As I’m not exercising and haven’t been exercising for the past few months, I’ve tried to resist one food-obsession-binge: the Cheeseburger. In my mind, everybody just hushed at the name of such a divine food; something so flavorful, so delicious, so ingenious, that the Vietnamese MUST have invented it! I tease, I tease. Obviously we weren’t rocking a lot of cheese outside of “la vache qui rit” (laughing cow) spreadable cheese triangles that amazingly, were never refrigerated when I ate them in Vietnam. Those crazy French – sure, they may have colonized my people, engaged in a terrible war when the Vietnamese just wanted to be free, and burned our libraries on their way out (post getting their asses served to them like a steaming bowl of pho), but dude, they gave us spreadable cheese that can just hang out on the counter. Cool.
I think the love of a good burger may be genetic. My mom says that when she and my dad were poor, immigrant, hippies,they would sneak food into the movie theatre. Not just any food: full-out burgers. She said it was slightly embarrassing as they loudly pulled back the foil wrapping from outside the burger and then crunched in through the lettuce and onion. Yeah, not embarrassing enough to stop, but whatever. By the time we came along, we were microwaving bags of Orville Redenbacher and rushing to the theatre to enjoy it while it was still warm. FYI – my dad was also balding in his hippie days, so as his already protruding forehead became even more prominent and his hair started reaching shoulder length, the more and more he looked like a Klingon.
All I know is that I could probably eat a cheeseburger every, single day and not get tired of it. This may be why the universe decided to give me a metabolism that instantly places fat on my hips, thighs, and arms when I even think about fattening foods. If I had one of those ridiculous skinny metabolisms, I would probably be dead already from a cheeseburger-induced heart attack. I dream of a medium-rare, buttery-beef burger topped with a strong cheese (although I like a good In-N-Out burger with just plain American, too), some fried onions if you’re lucky, a few bread-and-butter pickles, at least 3 slices of crispy bacon (I hate when it’s too chewy and I have to try and saw it apart with my front teeth), and then slathered in ketchup and both dijon & grainy mustard… Oh, and maybe some lettuce, tomatoes, onions and what not for health purposes and a little crunch… Brioche bun, sesame seed bun, whatever – but it HAS to be a bun. Don’t throw a tougher roll at me – I want a doughy soft-centered BUN that’s been lightly toasted. Oh yeahhhhhhhhhh. A side of perfectly crisp, golden fries and a milkshake (or Arnold Palmer if you’re counting calories) would really do the trick. Follow that with a root beer float and you can see why it’s a good thing that I can’t eat that everyday for fear of how it would impact my waistline.
Obviously, you all know how I feel about a Shorty’s .32 cheeseburger. I loves it. I loves it like an illegitimate child. Sometimes I get it topped with cheddar, sometimes with blue, but that little bastard is always filled with meaty love. When I read about DBGB, which, I kid you not, stands for Daniel Boulud Good Burger (WARNING: if you’re at the office, make sure your speakers are off before clicking that link – it sounds like you’re in the middle of that talking VW Bug commercial), I called up to try and get a same-day reservation. I literally read about it online and called before I was finished reading the article. A lovely lady picked up and I basically yelled into the phone: “I WANT A CHEESEBURGER!” Sadly, no openings – completely booked. Hmmm – do you have a bar??? Of course, but it’s a limited menu. Are there burgers on that limited menu? Yes ma’am, all 3. See you in an hour, lady!
I called one of my eating buddies, Nick Wong (winner of FCI’s hot dog eating contest – destroying his competition by a good 2 minutes or so), and off we went to sample the magical combination of Daniel Boulud meets burger. How can it be anything less than stunning? A piece of art? A piece of meaty, savory, cheesy, art? We walked ourselves to the Bowery at a sprint and busted through the DBGB glass doors.
Holy cheez its, the place was PACKED at 7PM on a Wednesday night. There’s a bar area with tables that’s the size of (probably bigger than) most restaurants. The fancy pants dining room is in the back with an open kitchen, where our buddy, Ed Cho, looked like someone had shot his puppy as he hauled ass to plate terrines. We tried to find a table, but again, the place was filled and as we passed by and tried to ascertain whether or not a table was about to be finished, we’d get a contemptuous look saying, “I had to kick a pregnant lady and her toddler to get this table, so I’m planning to move in. Keep walking.”
We pushed through to the actual bar, all the while trying to tame my many bags (I always have at least 2 on me and usually there are nesting bags within those bags), which kept whipping about every time I turned my body, accidentally smacking the heads of some poor people just trying to drink their sorrows away. When we finally made it to the bar, we had to ask two gentlemen to slide over so we could share a bench. They were gracious about doing it, but I could tell they weren’t super-comfortable. Here’s the thing: there aren’t bar stools at the bar, there are bar LOVE SEATS. Yeah. There’s this handy shelf underneath where you can store your stuff, but your ass is going to touch the ass of the person next to you. If it’s two girls, whatever, who cares. A couple on a date? Not a problem. Two straight guy friends? Starting to get uncomfortable. Two straight guys who don’t know each other? Yuh oh.
We ordered some perfectly smooth manhattans from Donny, the very attentive and funny (check out his business card) bartender who was taking care of us. Nick Wong (aka The Wanger, aka Rachey) and I ordered (to split, of course) both the classic Yankee burger and the Piggie – a burger topped with pulled pork on a cheddar-cornbread bun. We ordered and we waited… not that long, but it felt like forever because of the Post-Order-Famine effect: you know, it’s when you’re fine before you get to the restaurant, but once you order your food, your brain starts expecting instant gratification so your whole body starts suffering hunger pangs, which makes you cranky, and sometimes you have to slump in your chair and put your head down on the table and groan. No? Never happened to you? Oh, ok. Just me then…
When our plates arrived, we weren’t disappointed. These are some good-sized burgers, especially for the very reasonable price tag. And the construction of the burger itself was perfection: you could see all the layers of fixings, there was great height, and the bun was topped with a pickle (Yankee) or a Jalapeno (Piggie) before being skewered down. Regardless of whether or not I’m splitting a burger (vs. sharing, because sharing implies that I just gave away half my burger without something in exchange… which I just wouldn’t do), I always cut my burger in half. Firstly because I hate when you eat a burger whole and then you get to the end and you’ve either pushed the burger meat all the way through to the other side of the burger and there’s not enough bun left, or vice versa. Secondly because I love the way it looks. Thirdly because I like to not only put condiments in my burger (i.e. loads of ketchup, dijon, and grainy mustard), but I also like to dip my burger into the condiments, and somehow I feel that a cut-meat surface is a better grabber/absorber of condiments than a seared-side. Yup, I got issues. When we cut into the Yankee and the Piggie… well, let’s just say that this is what a Daniel burger should look like. Just looking through my pictures now, I’m so impressed with the thickness of the burger patty and how incredibly precision-cooked it is to a vibrant, pinky-red medium-rare.
The burger meat itself is a blend of shortrib, chuck tender, chuck roast, and beef knuckle (ground fresh everyday) and the pulled pork is by way of Daisy May’s BBQ. The Yankee had tangy Essex St. pickles and a personal favorite, Vidalia onion. I love Vidalia onions. Actually, I’m not really sure why people don’t use more raw Vidalia onions in salads. Thinly sliced and soaked in whatever vinaigrette you’ve made, your salad is instantly elevated to a main course vs. appetizer. Ok, that’s not quite true, but it’s definitely a better salad than it was without the thin slices of Vidalia goodness. Obviously I added both bacon and cheddar to my burger; the savory, smokey bacon flavor and nutty cheesiness complimented the juicy burger nicely. I’m not going to lie, I like my burger a little more seasoned, but that’s probably because I need it to hold up to the onslaught of condiments that I put it through.
The Piggie definitely had a nice kick to it from the jalapeno mayonnaise and the jalapeno juice that the bun had soaked up. The cheddar-cornbread bun was less cornbready than I had been expecting and I was a little saddened by that. Again, the burger was not as seasoned as I would like, but it was the pulled pork (not made at DBGB) that both Nick and I found to be lacking. It didn’t have a lot of other flavor outside porkiness, which is usually a good thing when well-complimented by good salt & peppering, but in this case, we both looked at each other and just shrugged our shoulders. Now, to be fair, we DEVOURED everything and cleaned our plates, which means that these were 2, very decent burgers. However, the Piggie just didn’t live up to my expectations – probably because I had placed it on a burger pedestal. The Yankee definitely stood out in how tender, thick, juicy, and expertly-medium-rare it was. With a little more seasoning, it would be everything that I expect from a Daniel burger — of course, I do have a slight sodium addiction, so everyone else will probably think it’s perfect.
All-in-all, the DBGB experience was pretty great. It’s all the Daniel quality and Daniel level-of-service for a low-low (relative to Daniel) price tag. I’m looking forward to donning some fancy pants and trying to get into the back dining room when I can pull together a little more funding. In the meantime, my burger hunt continues. I’m planning a burger crawl to sample the “best” burgers in the city. Where’s your favorite??? Please comment and let me know so I can add it to the list!
Beyond my favorite Shorty’s burger, I also enjoy good fast-food-esque burgers from Burger Joint helping and a Shack Burger – although I try and go to the Shack only in winter because I hate lines, so my enjoyment is seriously affected by the whole freezing cold, shivering, runny nose thing… Maybe I should stop getting that milkshake with it… I’ve eaten a lot of Five Guys in my life as well since it used to be down the street from my office when I worked in Philadelphia. To hear from better people about burger madness, definitely check out A Hamburger Today.