24 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11237 (map); 718-821-8806; cafeghia.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: These patties are infused with bacon fat, giving them an amazingly rich, smoky flavor. Topped with roasted tomato aioli and some thick, juicy braised bacon, this burger leaves virtually nothing to be desired.
Want Fries with That? You won't find fries on this menu, but the herb-roasted potatoes are crisp, creamy, and perfectly seasoned
Price: Grass-fed cheeseburger, $13; braised bacon, +$2; roasted potatoes, + $1
If Roberta's and Northeast Kingdom are the only Bushwick dining destinations on your radar, then it's time for a serious tune-up (mixed metaphors aside). The last few years have seen the opening of a dozen or so "urban rustic" bars and restaurants that, for better or worse, seem ubiquitously and inextricably associated with Brooklyn gentrification.
When the brick-walled and sun-soaked Café Ghia opened in 2011, I expected more of the same. But if I'm completely honest, I didn't really care. What lured me in was the promise of brunch a full seven days a week—a feat virtually unheard of in the area, and the ultimate temptation for an under-employed freelancer looking to keep the hand-to-mouth cycle going full steam ahead. But it was the burger that made me stay.
Apparently I've been waiting my whole life for beef to taste a little more like pork. Head chef Vitorio Arviv infuses his grass-fed burger ($13) with smoky bacon fat, resulting in a patty with the texture of beef (only porkier, and therefore better) and the flavor of pork (only beefier, and therefore also better). You're pretty much sure that you're eating a new breed of animal. I like to imagine it with the head of a cow and the corkscrew tail of a pig, but to each their own.
Before beef purists get too dismissive, let me just say: don't. You may love beef, but this is beef, if beef had superpowers. Both the beef and the pork come from Arcadian Pastures in upstate New York. The coarsely ground, super-fresh patty of short rib and brisket weighs in at six ounces. Served on a perfectly portioned buttery brioche bun, courtesy of Grandaisy Bakery, the patty gets a thin melted coating of tangy shredded Vermont cheddar. Smoky and tender with a glorious charred crust, it reaches a mouth-shattering crescendo the moment you hit the generous, thick slab of pork belly (+$2) slapped on top of the patty.
Sprouts and pickles add a briny grassiness to the burger, but the real kicker is the roasted tomato aioli. Garlicky, sweet, tart, and oh-so-creamy, it's the kind of condiment I find myself wishing were a side dish in and of itself. Because yes, I could definitely eat that mayonnaise with a spoon.
You can order your burger with a side salad, but I'd highly recommend dropping an extra dollar to substitute the roasted potatoes. Fries? Fuhgeddaboudit. Crisped to a golden-brown, the potatoes are deliciously smooth and powerfully seasoned with Herbes de Provence.
All in all, there's no way you're walking out of this Bushwick joint with anything but a full stomach and soaring spirits. And, of course, a hybrid cow-pig imaginary friend.