The Burger You Wish You Had Growing Up

In 2014 America, the phrases “red-blooded American” and “motherhood and Apple Pie” read like something a future archaeologist would unearth on a buried wall at a dig searching for 1950’s Madison Avenue artifacts. It also wouldn’t be a stretch to envision a scenario where the phrase “hamburgers” was in the running for the spot that eventually went to apple pie.

If anything, hamburgers  was robbed. They are far more prevalent than apple pie as a year-round food. My childhood, in terms of meals consumed, consisted of a pretty standard menu for a middle class American kid born in the 1980’s. From the scarfing down of far too many Big Macs to that half-year in fifth grade where my mom only served heated up veggie burgers that tasted like well done cardboard, the bar burgers consumed at ungodly hours to the homemade burgers I now make from scratch, the patty holds a special place in most meat eating Americans culinary repertoire – be it cooking or consuming.

New York‘s 101 list provides ‘here and there’ guidance. Some listings suggest certain dishes. Others basically tell you to get to the place as soon as possible. Burger Fi‘s listing acknowledges that you will probably get flummoxed by both the choice of fries and accompanying dipping sauces. To avoid such troubles, they provide the pre-visit wisdom of going for the double cheeseburger and onion rings. It is a wise suggestion.

The first thing you notice upon entering Burger Fi, other than the episode of Love and Hip Hop that was filming yesterday (I hope Love and Hip Hop make it work), is that you could have easily stepped into Shake Shack’s laid back cousin. From one of the three registers reserved for a la the Shack’s C-Line to the interior design and wood tables, the aesthetic similarities are hard to miss. That’s no slam on Burger Fi. Shake Shack has cornered the market on gourmet fast food burgers, and that probably includes a store layout that maximizes revenue and ensures customer happiness.

It would be great though, to see Burger Fi’s decor –  at least in New York since this is a Florida-based joint and I wonder how much Shack mimicry there is elsewhere – be as distinctive as the quality and flavor of the food served.

I went with the NY Mag recommendation of double cheeseburger (with mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, American cheese, and relish) and the onion rings. And it was exceptional. It amazes me that in spite of all those crappy home-made burgers we had growing up and the factory manufactured, angsty-teen served fast food burgers, we still want this dish as adults. But when you have a burger like the one at Burger Fi, it is all worth it.

The patties were cooked to perfection. Burger Fi has found a way to get the cheese/burger relationship to the point where you would think the burgers and cheese were grilled together (maybe they are?) without the cheese getting charred, and the toppings are fresh. So much so, that my buddy Deaux who was with me on this excursion, mentioned the lettuce before anything else. He was taken back by the size and freshness. These weren’t your typical styrofoam lettuce chunks that haunt college cafeterias or the fast food shredded lettuce that wouldn’t pass muster at a rabbit farm. There was a crispness to them that was also the case with the other toppings.

Onion rings are usually nothing more than a tease. They look great when they are put on the table. But either the onion has the consistency of rubber or the deep fried bread crumbs fall apart upon the first bite. Burger Fi’s hold up, are tasty, and the onion is as fresh as the toppings placed on the burger.

If there are any critiques of Burger Fi, it revolves around the much vaunted sauces and an issue of geometry. My buddy ordered the fries and missed out on the sauce. It didn’t sound like he was ever asked if he wanted to upgrade. At the same time, the menu makes it look the sauces are not available for orders of onion ring. Maybe they are, but a clearer menu would help.

In the case of large onion rings versus small paper cup for ketchup, no one wins. It is great that Burger Fi’s onion rings are huge. I love it. And I appreciate that the paper cups Burger Fi has are wider to accommodate the rings, but they are not wide enough. A small critique yes, but in a burger-saturated market and at a place that does so much so well (including the bargain basement prices for beer – where you getting them guys, off the back of a truck in Paramus?), it is this type of stuff that stands up.

Eight years ago, I had my first Shake Shack burger. Four years after that, I make my first trek to The Meatball Shop. It was just two years ago that I learned of the deliciousness that is Num Pang. Since then, all three establishments have become institutions and expanded beyond their humble beginnings. Burger Fi comes to the five boroughs with a history in other parts of the country. It is easy to see Burger Fi giving Five Guys, and the Shack a run for their money sometime soon.

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