Monday, December 29, 2008

NYC Journal: burger joint

After a week's holiday hiatus, Fosco returns to the narrative of the pre-Christmas trip that he took to New York City with his boyfriend Oz. You can read the previous installments of Fosco's NYC Journal here.

After a pan-Asian hipster dinner at Buddakan on Friday night, Fosco and Oz were looking for something a little more relaxed for Saturday lunch. They settled on burgers. As the weather was cold and snowy, the outdoor eating arrangements of Danny Meyer's Shake Shack didn't seem like the best idea (although Fosco will endure a severe amount of pain for frozen custard). Instead, Fosco and Oz opted for the faux dive: burger joint at Le Parker Meridien.

Le Parker Meridien is a lovely upscale hotel just south of Central Park (with an understated entrance reminiscent of a subway tunnel). burger joint is the purposefully incongruous eatery hidden off the hotel's sumptuous lobby. Seriously. The entire "restaurant" is hidden behind floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains, with a rope line to keep the burger-seekers orderly:

Of course, this pretense at shame is all good fun as there is no doubt that Le Parker Meridien is profiting handsomely from this little chunk of greasiness in their lobby.

You can tell you've come the right place when you start down the darkened hallway and see the only sign that advertises burger joint's existence. You also pass a high-powered air purifier set into the wall to prevent the delicious burgery smell from ruining the rare air of Le Meridien's lobby. (N.B., those are Germans ahead of us in line.)

When you've finally waited long enough to make it in the door, keep your expectations low. burger joint is literally a room--and a room not much larger than Fosco's apartment in Santa Cruz. There is 1970s rec room paneling. There are no windows. There are television and movie posters. And (a very few) diner tables.

There's a counter where a woman listens to your order while ignoring you completely (and yet, she gets it right!).

Once you've ordered (N.B., your choices are limited: burger, cheeseburger, fries, shakes), the game begins: you must outsmart thirty other people to claim a small table. Luckily, many of your competitors are Japanese or European tourists and consequently cannot match your American level of pushiness. The trick is to choose a table where the people look like they're almost finished eating and then lurk until you can swoop into the seat. Unfortunately, you will spend most of your meal being stared at by the next wave of table-seekers.

While you're waiting for your order, you can read the panoply of celebrity testimonials and autographs that adorn the walls. Fosco's favorite was Mitt Romney's:

In case you can't quite read it, it says "Big Burger Fan, Thanks! Mitt Romney 9-17-07." Sadly, this historical document is somewhat obscured (purposely?) by the autograph of Chazz Palminteri, who is neither a presidential candidate nor a Mormon.

And the food? Well, Fosco's vanilla shake was pretty incredible. And the shoestring fries were first-class. The burgers were fine, although nothing to blog about. Good, but not great.

The problem with burger joint, Fosco and Oz have decided, is the inevitable comparison (for West Coast residents) with In-N-Out Burger. In-N-Out is just better. In NYC, in the absence of In-N-Out, burger joint must seem like heaven; but to anyone who can eat In-N-Out on a regular basis, the comparison does not work out in burger joint's favor. It's like a Memphis native eating barbecue in Minneapolis--the Minneapolis barbecue may be perfectly well-executed, but it's not going to compare to Memphis barbecue.

That said, the atmosphere at burger joint was a hoot. And the whole experience makes for a decent story. So, on the whole, Fosco and Oz are glad to have eaten there. But if you're an NYC resident dying for a great burger, might I suggest Virgin America's flights from JFK to LAX?

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