgers with a cup of tater tots. The deal's at once tempting and off-putting, as it could definitely end up skimpy and unsatisfying. Fortunately, the size is right—almost perfect for lunch, in fact.
Although the website bills the trio as a sampling of three grades of beef (ground sirloin, filet mignon, and kobe), I couldn't discern much between the three (although the filet was a bit leaner and sweeter). The roughly two-ounce balls are cooked about as medium rare as a two-ounce meatball can be while still developing a little crust.
The meat is, as expected, beefy and delicious with a rough grind and loose pack, although the toppings are a bit too assertive. A roasted garlic sauce graces one of the burgers, making it taste more like a bare bones meatball than a burger. On another, a bacon jam takes over, although I wasn't complaining. The third patty had a simple cheese topping, and was clearly the beefiest tasting of the three. Still, I couldn't help but want all three burgers to come unadorned or topped with cheese so that I could have enjoyed the beef undistracted.
Now the bad news: The buns are, in a word, abominable. These brioche buns are the size and density of the patty, and are some of the worst I've seen—exemplifying the issues I have with the type of bread. I actually ditched the them after a few bites because the centers were such a labor to consume. While these massive mini buns did not ruin the meal, they would keep me from ever ordering small burgers from Homestead outside of the lunch special.
For comparison's sake, we also tried a standard grilled cheeseburger ($15) made of prime beef and topped with aged Vermont cheddar (Homestead is far too classy for American, though they needn't be). The burger came out looking fine, but after a couple bites it began performing a feat I believed only possible in a school cafeteria: The burger began splitting. The grey, unappetizing crust started peeling off of the unseasoned medium rare center. Again, the brioche bun is at once too much and too little for the half-pound patty. The interior is too bready and the heel too thin—the worst burger bun imaginable. Vermont cheddar was sharp and tasty, if a bit gummy and the lettuce and tomato were negligible to the point where my dining companion remarked, "Wait, is there even lett—oh, there it is!"
In steakhouses, sides are where the money's at and Homestead's are pretty good. Massive onion rings ($7) get help from a buttermilk soak and a crumby (as opposed to batter-y) exterior.
The french fries ($7) are even better. Hand-cut, skin-on, and well-salted fries are great alone or in ketchup.
Tater tots, the one thing that compelled me to try the special in the first place, were a bit of a letdown. It's not that they weren't well-executed—they were crispy as could be. Rather, I couldn't help but yearn for more fries, with their bolder potato flavor.
Lunch deals often leave you feeling ripped off. You probably won't feel that here, as two courses and a beer adds up to about $20 at any random pub around the neighborhood. Still, a small portion hangar or flank steak with the same sides would have been a more enticing offer. Old Homestead has been doing steaks since the 1800s and burgers likely half that long. Sadly, they've yet to perfect the latter, especially with bigger patties.