Sometimes anticipation is a great thing, on other occasions it creates expectations that probably cannot be realistically realised. The reason why these two “Burger Explorer” impressions are grouped together will become apparent (and apologies in advance for the lousy, out-of-focus images…. my phone has great difficulty in low-light conditions).
On the first night in NYC, 5Napkin’s original location in Hell’s Kitchen was the first burger on the list (mainly because it was pretty close to our hotel). Whilst it wasn’t the original home of the 5Napkin burger – that was Nice Matin across town – but so popular was it that it spawned this offspring, which now extends to seven branches across the city and beyond to Atlanta, Boston and Miami. If anything, the place feels like a slightly more upmarket version of London’s own Byron Burger chain.
Firstly an apology to 5Napkin. I cocked up the reservation and we arrived precisely one hour late for our table. To their credit, they found us another within a few minutes and we quickly ordered the eponymous (caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese, Rosemary aioli) plus a Bacon/Cheddar (both ordered medium) plus Deep-Fried Pickle & Pastrami Rolls to share. The latter arrived quickly, doused in ‘kraut and mustard oil, a slightly over-greasy treat.
Burgers were sadly, less successful. “Medium” is a somewhat interpretive cooking grade of course, but both were well on the well side. Not unrecoverable of course, if the blend of the patty can take it. And can it ? No idea I’m afraid because the 5Napkin caramelized onions are so overwhelmingly sweet and cloying that you cannot taste anything else. The Gruyere might have been amazing, but it didn’t stand a chance against the onslaught of the all-pervading sweetness that encased it. If the Bacon/Cheddar was anything to go by, it the patty is nice (if over salted for some, although not me) but hardly noteworthy.
Great service, helpful (and forgiving) staff, but fare that on this visit, was well out of balance.
The Spotted Pig
A few days later and down on Greenwich Street and we’re in a totally different establishment. The Spotted Pig is a NYC take on the British gastropub, with chef April Bloomfield impressively counting River Cafe and Bibendum on her cooking CV.
Spotted Pig is another establishment with a no reservation policy which – depending on your opinion – is either the ultimate in fairness or maddeningly annoying. Generally, I’m with the latter, especially when I’m visiting a new city and want to create a proper itinery, however, knowing this in advance we still tried the stupidest walk-up time for 7pm on a Saturday night and settled in for a (promised by the excellent, hipster front-of-house staff) two hour wait. Just over an hour later, having sampled the excellent (if over priced by local comparison) craft beer list, we were led to our table.
In that hour, I’d seen enough of their house burgers pass by to have built up a serious case of dish envy. Most intriguing was the accompanying almost-Vermicelli nest of fries (billed as “Shoestrings”) and whilst I was primarily in any case here for the self-same well admired burger, anticipation was building. It was at this point, I noticed that it was served with Roquefort. I’m not a burger-cheese fascist by any means, but Roquefort is a brave, brave choice. And as it turns out a brain-meltingly stupid one.
Whilst Laura tucked into her apparently excellent Char salad and (definitely lovely) Kale and Bacon side, I was in cheese hell. One bite in and I knew it was wrong, so I tried removing what was left from the carefully griddled brioche bun, but to little avail. I had an apparently well-blended and perfectly medium-cooked patty seemingly beloved by all who have reviewed it, but all I had was a face full of snorty, blue sheep’s cheese. That nest of fries was beautiful, but virtually impossible to eat; pulling it apart was a logistical challenge in the first place and once you had, it was cold and over-seasoned. Watching almost-full plates of these shoestrings return to the kitchen on otherwise empty plates was heartbreaking.
After 5Napkin a couple of nights previously, I could almost cry in despair.
The cooking at The Spotted Pig was exemplary on a technical level, and in the execution on the plates that Laura (sensibly) ordered. I could well have eaten NYC’s best burger. And I will never know.
5 Napkin Burger 630 9th Ave (@ 45th Street), NYC, USA. [website]
The Spotted Pig 314 W. 11th Street (@ Greenwich St), NYC, USA. [website]