Barnacle Bill's has been getting play all over the internet for years for what is supposed to be the "best burger." It's been on my list for that long.
I finally found myself driving down the Garden State Parkway a few weeks ago and decided to try to find it (quite a feat in a car without GPS or maps).
After two phone calls to a friendly person at the restaurant, and a basic knowledge of where the Atlantic Ocean is in relation to the Parkway, I found Barnacle Bill's at about 12.15 on a freezing cold Saturday. And I wasn't the only one. The place was filled with families and boating-types, as well as some of the well-heeled young and old from the area. Quite a mix of folk, actually.
Every spot at the bar, save one, was taken. And people were lining up waiting for tables. I can see why. It's a great old-school "shore" place in an upscale area overlooking a nice stretch of the Navesink river and some lovely houses up on the hill. The free peanuts are a nice touch as well.
Anyway, I wasn't here to take in the sights or pretend that I could afford to rub elbows with those folks: I was there for this burger.
The burger is cooked behind the bar on a open-flame grill. That's a good start. It's an enormous piece of meat, weighing in at about 10 ounces I'd estimate. That's a bit too big for my taste, but generally not a deal-breaker. But don't get your hopes up, because it's somewhat downhill from there.
The patties are not seasoned at all as far as I can tell. No salt. No pepper. It goes against everything that I stand for to not season a piece of meat, especially one that size. And then there's the roll. It's a "hard roll" (aka Kaiser roll), which is not optimal to my mind. I like Kaiser rolls for breakfast with butter, or better yet with Taylor ham, egg, and cheese. But I just don't find them appropriate for burgers. First off ketchup always squirts out the top where that little hole is. What's the story with that?
Back to the good stuff. My burger was cooked to m/r as ordered. That's tough to do with a patty this size, as the center is almost always too raw. And that was the case here. But you can eat around the raw center and still be full. There are canisters of sea salt on the bar, so you can season your unseasoned burger. That's a nice touch.
Was the burger juicy? Sure it was. Was it exploding with beefy flavor? Not necessarily. Then again most burgers don't. Most burgers just aren't very good. In the grand scheme of things, this is certainly one of the better "pub burgers" to be had. But it's not all that.
The burger is served with potato chips. You can order fries for a few dollars more. The fries are steak-fry style, and decent enough.
I didn't look at the wine choices, but they have a decent enough beer selection. The bartenders are friendly and efficient. You could easily spend an afternoon here, chatting with regulars and visitors and bartenders (I didn't because I was off to the Windmill for a post burger Hot Dog. People to do places to see and all of that).
Overall I would probably be a regular here if I lived in the area, and wasn't embarrassed to park my non-GPS car in the lot along with those shiny expensive ones. But I don't see myself driving from North Jersey for that burger again.
Barnacle Bill's : 1 1st Street : Rumson, NJ : 732.747.8396