113 MacDougal St., at Minetta Ln.
New York, NY
I recently went on a quest to find the best burger in New York City. For the rest of this week, you’ll have my breakdown of what I discovered. This is post #5 of 5 related to trying out some of the best that New York has to offer. The last review, Walt Street Pub, is available here. Hope you enjoy the series.
Exclusivity. It’s a real pain for us common folks who love food – as some restaurants that sound like they would be an experience of a lifetime, are just extremely difficult to get a reservation at. El Bulli, French Laundry, the list goes on. While Minetta Tavern doesn’t quite fall under this category, mostly due to their generous dining hours (menu served till 1am), it is still near impossible to get in at a prime time. Normally I wouldn’t bother, but I heard they had the best hamburger in NYC. We decided to eat at 11pm.
Guarded by a “doorman”, the blinds are drawn, and there is no way of seeing inside. Many places try to generate interest – seating people near windows – to make it seem like a place you want to eat at. Minetta Tavern feels like they are trying to keep you out – they are busy enough as it is. This is by no fault of the staff – both the doorman, and the hostess, were incredibly friendly and accommodating – it’s just by virtue of their job to keep walk-ins away when the restaurant is already (likely) overbooked.
Once your reservation is confirmed with the doorman, you’re allowed into the sanctuary. An overly crowded bar, with hordes of people waiting to be seated. I’ve never been seated on time – there is always a delay – even at 11pm. Based on the celebrities who visit Minetta Tavern, I can understand all of the above inconveniences. I don’t have to like it, but I understand.
The tavern itself is vintage Greenwich Village circa 1937. It was recently renovated and made into the “It” spot to eat. The bar has a great selection of vintage cocktails and premium spirits. Not the worst place to wile away some time waiting for a table, though constantly getting bumped and nudged as people try to get by the crowded space can get annoying.
Once finally seated, we’re faced with a simple steakhouse type menu. Some diverse hors d’oeuvres, and a very wide selection of something for everyone on the menu. But most people come for the meat.
I opted to start with the roasted bone marrow, with baguette “soldiers” and shallot confit. While the term baguette soldier is a bit pretentious, the dish is not. The creamy soft, amazingly rich, deep flavour of the marrow was well balanced by the crisp baguette, and the slightly acidic confit. This was decadence on a spoon.
Of course, no quest is complete without an error or a faux pas. Because two people at our table are ordering the burger already, I decide I will sample theirs, and order a steak for myself. The server guarantees me that the Bone-in NY Strip will be the best steak i’ve ever had. Reviews from the Times concur – Bruni called it the best steak in New York.
I didn’t concur. The popular technique these days is towards heavy char, and Minetta Tavern ranks at the top of the list for char. While this is the “in” style, and many purists prefer it this way, I do not. The cut of meat itself was very good – dry aged, cooked on the bone to a perfect medium rare-medium – just enough that the fat had rendered. It had wonderful flavour, but the texture of the beef was so tough from the long hot sear, especially when something like a strip is already tough enough, I failed to find it all that enjoyable. If you like heavy char that I find distracts from the beef flavour, and ruins the texture for me, then you may find this to be the best steak in NYC. If you have different preferences, then keep looking.
Our fourth companion had a much tastier lamb saddle – not surprisingly, they cooked this extremely well. I definitely preferred this to the NY Strip.
As for the burger? I’d heard mixed reviews – most people felt the Pat LaFreida Black Label burger, made with dry aged cuts of ribeye, brisket, and skirt steak was the only option. At $26, this is a premium burger similar to the much discussed db Bistro Moderne Burger. With a custom bun, and no cheese, this was the best mix of meat Minetta could offer. On the other hand, many people argued that the Minetta Tavern burger, which is a premium blend of LaFreida cuts, is more appropriate for a burger – as the nuances of dry aged cuts is often lost – especially with the added caramelized onions. We opted for the Minetta Tavern Burger.
And what a burger it was. Even at the lofty price of $16, this burger with cheddar and onions was near perfect. Well cooked, juicy, moist, the proportions were perfect. The grind provided wonderful texture, meaty, but tender. It was beefy, without being overwhelming. This was an awesome burger. And on top of the that, the fries are really good as well! Thank goodness for that!
So, is this the best burger in the New York area? I honestly don’t know. I can tell you this is the best burger I had out of the five establishments I tried. I would like to try the Black Label burger as well just for reference sake – as well as the burgers at Flip, City Burger, Spotted Pig, and JG Melon. Alas, that is for another trip.
As for Minetta tavern – sadly, the lineups are just very daunting. If you’re willing to dine very early or very late, or are able to secure a desirable reservation, I feel like it’s worth going to. The food is all well executed – and of the highest quality – at surprisingly reasonable prices. But will your life end if you don’t get a chance to try them? Depends on how much you like burgers i guess!
Hopefully you enjoyed this as much as I did – though my friends have sworn off burgers for quite some time. Thanks to everyone who kept me company along the way. We’ll do burgers again soon 😉