Believe or not, sometimes, people working at magazines get treated differently than normal people because companies want stuff in magazines or on websites. Such was the case with the Benjamin Steakhouse, who recently decided that their burger could take on some of New York City’s most infamous gangsters in the burger slingin’ game. So much so, in fact, that they offered to bring their burger — along with their competition’s burgers — into our office for us to try out. And hell yeah, we bit. Literally.
The four burgers they brought to us were from BLT Burger, Burger Joint, JG Melon, and their own. The infamous Corner Bistro burger was also supposed to show up, but they told us the wait was too long. We compassionately accepted this as true (as opposed to a cheat), if only because various BlackBook staffers are still banned from the premises (a result of the Corner Bistro being full of motherless bastards). Anyway: a few things you have to understand before the judging of this little “contest”:
1. None of us are burger experts by any measure. Just broke, hungry magazine staffers taking the bait on a PR promotion. 2. The Benjamin Steakhouse is handicapped by a theoretical four-point spread. It’s their burger, and PR flacks are ruthless in their efforts for their clients (we did not, however, bite into any of the competitors’ burgers to find glass). But we just assumed it would be the most well presented, the most precisely cooked, and possibly, the warmest. For it to win, it would have to succeed these factors. 3. We can’t judge it on “Best Burger” — because we’re not eating these burgers the way God/line cooks meant for them to be eaten, i.e. in the restaurant — so we’re judging it as “Best Burger We Got Delivered to Us by the Benjamin Steakhouse PR People.” Or simply: “Best Burger You Could Get Delivered To Your Office.” 4. If your company ever wants to give us anything for free, hit us up. We’re shameless.
And off we went.
BLT Burger ($17) – Our first burger sampled. Came with a pile of soggy, stringy fries that Senior Editor Nick Haramis thoroughly enjoyed, but the rest of us thought were mediocre at best. That didn’t stop us from eating them. It also came with this strange hunk of hard-crusted, hollow, fluffy, flaky bread that we all really enjoyed — a strange if not bizarre touch. Comptroller Joe Friedman noted that the bun was “lookin’ serious,” and indeed it was: a sesame-seed topped starch, fluffy enough to sleep on (assuming you had 20 of them, and don’t mind haircrumbs). Assistant Editor Cayte Grieve noted that she liked the “smokey, grilled flavor.” I thought it was a little dry, but also thoroughly enjoyed the flavor. Account Executive (but notably: “not a suit”) Brian Kantor used the words “thick and beefy” to describe his experience with the BLT Burger. “But the fries: suck,” he added.
Assistant Editor Cayte Grieve. Doin’ it for journalism.
JG Melon ($9) – Imported all the way from the Upper East Side to our offices, this burger definitely traveled the furthest. Maybe that’s why it tasted like ass. “Charred,” Assistant Editor Ben Barna noted. “It tastes … not burnt? No. Not so great.” Kantor had the same reaction: “Meat’s flavorless. This needs to be drowned in condiments. Also, did they use an old McDonald’s bun? Jesus.” To me, the JG Melon burger tasted like most of the Upper East Side feels to me: classic, old, at one time really rich, but now, mostly lacking in taste. Sans fries.
Burger Joint ($6.50) – I always thought the novelty of this burger — its only strength — was going behind the giant, Oz-like curtain covering the place at the Parker Meridian to order it from a relatively rude, take-no-shit staff. I was right. Ms. Grieve? “It takes like it’s been frozen at one point. This meat can’t be fresh.” Ben Barna: “Tastes just like the second one.” Also ordered without fries, but I can attest their fries are really good hot. Don’t hold up to being cold, probably.
Benjamin Steakhouse ($15.95) – The contender came with four different sauces (a Luger-esque steaksauce, a fry sauce, ketchup, mayo), bread-and-butter pickles on the fixings, and pretty great fries that actually did hold up in taste and texture (despite being the same temperature as the others). We were lectured on the kind of meat that went into it (some kind of brisket-sirloin-blend, but we’re hungry, LET US EAT) and it sounded fancy and we all bit in. Again, Cayte Grieve had the first opinion: “Textured.” I have no idea what that means, though I can attest: it was certainly the “softest” of the bunch, but it didn’t feel spongy. Senior Editor Nick Haramis — still picking at the BLT Burger fries, which he’d developed a great affection for — noted that it was his favorite. Kantor the Condiment King responded: “No ketchup needed.” I asked him to clarify. “That’s the quote.” So it goes.
Tilda Swinton has to wait in line, like everyone else.
Ben Barna: Benjamin Steakhouse. Cayte Grieve: BLT Burger. Nick Haramis: Benjamin Steakhouse. Brian Kantor: Benjamin Steakhouse (“But I would go with wherever’s closer if faced against BLT.”). Me: Benjamin Steakhouse, but those fries are what pushed it over BLT. Goddamn, those fries are good.
And there you have it. The PR people at the Benjamin proved a point: When delivered by a team of publicists, their burger tastes better than some of the city’s competitors (though BlackBook neighbor Shake Shack was notably absent). If I’m ever stuck at Grand Central, yeah, there’s definitely a chance I’d stop by the bar for a burger there. It’s pretty good. And there’s your press line.
[Also, most interesting thing learned during this: apparently, Feedbag blogger/former Grub Street writer Josh “I Got Gout” Orzersky has also taken the challenge. “He was really hardcore about it,” one of our sources notes. “He was opening up the burgers, smelling them, trying each condiment and each fixing on each bite. It was intense.” Go get ’em, Cutty.]