Classically, buying ground beef from a butcher meant there would be a mix of cuts in your purchase. The trimmings from the fillet, the loin, the ribs, or whatever cuts were being butchered that day would be ground together and sold more cheaply for burgers, meatloaf and so on. As the interests of large scale factory meat production came to matter more in the scheme of American consumerism than, say, quality, flavor, or cleanliness, butchering of our meat moved onto factory floors to be performed as quickly as possible. So the likely ratio of filet mignon in your ground beef to other cuts diminished and the likelihood of connective spinal tissue and other less desirable animal byproducts rose. This sent most of those of us looking for art in burgers to the few small remaining butcher shops, places that still do some of the butchering of beef on premises, because classic butchering means classic ground beef, which means classic burgers.
Chef Laurent Tourondel has opened a burger shop on 6th Avenue called BLT Burger and has started his quest for burger greatness by experimenting with and mixing ratios of cuts of meat. On the top left-hand corner of the BLT Burger menu is a short paragraph explaining that the burgers are a mix of short rib, sirloin, chuck, and brisket. There are no claims of grass fed, or heritage breeds, or pasture opportunities, simply a nod that better burgers come from a mix of cuts, some fattier some leaner, some supple some flavorful, that burgers are basic and attention to the basics may produce better results.
The room and the menu are both pretty simple. This room has been about five places in the seven years I have lived in the neighborhood, so it’s hard to keep track of what’s newly added and what’s old. There is a tin ceiling I imagine has always been there, seating in darkly stained sedate and comfortable rough cut wooden booths that may or may not have been there through the last couple of incarnations, and a bull’s head with about a six foot horn-span hung on the back wall that I doubt is a holdover from the failed raw bar. The menu has six burger choices – beef, turkey, veggie, Kobe, lamb, and BLT – with cheese and topping options. For apps there are chili, wings, and a couple of salads. To drink they have floats, milkshakes, boozed up milkshakes, and a pretty respectable beer selection. All in all, somehow appropriate for a malt shop in Greenwich Village.
CHICKEN WINGS crispy fried chicken wings: your choice of spicy Buffalo or tangy BBQ. We chose Buffalo. In general I subscribe to the “no breading” school of chicken wing, especially Buffalo, and these are breaded. Not over-breaded, in fact crunchy enough that the breading is not soft from soaked-in sauce, but breaded nonetheless. When fried, the breading on these wings was scorched and alone, when pulled off the wing, tasted a touch acrid, though this was not a big deal when eaten with the meat of the wing. Overall the flavor was fine: tangy, not very hot on anyone’s scale, the blue cheese dressing for dipping was great once you mixed the actual cheese into it. I suspect I would have perceived these more favorably had they been branded hot wings or something else rather than Buffalo wings.
Bubby and I decided to split two burgers: the KOBE BURGER highest quality, Snake River Farm American Kobe beef, and THE CLASSIC BURGER tender and delicious certified Black Angus beef. The Kobe was ordered medium-rare, as is, and we added blue cheese to the Classic. The Kobe was great, every bit that had not touched the heat tender and juicy, the bits that had heat contact crunchy and somehow individual, but overall not as much better than the Classic as the price would demand. I assume this is a testament to the blending of cuts the chef has done in the Classic and not in the Kobe, but it may be just the nature of a small fast-food type burger. Without even factoring that it is less than half the price, the Classic is the superior option.
Both burgers come topped with torn leaves of iceberg lettuce, thin slices of tomato, some sliced red onion, pickle chips, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. The patty is from the under-six-ounce-size school I call the fast-food burger and is hit with enough heat to sear its outside. The burger itself is quite juicy, the bun is the simplest of picnic buns, the condiments are in perfect balance (the pickles, the mustard, mayo, and ketchup proportions all at levels that combine to accent the beefiness of the combination of meat as well as to add zing). As it happens, the best burger on the table was Wife’s. Having decided to stay out of our reindeer games for this eve, she ordered the Classic with Vermont cheddar. I only had one bite of it but the condiments’ flavors were far more in line with the cheddar than the blue. It’s the one I am going back for.
From FRIES & RINGS we had IDAHO HAND CUT French fries, quite tasty but limber in the accepted manner of homemade fries around town, with a little crispness to them. I suspect the kitchen will soon work out the double-frying method that will result in crispier fries to play better with such a juicy burger. SWEET POTATO fries, I liked these as much as I have ever liked any version, but to be honest I wouldn’t have ordered them in the first place. VIDALIA ONION rings, battered (more like tempura than beer) with a nice saltiness. The onion slices were quite thick and the batter didn’t cling well. This is a recipe that will need a little work as the restaurant gets up to full speed.
I became familiar with one of BLT Burgers’ managers when she worked at Morimoto so she kindly introduced me Chef Tourondel while we waited for our table and he, in turn, sent along CHILI BOWL housemade beef, pork & bean chili, topped with cheddar, sour cream & green onions (there were also some pickled jalapeños as well). Served in a tall, lidded crock accompanied by some corn bread, it was a little loose, salty, and lacking in both heat and cilantro zip for my liking as a stand alone chili, however when we poured it over the fries it was a good topping.
On the one hand BLT Burger makes a seriously good fast-food burger, on the other it has legitimate attentive service staff as well as a good list of beers to put with that burger. Put both hands together and you have a cool place to hang out and have a fun respectable meal with friends, on the cheaper side. Sure they have paper placemats, but they go on the table rather than lining a tray you carry from counter to seat. On its third night there was good music, a good crowd, a roof, and service from plentiful staff. You definitely have the place I had always wished EJ’s could have been when it was a couple of blocks south.
As an aside, for home burger-making freshly ground beef is paramount and you can mix your own. I have never gone as far as Chef Tourondel but I find fresh ground chuck to fresh ground sirloin in a rough 3:1 ratio works very well for home burger prep. The other key is seasoning with good salt earlier than you think, which pulls some of the water out leaving the inherent fat to provide the juiciness.