Over the last four years, Burger Weekly blogger Brad Garoon has dedicated an inordinate amount of time to documenting the best burgers in NYC. As you might have ascertained already, he reviews a burger every week, which sounds really awesome until you remember what happened to Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me.
Luckily Garoon seems to be in good enough health to have written an e-book, titled Burger City: Your Guide to the Ultimate New York City Burger Experience. It’s filled with user-friendly top ten lists—best burgers by neighborhood, best sliders, best buns (always Robin to the patty’s Batman)—but the book also stands as a testament to the strength and endurance of the human digestive system.
In recognition of his service to the city of New York, we quizzed Garoon about veggie patties, the merits of haute vs. pub-style burgers, and where to get the best burger in town.
How many burgers do you think you’ve eaten in your adult life? What is the equivalent in whole cows?
In the last four years alone I’ve had at least one burger a week. There are been stretches during which I’ve really taken good care of myself and eaten a burger a month at the most, and stretches during which I have paid no attention to my diet and eaten more burgers than I feel comfortable admitting. Mix that all together and the number is probably in the low thousands. If you use all the meat available to you in a typical cow, you could really get all those patties out of just one animal. One really unfortunate animal.
Do you drink while researching, and how does that impact the results?
If a restaurant is known for having great burgers and great drinks, I’ll order both. I want to have the experience that the folks running the joint want me to have. If they tell me their burger is best served medium instead of medium rare, I’ll try it. If they tell me it’s best served with carrots on it, I’ll try it even though I hate carrots. If they tell me that they insist their burgers be paired with beer, I’ll drink that beer. At Corner Bistro, waiting in line at the bar and drinking before you get your burger absolutely makes the experience better. At a place like Cherche Midi, you might get too excited about the great cocktails, which makes it hard to focus on their complex burger by the time it arrives. It can go either way.
Lately I’ve been much more into smashed patties than pub-style thick patties too, because in general you get a lot more surface area for a great char flavor and a lot less room for error in the center.
Do you prefer a haute or a sloppy burger?
I think there is a time and place for the fancier burgers of the world, as long as the folks making them are doing so because they love hamburgers and are having fun with it. It’s pretty easy to spot a haute burger that is on the menu because serving a burger is the thing to do right now. Fortunately, there are a lot of restaurants that serve gourmet burgers with a lot of love. That said, very few things can beat an amazing burger under $10.
How well done do you like your burgers, and why?
Medium rare is the gold standard. That’s just enough grill-time to bring out the char flavor that we all love on the outside, without drying out the inside. There are burger joints that know how to make a more well done burger taste truly excellent, but I’ll only eat my burgers that way if I’ve been tipped off ahead of time that that’s the case.
What are the hallmarks of the ideal patty?
A nice, flavorful char on the outside, a soft, pink and juicy center, a circumference that doesn’t dwarf and isn’t dwarfed by that of the bun, and meat that doesn’t fall apart on you. Lately I’ve been much more into smashed patties than pub-style thick patties too, because in general you get a lot more surface area for a great char flavor and a lot less room for error in the center.
How do you feel about veggie burgers?
They have their place, which is why I included a list of carnivore-approved veggie burgers in the book. I wish I had the time and inclination to explore veggie burgers more, and I actually have a standing appointment with a veggie-blogger friend to grab a few of her favorites. We’ll get to it one day.
Your burger blog has been very Manhattan-focused. Is that a result of good burger concentration, or other factors?
It’s both a result of the amazing burger boom in Manhattan and the amazing subway system that is designed to bring people to Manhattan. The outer boroughs have amazing burgers too. I actually live in Brooklyn but review burgers in Manhattan far more often because for me, hamburgers are a social experience. My friends and fellow food enthusiasts live in all five boroughs, and Manhattan is a natural meeting spot. I do like to set up weekends that are focused on neighborhoods that are a bit less central, like an upcoming crawl I’m scheduling in Harlem, or past ones in Long Island City, Astoria, and south Brooklyn.
I am a repeat offender at Black Iron Burger. Specifically at their original location in Alphabet City, they crank out the most flavorful burgers in the most relaxing, fun atmosphere. It is my kneejerk answer every time.
You rank the Odeon as the #1 Burger in NYC. How come?
About an hour after I ate it, I felt like I was digesting the spirit of New York City. The Odeon has been around for decades churning out some of the most consistently great food downtown. The burger was about as perfect a bacon cheeseburger as you’re ever going to eat. However, it has been almost a year since I called it the best the city has to offer, and with National Hamburger Month approaching the list is undergoing construction with some new additions.
What’s your all-time favorite burger in New York, and outside of New York?
I don’t like to go back to burger places that I’ve been to before because I want to try something new as much as I can. However, I am a repeat offender at Black Iron Burger. Specifically at their original location in Alphabet City, they crank out the most flavorful burgers in the most relaxing, fun atmosphere. It is my knee-jerk answer every time. Outside of New York, Red Coat Tavern in West Bloomfield, Michigan was home to the burger I was weaned on growing up. I also think folks should make a pilgrimage to Mission in Newport, Rhode Island for their amazing burger and what I consider to be the best french fries on the planet.
What’s the most under-appreciated burger in NYC?
I think Schnippers doesn’t get the love it deserves. It’s cheap, it tastes great, and you can get it very quickly. I think part of the reason it gets ignored is because it’s located so close to Shake Shack’s Madison Square Park location, but I think it’s the perfect alternative for folks who hate waiting in line.
There aren’t any fast food places like Burger King on the blog. Why not?
That’s not entirely true. While I do have a loose rule about not reviewing burgers from mega-chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s), there are plenty of burgers on the blog that I consider fast food burgers. I wrote about my first experience eating at In-N-Out a few years back. I gave Fat Burger and BurgerFi some love when they came to New York, though that might be considered more fast casual than fast food. A few months ago, I visited Mumbai and tried the Maharaja Mac at McDonald’s there. I didn’t like it, but I thought it warranted a place on the blog. I also have a series consisting of dozens of posts about the different local twists that Smashburger restaurants serve all over the country.
The reason I don’t write about the big three in general is that everyone has been there and everyone knows what those burgers taste like. Those chains aren’t trying to give you something new, they’re just trying to give you something inexpensive that you’re used to. There’s probably a time and place for that, but I’m more interested in letting people know about the best and most interesting burgers out there.
I think Schnippers doesn’t get the love it deserves. It’s cheap, it tastes great, and you can get it very quickly.
Your book includes “cautionary tales.” What’s an example?
The Spotted Pig is the one I reference the most. This operation grills one of the best patties you’ll ever eat, but then they bury it under a giant scoop of Roquefort cheese. I love funky cheese, but the default burger Spotted Pig uses way too much for me to handle. I put this in the book so that people know that they can ask for it with light or no cheese if the funky stuff isn’t their speed. New Yorkers should know how good the meat at this place is without being scared off by exotic dairy products.
We’ve heard Peter Luger puts butter pellets in their patties. Any other cool tricks you’ve come to learn of?
I’ve actually heard of a few places that do this, and I wish they’d warn me so I could take my Lactaid before I eat it. In general, I’m anti-trick. I like burger joints and home-grillers that know what they do well and focus on that. Sure, butter tastes good. So does the corned beef ground into the patty at Almond. That stuff is gravy, but you don’t need it to make a great burger.