Burgers: Fourth of July Fare

Last year, our friends smoked pounds and pounds and more pounds of pork, pulled it and made sandwiches for the bash.  The bbq was terrific but our host was exhausted — he’d spent the entire night before the party camped out next to the grill, tending the fire. By the time we appeared, he’d already been up 36 hours.  So this year, when he asked if I had a good idea for a menu, ‘Burgers!” was my answer.  You should have seen the disappointment on his face – he didn’t want to serve something so expected and so ordinary.  But to my mind, a good burger is a great pleasure – and thinking back to some of the burgers I’ve had recently, it looks like chefs are in my camp on this one.

new leaf cafe.jpg

The burger in the picture above was made by Scott Campbell, the chef at New Leaf Café, one of New York City’s hidden gems (and part of a NY restoration project spearheaded by Bette Midler).  Scott was a favorite of mine when he was cooking in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side.  Now he’s a little far away, but the setting is so gorgeous that it is, as Michelin would say, worth a trip.  He’s cooking in a beautiful stone house in Fort Tryon Park, on the same winding road as The Cloisters (the medieval museum), with an outdoor patio that you’ll never want to leave.  But back to the burger.  Scott doesn’t do anything very fancy with the burger, but he cooks it perfectly, tops it with cheese and bacon, puts it on a roll that’s soft enough to absorb juices, but firm enough not to turn to spongy or to fall apart.  The fries are really good and the little salad on the side almost steals the show.

dbgb burger.jpg

Then, a couple of weeks après New Leaf, Michael, my husband, The Kid and I went downtown to Daniel Boulud‘s new bistro/bar on the Bowery, DBGB, and Michael opted for The Piggie Burger, a super-juicy burger topped with Daisy May’s BBQ pork.  While Daniel is one of the top-rated French chefs in NYC, he’s also the papa of one of the city’s most over-the-top burgers: the db burger (served at db Bistro Moderne), which includes braised short ribs and foie gras!  At DBGB, his most casual, come-in-jeans place, the burgers are less luxe, but no less stylish.  In addition to The Piggie, there’s The Yankee, a classic, with seeded bun, lettuce, tomato and onion, and The Frenchie, a burger topped with crisped pork belly.  No matter which one you choose, you can dress it with condiments in squeeze bottles (whoever woudda thunk that Daniel would use red and yellow squeeze bottles!): Orleans grainy mustard, Dijon smooth mustard and, what the server called Sauce Americaine, ketchup!

burger at Germain.jpgAs final proof that hamburgers are on chefs’ minds, I offer this one from Germain, the new bistro on rue de Buci in Paris, opened, we were told, by someone related to the city’s hippest hoteliers/restaurateurs, les freres Costes.  Good beef, good frites and great bread – the burger is served between slices of toasted pain Poilane.  With Germain on the Left Bank and Café Salle Pleyel on the Right, Parisians need never go burgerless.

And, just in case this isn’t enough inspiration to persuade my friends to put burgers on their Fourth of July menu, I’m going to send them the link to the all-burgers all-the-time site, A Hamburger Today, and maybe a copy of Bobby Flay’s new book: Burgers, Fries and Shakes

By the way, if you’re a NYC or Shoreline Connecticut burger buff, here are a couple of other places you might like:

T-Bar Steak and Lounge (NYC): outstanding burger.  Tony Fortuna, Mr. T-Bar, put it on the menu last summer and thought he’d take it off in the fall.  No way – it’s available year-round by popular demand.

Shake Shack (NYC): but New Yorkers don’t need me to tell them about Danny Meyer’s temple of patties and dogs.

River Tavern (Chester, CT): my favorite local place (for everything on the menu, including last night’s Thai coconut noodles).  Jonathan Rapp serves a great burger made from grass-fed (on the grass from Ashlawn Farm) Four-Mile River beef.

Pip’s Brasserie (Ivoryton, CT): a cozy place for a burger and fries.

Dorie Greenspan