What to say about New York’s seemingly endless fascination with finding the city’s best burger that hasn’t already been said? I haven’t contributed much to the discussion myself—I’m more of a dilettante than anything else—but I do keep up with it, maintaining a running list of contenders to try.
Since I moved here eight-plus years ago, there’s been one spot on or near the top of almost every best-of I’ve read: Peter Luger. Located in Williamsburg, with the burger only offered at lunchtime, it’s not the easiest place to cross off the list. Or so I thought. The Carnivore and I had some midday free time on our hands last week and decided to put it to good use; we hopped on the B44 bus, and no more than 15 minutes later, we were walking into the restaurant.
I did the reading before we went. Perhaps the most well-known steakhouse in the city, Peter Luger’s burger grind is incomparable. It uses, according to the Times‘ Frank Bruni, “a combination of the trimmings from its porterhouses and prime chuck roll,” but the critics seem to agree that although the meat is vastly superior to what you’ll find elsewhere, Luger’s chefs have no idea how to cook it to the proper temperature.
Even armed with this knowledge, I couldn’t bring myself to order mine any way other than medium-rare; the Carnivore went with his usual well-done. Luger’s burgers are served with minimal accompaniments, meaning no lettuce, tomato or pickle, you chi-chi eater, you. Just a hefty slice of onion, with the option to add on cheese (American), bacon (thick-cut), and a side of fries if you want to fancy it up a bit. We both did.
I topped mine with a few of the inner-onion rings and a combination of ketchup and house-made steak sauce (the bacon stayed on the side, too thick and chewy to put on the sandwich without making a huge mess) and closed the bun. As soon as the top half hit the patty, juice began to run down the sides, and I took my first bite. Though supremely moist and texturally beautiful, the meat was so blandly seasoned, it was a let-down, two gigantic slices of cheese obscuring what little flavor the half-pounder did have. (The Carnivore had the opposite experience—his was almost too salty. In this case, it seems, more time on the grill is better.) The bun was on the sweet side, but sturdy enough to withstand the onslaught of a leaky patty.
So, for next time, the lessons learned:
1. Order it medium, at the very least; medium-well might be a good idea.
2. Forget the bacon, and think twice about the cheese.
3. Share the fries. With a burger this size, a serving each is just plain overkill.
Was it the best burger I’ve had in the city? Probably not, but I’m willing to give it another chance.
Right after I get through the rest of my list.