It takes time to appreciate Minetta Tavern. In our case, it took a booking 6 weeks prior to secure a 6pm Monday 2 hour table slot, for others it requires somewhat nefarious means to get one of the 70 covers available in this minute (by New York standards) venue tucked away in Greenwich Village, behind seemingly permanently closed blinds.
It’s around 3 years ago that British-born serial restaurant entrepreneur Keith McNally got his hands on this city stalwart, sitting on this street corner since the early 1930’s. Preferring a light evolution to complete revolution, the place still feels steeped in its own history, the dining floor feeling more of an amphitheatre than a restaurant; tables that you feel have hosted business deals of less a than legitimate nature, photographs surrounding the tales indicate that these seats once hosted the great and the good of the worlds of sports and entertainment.
What McNally has done is to re-establish Minetta’s reputation for carnivore excellence. With the guidance of butchery genius Pat La Frieda, one dish in particular draws punters – and this one in particular – to the re-launched venue; the fabled “Black Label Burger”. Sure you can gorge yourself on the huge range of well-chosen meats; the stuffed duck confit that Laura chose as an alternative, was opulent as it was addictive, the length-cut bone marrow served with crostini was akin to essence of roast dinner in a crispy morsel.
Simply put, the Black Label Burger is something not to be taken lightly. You could be say that it has to deliver at a price-tag of $26 – let’s not confuse the matter with comparing that to many a poor quality gastro-burger in London with that sort of price tag, this is a HUGE price in NYC – and it delivers something of an unusual richness. The patty is made up with a special La Frieda blend of côte de boeuf and rib-eye (with short rib, brisket and skirt), dry-aged for around 6 weeks before it hits the grills.
The result, is rich and smooth, smokey and when served medium-rare, oozing juice… and possibly clarified butter. The temptation to fine mince has been resisted – a small criticism I have in the otherwise excellent “Burger & Lobster” back in London is the over-fine mincing – it’s by no means course-cut, but it retains the character of the excellent blend, letting the high quality constituent parts in the patty blend perfectly. The brioche bun allows compression, without disintegration, remaining flaky throughout.
Increasingly, I’ve become increasingly convinced that trying to generically refer to all minced pattys served in buns as burgers is utterly redundant. How could I compare Minetta to Shake Shack ? Or for that matter, Bar Boulud to Mother Flipper ? It’s unfair to try, given that a south London carpark is not Knightsbridge, a hut in a park is not an historic high-end grill.
What Minetta represents is possibly the best a burger can be. Make it from the best available cuts, allow the best chefs to cook it in the best possible conditions and you’ll end up with the Black Label. It’s almost the end game. What exists beyond this ?
The wine list is however, not especially accessible. Deserts – if you have room – are limited to a few soufflés . As a flip to that, that staff and service are impeccable (treating my ham-fisted wine spilling by replacing my glass for free). Minetta is a treat, but as a meat lover, it’s one that in NYC you need to experience.
113 MacDougal St., New York, NY 10012