132 W 31st St, New York, NY 10001; map); 212-727-3666; pennsylvania6nyc.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A fantastic dry aged burger served on a custom potato bun.
Want Fries with That? Comes with and you will be happy they do.
Price: Penn6 Burger, $19
When Mike Straka talks burgers, I listen. Straka is an MMA (mixed martial arts) journalist—he has hosted several TV shows as well as written a book on the subject, and is himself a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Normally I wouldn't take advice about hamburgers from a guy that specializes in knuckle sandwiches, but Straka worked with me on Pat LaFrieda's iPad app, Big App for Meat, as the video producer. As you might imagine, he learned more about steak than just putting one on a black eyes to mitigate swelling.
I agreed to meet him for lunch at his latest great burger find, Pennsylvania 6, although I do remember grousing, "Why aren't we at Keen's?" when I showed up a little early. Pennsylvania 6 is, at first blush, your average midtown sports bar/restaurant—dark woods, flat panels playing all manner of sports, red leather banquettes adding a nice touch, and uniformly pretty waitresses. Straka, ever the ladies man, knows them all on a first name basis and they come over and huddle around him when he sits at the booth.
The menu notes that the Penn6 Burger ($19) is dry aged. What it doesn't tell is that the blend is a proprietary one developed exclusively for the restaurant by Pat LaFrieda and contains as much as 40 percent dry aged sirloin. As a result this is one funky, flavorful, unmistakably steak-like hamburger. In terms of intensity of dry aged flavor only the vaunted Black Label from Minetta Tavern—which uses aged rib meat—packs more. Of course, the Black Label also costs $7 more and Minetta is notoriously impossible to get a table at. Qualitatively the difference between rib and sirloin is lessened substantially when you are grinding it.
Unlike the flat top griddled Black Label, the Penn6 burger is grilled, imbuing the half-pound patty with some serious char flavor and some pronounced hatch marks. I might generally prefer griddled burgers, but this one makes a compelling case for the alternative. Certainly the smoky flavor from the grill emphasizes the flame-kissed steak evocation.
The burger was ordered and delivered a pitch perfect rare, as is deserving of a burger that is this steak-like. Texturally the patty is flaky and airy inside with a pleasingly dense exterior crust, those aforementioned hatch marks adding some snap and crunch and just a tinge of acridity. The custom potato bun is the perfect vessel for the buxom patty and I prefer it to most any brioche I can remember eating (yes, even the one on the Black Label). I didn't mind the Jasper Hill's cheddar that blankets the patty, but I didn't find it necessary either—the beef has enough moisture and flavor to go it alone.
The fries that come with the burger are crispy, golden, and a little addictive. You will keep eating them even after the burger has sated you.
So high marks for the Penn6 burger, as Straka rightly divined it is a serious contender in the pound for pound NYC burger rankings. This is a burger worth seeking out and an easy recommendation for anyone traveling through Penn Station or visiting Madison Square Garden. Tell them Straka sent you.