It’s National Burger Month! NYC’s Best Veggie & Meat Burgers

May is National Burger Month: a full 31 days of dedication to the juicy, ketchup-and-onion-topped, charred, and dripping beast that is The Burger. And all across this fine city, you can find burgers in all kinds of varieties – quinoa–filled, topped with bacon and sauerkraut, served with a knife stabbed through it – but are they all quality? No. No, they are not. But fortunately, we’ve found The Best Burgers In NYC for the vegetarians and carnivores in all of us.

The Veggie Burger and Cheeseburger from Westville: This homey, like-your-mother’s-kitchen spot across downtown Manhattan has found the sweet spot in burgers, serving a veggie burger that’s one of the only veggie burgers the carnivores will eat (and finish). Topped with sautéed mushrooms, avocado, and a tartar sauce, the veggie burger has a fritter texture that’s reminiscent of a handful of fries. And the cheeseburger? It’s thick, simple and, like the veggie burger, served on a sweet Portuguese bun.

The Bistro Burger from Corner Bistro: This legendary, classic spot on a cobblestone corner of the West Village still stands as the king of The No-Frills Burger. Their signature Bistro Burger is 8oz of meat topped with a slab of American cheese and crispy strips of greasy bacon, sandwiched between a white, fluffy bun. At just $8.75, it is the last-standing delicious and cheap burger, and at evening hours, the rustic, wooden, dive spot is packed. Enjoy the wait.

The Veggie Burger and Original 5 Napkin Burger from 5 Napkin BurgerWhen you just need a massive, dripping piece of animal between your fingers, 5 Napkin’s Original burger is the thing; 10 oz. of fresh ground beef, topped with a creamy gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and their famous, sweet rosemary aioli, all stuffed between a white roll. And the veggie burger is stuffed with fresh veggies – black beans,  brown rice, carrots, beets, and jalapeños between a multigrain bun topped with a tartar sauce tang. Alternate between burgers each week this month. 

The Double ShackBurger from Shake Shack: Two slabs of all-natural Angus beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, grease, and the secret, beloved ShakeSauce make this one of the city’s most dependable burger spots and the ultimate hangover cure. 

The Cheeseburger from Burger Joint at Le Parker Merdien: This hidden, tiny, brick oasis inside the fancy lobby of the Parker Meridien shocks with its blue-collar diner-feel and its diner, greasy burger topped with lettuce, raw onions, and ketchup. It’s simplicity as its most delicious – and will keep you full for 6+ hours. 

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Eating Culture: New Restaurants for the Arts

In the past couple weeks, two popular chefs have opened their newest eateries with a little more culture then ever before. Culture being literal as the venue for celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s American Table is in Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, and the team behind the beloved M. Wells Diner has launched M. Wells Dinette, their new eatery inside MoMA PS1 in Queens.

“To me, Lincoln Center symbolizes New York City’s passion for culture and performance,” said Samuelsson. “As a lover of the arts, I am honored to showcase the diversity of the American dining scene at this iconic institution.”

Samuelsson’s new cafe is situated along the large glass windows in the concert hall’s foyer, and is helmed by executive chef Charlene Johnson-Hadley, who worked her way up from being line cook at Red Rooster in Harlem. The fare at American Table includes smoked Caesar salad, turkey meatball sandwiches, country ham biscuits, and, naturally, apple pie.

Over at PS1, chefs and owners Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis have converted an old classroom into their restaurant and offer a daily changing menu with items like escargot, rabbit terrine, and bibimbap with tuna and scallops. For those of you who were looking to try M. Wells’ infamous horsemeat tartar, according to Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post they will not be dishing it out any time soon after a PETA protest. M. Wells Dinette is open the same hours as the museum, but despite the classroom look, don’t expect it to be thronged with children as other museum cafeterias are.

With these new restaurants, almost all the hip cultural centers in New York now have the added draw of destination dining to them, mainly thanks to restaurateur Danny Meyer. His Union Hospitality Group runs The Modern at MoMA, followed by Untitled at The Whitney, and they have upped the food ante at Yankee Stadium by filling it with Shake Shack burgers, shakes, and fries. Now all we need is a true meshing of the two and have more food art.

Photo by Philip Greenberg

Blue Collar Brings West Coast Burgers to Brooklyn

Yesterday, on the way to play with kittens and puppies at an animal shelter in Williamsburg, I walked right by Blue Collar, the latest cheap patty place to open in New York. Suddenly, I was craving a juicy, one-hand burger. That hunger mixed with the eatery’s breezy, open windows, intimate-yet-airy space, and the burger shake décor, made me walk in.

Blue Collar opened last week and is owned by Gavin Compton and Jeff Slag, who run the charming new American restaurant Miller’s Tavern nearby. With their latest venue, the team aims to bring West Coast-style burgers to city saturated with Shake Shacks. Chef Brian Perry told the New York Times Blue Collar is similar to the California-based burger chain In-N-Out, and, given on the prices and style, it’s clear he isn’t lying. You can get a basic hamburger with lettuce, tomato, secret sauce, and pickles for $4, and 75 cents gets you goopy yellow cheese on top. They have an array of hand-spun milkshakes like peanut butter, cookies and cream, plus a rotating flavor (Heath Bar, I believe, yesterday). They also serve the burger joint basics like crisp, golden fries, a beef hotdog, and, you can add chili to anything for $1.50.

But, the final question: is the burger good? Short answer: yes, it’s a perfectly fine, simple, cheap patty, though there isn’t a lot of flavor going on in the meat. Given the choice, I would pick Shake Shack, Bill’s Bar and Burger, or Five Guys for my low-key burger fix, but, for a quick and easy filler upper while stumbling home from the bar (they are open until midnight on weekdays and 2am on Friday and Saturday), Blue Collar is everyman’s burger. 

Loopy Doopy Bar Is Not a Goldman Conspiracy

The Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar at the Conrad New York hotel might fit neatly into the general conglomerate of Manhattan rooftop bars, but for one fun fact: the building is owned by Goldman Sachs. As part of what’s been dubbed “Goldman Alley,” Loopy Doopy—named for the Sol DeWitt piece in the hotel’s lobby—goes along with the Shake Shack, Vintry Wine & Whiskey, and Salvatore Anzalone’s barbershop to form Battery Park City’s new all-inclusive comfort zone for the 8,000 Goldman employees that come and go about the company’s main tower.

“On a Tuesday night, usually, you can’t move it’s so packed,” the bartender tells me, pouring a Maker’s and soda right before closing up—at 8:15 pm—because of high winds.

“And it’s all people from this company?”

“Goldman? Well, they own the building, so they probably encourage them to come here, I don’t know.”

“And they’re cool?”

He shrugs, swapping through facial expressions until he finds one that fits. “Yeah—I mean—yeah.”

This Tuesday, it’s a mellow scene. It’s Goldman people, but even better—Goldman interns. Skinny boys in blue and pink dress shirts huddle around like asparagus, not quite certain how to hold a drink in their hand. Twentysomething girls in pretty dresses sit at the bar, looking slightly disappointed that every other male there is still a child (myself included. Though I did carry the briefcase my mom bought me that I’ve never used). 

My old friend, whom we’ll call Wes, meets me at the bar so I feel like I have some reason to be there. He happens to be an advisor (or something) at JP Morgan, and I happen to be interested in figuring out what the hell Libor means.

I won’t bother to quote, because it’s super convoluted, but the important part is, Barclays took over Lehman Brothers after the financial collapse. And now that this interest rate-fixing scandal has come to light, everyone at Barclays except the chairman, Marcus Agius, is getting in trouble. Why hasn’t Agius gotten in trouble? Because he married a Rothschild. And the Rothschilds somehow have a stake in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which they intend to maintain, in order to control the cost of money and the value of everything they hold.

If that sounds weird, or Ron Paul-ish, the answer is yes, you’re welcome. What else is a little weird is that this massive investment bank owns a hotel and a couple restaurants and a gym and a barbershop, and their employees are “encouraged” to patronize them and stay within a one-block radius of the office for anything they’d need. I’m not saying there’s a definite conspiracy theory to be hatched, but for such a massive company that relies on manufactured financial products and manipulated interest rates (even if indirectly), it’s sort of weird that they intend to keep their sheep so close to the shepherd, especially since New York is a fine enough pasture from tip to tip. And what I also know, from watching enough Hitchcock movies, is that if something strange and menacing has to go down, it usually happens on a rooftop. Cheers.

Are Toronto’s Chefs Biting New York’s Style?

Last year, when slick New York restaurateur Scott Conant brought his flagship eatery Scarpetta to The Thompson Hotel’s Toronto outpost, he did so with the typical bravado of a celebrity chef from Manhattan. Just prior to Scarpetta’s opening, Conant posted an “Open Letter To Toronto” on The Huffington Post, in which the James Beard award-winner introduced himself, his restaurants, and Miami, to Torontonians. “Miami is really beautiful, T-Dot. You should check it out sometime,” he wrote, urging his new friends to visit a city that is (gasp!) a whole three-hour plane ride away. It was just one of many perceived slights that Toronto’s food critics and bloggers accused Conant of. To his credit, the letter wasn’t all condescension and bragadoccio.

Conant praised the “local bounty” of the Niagara Peninsula, and the importance placed on locally-sourced ingredients throughout the region. He also marveled at the lightning-quick flight between cities, saying that it was “shorter than most crosstown cab rides I’ve been on.” But despite Conant’s effusive praise, the damage had been done. Toronto–always the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to major North American cities (and especially New York)–was once again left to lick its wounds, and wallow in its own sense of inferiority.

The fact is, Toronto has always been looked at as a vanilla version of New York City. It’s almost impossible not to compare the two metropolises, given their geographical proximity, and their reputations as the centre of all thing media, fashion, business, art, and food in their respective countries. In the 1970’s, Toronto even promoted itself as a cleaner, safer, more livable version of New York. It wasn’t long before Hollywood clued in, and began using Hogtown’s streets as facsimiles of New York’s own grand avenues and tree-lined streets (to this day, prop NYPD squad cars and yellow cabs can be spotted with a film crew not far behind). Toronto continued to encourage its self-appointed title as “The New York of The North,” until Rudy Guiliani arrived and made Gotham safe again. Suddenly, Toronto wasn’t much cleaner or safer at all. Just smaller. Or as Steve Martin flatly put it on a recent episode of 30 Rock: “Toronto is like New York, but without all the stuff.”

It’s been nearly six months since Scarpetta opened its doors, and so far, so good. Despite some initial lukewarm reviews (including a particularly scathing rant courtesy of the Toronto Star’s Amy Pataki, who clearly felt dissed by Conant’s letter), his trattoria has hit its stride, with tables usually booked weeks in advance. It’s a level of success that eluded Susur Lee–Toronto’s marquee culinary star–when he brought his inventive pan-Asian cuisine to Manhattan’s Lower East Side with Shang, almost two years ago (also in The Thompson Hotel). The restaurant received a frosty welcome from New Yorkers, which Lee blamed on the limp economy and their xenophobic taste buds. “People won’t go for chicken feet no matter how many truffles you stuff in there,” he once said. The folks at New York Magazine’s foodie blog, Grub Street, took offense to his remarks, and facetiously invited the chef to Flushing for pig’s blood and intestine soup. We’re guessing he declined, because, like, ew.

Though Shang remains open today (Lee insists that business has improved), the once-invincible restaurateur has returned to Toronto with his trademark ponytail between his legs. Susur’s new den, Lee Lounge, opened this month in the city’s burgeoning King West area (or Toronto’s version of the Meatpacking District according to Thompson co-founder Jason Pomeranc), and figures to perform much better than Shang, because despite a reverence for everything New York, Torontonian’s like to take care of their own. They’re also fascinated by their most celebrated chef’s failure in The Big Apple. There’s a permeating feeling that well, “If he can’t make it there, who can?” In a recent interview with Eye Weekly, Lee was again asked about the New York debacle, and again he blamed the economy, instead of his own food. He was also asked whether or not Toronto tends to copy New York when it comes to food trends. “I wouldn’t say copying, more like inspired by, like in fashion or art,” he told the magazine. But a handful of recent openings in Toronto might suggest otherwise.

Pictured top: Toronto’s Porchetta & Co.

At the end of last year, Porchetta and Co. opened in Toronto’s increasingly with-it Dundas West area, and has taken the city by storm. The sandwich shop specializes in that succulent brand of Italian slow-roasted pork, much like the similarly-named Porchetta, in Manhattan’s East Village. But the parallels between the two don’t end there. Both menus feature porchetta as their star, with greens, beans, potatoes, and soups available as accompaniments. That Porchetta opened over two years ago however, may raise a few eyebrows. “I was going to call my shop Porchetta, and started doing research to see if such a concept existed in Toronto,” said Porchetta & Co.’s owner Nick auf der Mauer, a former cook at Toronto’s foodie pinnacle, Canoe. “Upon further research, I learned about Porchetta NYC. I did take a step back to ask myself if I should keep going through with the concept. I looked more at Porchetta NYC as a window into the future, to see how I thought people would respond to my concept.”

Respond they did, and as to whether or not Toronto chefs tend to copy what their colleagues in New York are doing, auf der Mauer thinks it’s only natural. “It doesn’t bother me that people think Toronto mimics New York, and to a certain extent we do. It will probably always be perceived that way.” He continues, “It makes perfect sense to, as you say, ‘borrow’ ideas from New York. You can save a lot of time and money seeing if certain things have won or lost in New York, but it doesn’t mean that it will play out the same way in Toronto. You still have to take the risk, stick your neck out, and see what happens. I don’t feel that I borrowed the idea, but it did help to see what had already been done in New York. It is impossible to deny the obvious similarities of the two sandwich shops.”

auf der Mauer isn’t the only Toronto restaurateur reaping the benefits of great ideas hatched south of the border. Since opening last summer, The Burger’s Priest in Toronto’s East End has quickly become a destination spot for burger fanatics. Its classic take on the American burger–never-frozen, fresh ground beef cooked on a flat-top grill–is nothing new for most New Yorkers, yet The Priest is the only place of any regard in Toronto that prepares their burgers this way. But it’s the Burger’s Priest’s vegetarian option–slyly called “The Option”–that most mirrors New York City’s burger benchmark, Shake Shack. The patty, constructed out of two portobello mushroom caps, stuffed with cheese, then deep-fried, is a Shake Shack staple, and The Priest’s owner has taken full advantage. To his credit, the native Californian and former seminary student doesn’t hide the fact that he spent considerable time in New York studying the art of the burger, which would explain the shop’s striking similarities to Shake Shack. When asked if The Option was based on Shake Shack’s portobello burger, he simply replied, “I don’t really remember.”

Is it a big deal that Toronto chefs are trying to cash in on New York’s culinary success stories instead of trying to forge their own? Probably not. After all, a Toronto band is only cool after they’ve sold out a show a Williamsburg, and Jeremy Laing–the city’s most famous fashion export–was only a local icon after he showed at New York Fashion Week. When it comes to food, Nick auf der Mauerr probably puts it best: “Specializing in one thing and doing it well is something that every major city in the world can learn from New York. I think as chefs, we look at places like New York for inspiration, and as an amazing place to see what could be the future of food in their home town.” Now if only someone had told that to Susur Lee.

Industry Insiders: Robert Childs, All Suited Up

When menswear designer Robert Childs first entered the offices of Thom Browne, he was a student at FIT and an intern at Adam Kimmel. He saw himself designing extreme sports ware and didn’t own a suit. “Never once did it cross my mind where I was like, ‘Man, I want to work for Thom Browne,’” says Childs. “It was actually kind of the other way around. I was always telling my friends, ‘I’m in fashion because I never want to wear a suit.’ I just kind of stumbled into it.” Now Childs spends his days overseeing Browne’s meticulously tailored designs, from start to finish: “My job is to help Thom realize the collections from concept to the show. Pretty much anything he needs to get done, I facilitate.” This season, that includes Thom Browne’s much-anticipated first collection for women. Here’s Childs on the new collection, the Thom Browne design process, and his own intriguing story—how he went from community college drop-out to showroom staple.

First interest in fashion: I don’t know when I first got into fashion. I was a junior or a senior in high school and me and my friends were skateboarding, wake boarding, and surfing a lot and doing a bunch of ‘alternative sports.’ I wanted to make clothes we could wear because the clothes that I wanted to buy were never cool enough.

On Plan A: I had the bright idea to go to business school. My friend at the time was moving to Gainesville, Florida and I didn’t apply to any colleges at all. So, I moved to Gainesville and decided to go to community college because my friend had a house up there. I dropped out of because I hated business school. I moved back home and just kept working on what I was doing. My mom’s friend taught me how to sew and I wasn’t very good at it at the time. I was like, “F*** this.” I applied to FIT because I thought I wanted to go right into the fashion end and design.

On his experience at FIT: I got an acceptance letter to FIT, packed up what little things I had, and moved to New York. I was this little guy from Key West moving to New York. It was crazy. Every day waking up and going, “Wow. I’m in New York City.” Went to school for two years. Got an Associates Degree. Learned to sew like a badass. Never once did it cross my mind where I was like, “Man. I want to work for Thom Browne.”

On how he got the job: It was absolutely bizarre. I knocked on the door, walked into this office and everybody turns at me. I’m super casual and everyone is in a suit. Everyone just looks at me and I’m like, “Uh. Uh. I just wanted to speak to the design director or whatever. You know…Is Thom in?” They’re like, “No.” The CFO at the time came up to me and said, “What do you need?” I was like, “I just want to hand you my resume. I work at Adam Kimmel upstairs. I’m looking for a job. I was hoping you could hand this to Thom for me.” And, he said, “Okay. I’ll give it to the design director for you.” The next day or the day after, Thom calls me up and he’s like, “Hey Rob. It’s Thom. I want you to come in for an interview.” I went home and banged out a little project for him. I did like 12 or 15 looks. I brought it in and presented it to him. I was freaking out thinking about what I was going to wear to this interview for the guy who makes the best suits in the world. So, I borrowed a suit from Kimmel. I’ll never forget it. We sat there talking for a long time. I thought it went terribly, but I guess he liked me. The next day he called me and offered me a job. I’m super stoked.

On the day-to-day: My job is to help Thom realize the collections from concept to the show. Pretty much anything he needs to get done, I facilitate. It’s never visual. He doesn’t like us to look at inspirational pictures or anything like that. It’s more of taking from the everyday. We never use color charts. The colors develop as we develop fabrics. Nowadays, we’re developing 90% of all the fabrics we get. I never thought I’d be designing fabrics. Designing accessories and looks from start to finish, anything that he wants. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.

What he has to offer: What I bring to the table for Thom Browne is very not so Thom Browne which adds a cool mix to it. I get to think a lot more and think outside the box and push myself to think about these crazy, cool concepts that I don’t think I’d ever really think about if I wasn’t working for Thom Browne.

The end-result: It’s so cool to be able to work for five or six months then, though it is really short at the end – that show – it’s like 15 minutes and can make or break your entire six months of work. When, it’s done, it’s like, “Oh. It went so well.”

What to expect in the new women’s line: We’re gonna show in September at Fashion Week. I hope. That’s the plan. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to talk about. It’s gonna be very “Tom Browne for women”. A lot of fabric ideas for men translated to women. We’re also taking some of the more classic men’s fabrics and using them for women. It’s very tailored, but at the same time, trying to make it suit a woman’s body.

Favorite designers (other than Thom Browne, of course): I really like Junya Wantnabe. I’ve always followed what he’s been doing. I think that he a lot of the time really hits the mark. The other guy, Patrik Ervell, is based out of New York… and, Adam Kimmel.

Go-To Places: There’s a place called Five Leaves. Really good food. Been there a couple times and its tasty for sure. There’s another restaurant in the city, Dell’anima. It’s so good. Doughnut Planet for sweets. Then, of course, for a burger, I like to go to Shake Shack. I go when it’s raining. It’s wet, so nobody’s in line.

Where to Enjoy Meatless Mondays

When the temperature rises, Shake Shack beckons. Thick, juicy burgers with crispy lettuce and fat tomatoes in a light paper wrapping in the middle of Madison Square Park. When the temperature drops, I start to fantasize about Minetta Tavern, sliding up to that cozy bar, getting my lips around that Black Label Burger. Am I a burger-a-holic?

Not in the least, but I am quite romantic about my meat. But like all great loves, it’s an imperfect relationship- a toxic one at times. Read this tale of carbon terrorism about my boyfriend. The major research report found the mass production of meat creates “notable negative impact on human health, the environment and the global economy.” Not a very healthy relationship and if I have access to this information, along with a plethora of awesome vegetarian restaurants around town, why do I keep going back like an abused spouse? Well, enough is enough. If I can’t kick my addiction to Lil’ Frankie’s Meat Ragu entirely, I might as well explore Paul McCartney and Paltrow’s “Meatless Monday” alternative.

Environmental Concerns Related to Eating Meat: ●The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. ●Animal waste is another troubling concern. “Because only a third of the nutrients fed to animals are absorbed, animal waste is a leading factor in the pollution of land and water resources, as observed in case studies in China, India, the United States and Denmark,” the authors of the study wrote. ●One less meat-based meal a week helps the planet and your diet. “It requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. For each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rain-forest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed.” ●Treehugger’s Ready, Set, Green points out to locavores, a meat filled diet affects the planet regardless of how beef is raised since it’s an energy-and water-intensive food to produce. Simply put, diets lower in any kind of meat create a smaller footprint.

Health Concerns Related to Eating Meat ● You’ll save yourself a heart attack! Dr. Esselstyn’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease documents his 100 percent success rate for unclogging people’s arteries and reversing heart disease by administering a vegan diet. ● Meat can cause cancer as outlined in The China Study, a book by Dr. T. Colin Campbell that The New York Times called “the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.” The book’s main supported fact: “No chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein.” Scary. ● You’ll be thinner! I think it has to do about paying attention to what you are shoveling into that mouth of yours, but on average, vegans are 10 to 20 percent lighter than meat-eaters.

So as bathing suit season approaches and we begin to make changes in our lifestyle and the way we procure information, why not try out Paul McCartney’s Meatless Monday with a few of these awesome Veggie spots? Have any more suggestions? Email me at Cayte at BBook dot com. Angelica Kitchen (East Village)– Neighborhood veggie powerhouse is the anti-Mickey D’s. Atlas Cafe and Bakery (East Village)– Vaguely Morrocan East Village bakery houses many a tasty vegan treat and heavy hangover. Ayurveda Cafe (Upper West Side)– Low-key vegetarian café designed to soothe your urban stresses. Blossom (Chelsea)– Way more stylish than its culinary kinfolk, the crunchy healthnuts here totally shower on the reg. Chennai Garden (Gramercy)– Top-shelf vegetarian Indian, bottom-rung price. Dirt Candy (East Village)– They’re vegetables. Get it? Dirt. Cand…nevermind. Josie’s (Murray Hill)– Lots of glowing girls fresh from NYSC, nibbling on oven-roasted free-range chicken, tofu duck, and Japanese yams. Life Cafe NINE83 (Bushwick)– Mom and Pop feel with a hipster spin. Pukk (East Village)– Funky East Village vision of an all-vegetarian future. Pure Food and Wine (Flatiron)– Say goodbye to a future of pacemakers and a gut the shape of China. Raw food is real food. Wild Ginger (Williamsburg)– Sedate spot for cruelty-free Asian eats.