Recent: Jersey Burgers
July 30, 2008
For the love of Pete where the hell have I been? Weeks since the last post. Months before that. You're all worried sick I know. Well I've been eating burgers. Mostly mediocre, some downright horrible, but a couple of excellent burgers as well. And here ya go:
First, one from home. Good. Loose patty. Freshly ground beef. Exceptional bacon. Good burger to bun ratio. Exceptional cheese. So what's so hard about that?
Let's start off with the worst burger by far. Hands down.
Smith Brother's bar in Ridgewood, NJ, burned down last year. It wasn't notable other than as a drinking hole, live music venue (local blues bands mostly), post-funeral gathering place, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise: a very mediocre burger.
Well they've risen from the ashes and rebranded as Smith Brother's Chophouse, or some such nonsense. Rest assured, when a place opens up in the suburbs, and they call themselves a "chophouse", it's not going to be anything like NYC's Keens Chophouse. In fact, odds are it's going to be pretty crappy. I attribute this phenomenon to the restaurant in question trying too hard to be what it's not, rather than just concentrating on buying decent food and not screwing it up too much. Smith Brother's is obviously focusing on the branding, and not the food.
The cheeseburger is served with cheese that looks as though it has been regurgitated onto the burger. I'm not sure what the angle is here. I guess they're using grated cheese. Possibly even buying it in bags pre-grated (mmmmmmm, potato starch yellow cheese nubs). At any rate, I didn't bother making any mental notes about this burger because it really wasn't very good at all. Way too much bun. Small thin burger. Served with steak fries and a cole slaw which amazingly I didn't like. I've rarely, if ever, met a slaw I didn't like.
Expectations can make or break an experience. My expectations of Joe's American Grill, a chain of sorts, with my local outlet being in the Paramus mall, weren't very high. They were especially tainted by the drop-by a few weeks prior, when I stood at the messy sticky bar for way too long while watching the one bartender sort something out on the obviously very complicated cash register. I left.
That wasn't my first trip to Joe's though. I had the burger a while back, and maybe even mentioned it here, and thought "hey, this is pretty good." This recent trip reinforced that thought. It's really not that bad at all. Tastes fresh, handmade, nice soft bun, eff me it's a pretty good burger! The fries, however, are soggy and limp. The burger comes with the obligatory lettuce, and el-crappo tomato, which you probably don't want to eat.
The bar is filled with people who'd you expect to be filling a bar at a mall. Loud obnoxious young ladies. Creepy businessmen trying to hit on loud obnoxious young ladies. Couples hiding from their real partners. A good amount of old fuckers. Guidos. Bar managers who are so young that they look like they're playing "dress-up" in their suits. Pretty depressing. Pink Floyd and Aerosmith on the sound system, and I'm not talking Toys In the Attic era Aerosmith, either. I mean the really bad stuff. Rice pilafs coming out of the kitchen, various "parmigianos". Get me out of here now!!!
Update (2/2009): Arthur's Landing has closed.
Another trip to Arthur's Landing proved even worse than the last two. This place just does not have its shit together. To start off, the bartender didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground.
A martini ordered "very dry" apparently translated in his head into "add lots of extra dry vermouth". Twice. The 3rd time we said "just make it straight vodka, no vermouth". He then poured vodka into the martini glass to make the drink. Into the GLASS, NOT a shaker. Not another glass in which he'd stir. In his defense he sensed that this didn't look right, and added it to a shaker for a quick toss with some ice.
They have a nice drink list with some old classics on it. That was very exciting for me, since I'm really getting into cocktails. However, I knew I was in trouble when I ordered a cocktail (I forget which one), and the bartender immediately took the drink list and started reading the ingredients and just sort of adding them into the glass. No measures. No rhyme. No reason. No clue.
I ordered the "Arthur's Burger." Now, I know this is my fault, but, I read the description quickly, and was kind of expecting a special burger. Like maybe with some interesting cheese, or some house-smoked bacon, or something that would set it apart from "a hamburger". It's "Arthur's Burger" for cryin' out loud.
No. No such luck. Crappy sliced tomato, some pointless lettuce, and a stale roll. This was my second experience with the burger, and it was just as mediocre as the first. Anyone who tells you this is an exceptional burger either has no taste, or, has the chef cook especially for them because they're self-important shameless announcing-themselves-to-restaurants bloggers or restaurant reviewers. If you don't fit into one of those categories, skip the burger. In fact, judging by the rest of the food and service we've had at Arthur's Landing, skip the whole deal.
Tabor Road Tavern, one of the Harvest Restaurant Group's restaurants, looks like it should have a great burger. And it might have had one, until, well, until today. Today was the first day they started taking their what I have to think was perfectly fine 8 ounce patty (today was my first visit), and making into two 4 ounce patties. When I first got the burger I thought:
1) gee, that was fast, I just ordered it
2) looks good!
Well, the fries were exceptional. Nice and salty. The burger(s), however, was underseasoned, and just lacked any flavor at all. The small patty size translates into a barely cooked crust-free outside. Gray. Horrible. I didn't even finish it. Served with shredded lettuce, pancetta, and some decent cheese, on a decent bun.
I can say with unmatched confidence that the splitting of this burger into two patties is a colossal mistake. The bartender explained that they are a new place and are trying to improve things and the chef thinks this is a better burger. I didn't have the heart to explain to the bartender that I know a good burger, and the chef has no idea what he's doing with this thing.
<aside>The Tabor Road Tavern menu reminds me that I look forward to the day when I don't see "a trio of sliders" on a menu ever again.</aside>
Now, I'm going to quickly mention two exceptional burgers, because my goal here has always been to let people know about good food.
The first is at the Old Homestead in the Borgata in Atlantic City. It's 40 bucks or something. They call it "kobe" or something. It's also enormous. So, if you're smart like me, you'll bring or buy a friend, and share it. The kitchen was nice enough to cut it in half for us. Juicy. Meaty. Beefy. Perfectly cooked. Delicious. And it comes with tator tots. One of the best burgers that I've ever had in fact.
Update (2/09): South City Prime has closed, and will reopen as Fire & Oak.
South City Prime also puts out a very good burger. They have two. One is called "kobe" or something silly, and the other is "grass fed." Get the grass fed, and get it on the brioche. An absolutely wonderful burger with oven dried tomato, cheese, a perfect roll, and some great fries. Highly, highly, muchly recommended. And the bartenders know a thing or two about booze.