Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Burgers and the Business Traveler
Thursday, February 15, 2018 -- I came down with a serious case of agita the last time I flew out of New York's Kennedy Airport.
Not after I had a bite to eat, but before.
On my way to JFK, I couldn't decide which burger joint to visit. It was driving me, if not literally, then culinarily insane. I was staying at my brother Joe's apartment in Queens not far from the airport. There were two excellent options, both within walking distance.
The obvious choice was the place that serves the only hamburger in the entire universe to which I am 100 percent loyal 100 percent of the time. The one that I have enjoyed and, yes, craved since before I could cross a city street alone without being scolded.
That would be a White Castle burger. An original White Castle slider, to be precise, meaning a single five-hole beef patty served on a soft steamed bun with nothing but chopped cooked onions, a little ketchup and a pickle chip.
I am enthralled by White Castle the way some travelers pledge their lives and their sacred burger honor to In-N-Out, Five Guys or Shake Shack. In fact, my preferred way to wolf a White Castle is in a car, where the pungent, steamy aroma swaddles you like a fine wool blanket.
The not-so-obvious choice was a newish "gourmet hamburger" place called Truburger. Here Joe (my airport ride) and I could sit at a table and be served as we ate comfortably and quaffed a couple of beers. It's a good place to grab a burger. Very good, actually. And it's just 2.9 miles from JFK.
I bring this up because I know how important a good burger can be to a business traveler. I bet American road warriors eat more burgers in airports and hotels and out-of-town ports of call than they do in their hometowns. And we know the best-selling item at all those fancy steakhouses popping up at nation's airports is not steak, but burgers.
Fortunately, we live in a time when producing high-quality burgers is very serious business. So if your go-to road food is a hamburger, you have great choices anywhere you happen to be. (By the way, this one time I cheated on White Castle. We dined on Truburgers.)
The Meatstick ($17) at One Eared Stag isn't on the menu, but don't let that stop you. It's one of the tastiest burgers you will ever eat. After all, the ground meat blend is 20 percent bacon. ... The Bocado Burger Stack at Bocado is probably the town's must-have burger. Why wouldn't it be? It's got two beef patties made from brisket, short rib and chuck and served on a nice soft bun with house-made pickles.
If you like 'em big and messy, then the Lincoln Burger ($13) at the Lincoln Tavern in South Boston is the play. It's wood-grilled, topped with bacon aioli, caramelized onions and sharp cheddar, and served on a brioche sesame seed bun. The fries are great, too, and they come with the burger. ... Over in Cambridge the $18 burger at Craigie on Main is without a doubt Boston's most famous. At dinner, they only make a certain number, but it's on the menu at lunch and brunch. This is a grass-fed beef specimen on a house-baked bun and topped with cheddar, vinaigrette-dressed lettuce and tomato and house-made ketchup. My pal at Harvard--yeah, he's smarter than me--tells me that he lives on this burger.
The line to get into Au Cheval is there for a reason: The no-frills burger here is simple and yet amazingly killer. A single cheeseburger on toasted bun will set you back $12, a double $14, but top it with an egg ($1) and bacon ($3.50) and now you're really talking! ... The Juicy Lucy ($15) at Dusek's is among the town's best-known burgers. It's served on a brioche bun (my favorite bread option for a burger, by the way) and topped with American cheese, red onion-bacon marmalade, tomato and butter lettuce. Oh, and did I mention the fries cooked in beef fat?
Boulevardier isn't a burger joint, it's a French bistro. But its Boulevardier Burger ($18) is worth a trip all by itself. It's made of grass-fed beef and topped with house-made bacon, gruyere and caramelized onion. It's served on a pain au lait bun with hand-cut fries. ... Like your burgers on the down and dirty side? Me, too. Head over to Del's Charcoal Burgers off Belt Line Road and stand in line. The place has been in business since 1957 and the most a burger can set you back is $4.85. Oh, have a root beer and a deep-fried Twinkie, too.
The "Big Mec" double cheeseburger ($25) at Petit Trois is about as close to a must-have burger as it gets. Chef Ludovic Lefebvre is from Burgundy (as in France) and his cheeseburger is inspired by one he ate at Au Cheval in Chicago. ... The Boner Burger ($18) from Animal should not be missed, either. The name derives from the tasty bone marrow that's mixed in with the ground meats. ... For a more casual experience, head to Cassell's in the Hotel Normandie in Koreatown. A very tasty burger on a Parker House bun will set you back $10. ... And, yes, people flying into LAX still strategize about how to get to the nearest In-N-Out.
The burger at The Spotted Pig in the West Village will set you back $26, but such is the price of greatness. It's a juicy half-pound patty topped with Roquefort and served on a nicely grilled brioche bun. The rosemary-scented shoestring fries are insane and come with the burger. ... In the same neighborhood but a world away is the Corner Bistro, a dive where I have whiled away many a lunch hour. For as little as $9.75 you get an honest burger at an honest price, though take my advice and order the Bistro Burger ($12.95) with cheese and crispy bacon. ... Speaking of steakhouse burgers, one of New York's best is at Peter Luger Steak House in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It's $14.95--plus $1.50 for cheese and $6.50 for bacon. It's only available at lunch. As soon as the clock strikes 3:45 p.m., no more burgers for you!
The Whiskey King burger ($26) at Village Whiskey is one seriously tasty specimen. Not only is the burger topped with cippolini onions, bleu cheese and bacon, it's also got foie gras. Cholesterol meds are not included, but I'll gladly spot you some of mine. ... The Pork Roll Burger ($13) at The Blue Duck is a mix of pork and beef. It's also topped with cheese, an egg and Sriracha mayo. On a potato bun no less.
It's a strip mall hole in the wall, but the Paradise Valley Burger Company is worth falling into. (It's just five miles from the Westin Kierland Resort.) For a mere $5.50 you'll get a not-at-all-basic burger; after all, it's got fresh cucumbers and pickled onions on top. The toasted bun is thin and chewy, making for a satisfying, if a bit unusual, burger experience. ... Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar is a five-store local chain that you must try next time you're in town. The basic Zinburger ($10.50) is topped with Manchego cheese and onions that have been braised in Zinfandel. The Angus beef is all grass-fed and ground in-house daily. Oh, the bun has lots of butter on it and then it's grilled.
The Best Damn Grass Fed Cheeseburger ($9.95) at 4505 Burger & BBQ is served on the best-looking griddled sesame-and-scallion bun I've ever seen. People seem to genuinely love the burger, too. ... WesBurger 'N' More used to be a pop-up, but now it's a full-time restaurant in the Mission District. The burger rotation changes all the time. But the $11 Hot Wes, topped with onion rings, queso and pickled jalapenos, is always on the menu and worth sampling.
This column is Copyright © 2018 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.