Travel Like A Boss: Le Parker Meridien’s Burger Joint – Secret New York Food Spots Part I


While it’s really not the best kept secret in all of midtown Manhattan, The Burger Joint, tucked inside of the Parker Meridien is certainly a gastronomic underdog.

About 10 years ago, this local favorite was essentially created from scratch, carved from a tiny nook toward the back of the reception area and modeled after a greasy spoon you would find somewhere in the Midwest. Replete with wood-paneled decor, cheesy movie posters and impromptu scrawling on the walls, the Joint is so popular with the neighborhood that the lunch line forms before they open at 11 a.m. and doesn’t die down until way into the afternoon – only to pick up again just before dinner. The menu, aimed at the heart of the minimalist, consists of burgers, fries, beer, soda and shakes – nothing else. Under advisement from the super friendly staff, we ordered the works on a medium burger with fries.

With so many burgers in the ring for best burger in NYC, we were unsure how the Joint’s take on the revered beef patty would compete, but take our word for it; this is definitely up there with the best. It’s just the right amount of succulence you want in a burger. With the bun toasted just right, and the mustard ketchup combo, you have to wonder what the other guys are doing wrong. Well, we may know that secret. The Burger Joint employs a full-time butcher, working around the clock processing only the best beef money can buy – no additives, no spices, just great beef. The answer may lie in the freshness.

Guests named Kimberly score a gratis robe at The Kimberly Hotel

kimberly hotel, hotel bathrobesIf your name were Kimberly, wouldn’t you want to stay a hotel that appreciates the great name you have? The Kimberly Hotel, nestled in the heart of Midtown Manhattan on 50th and 3rd, welcomes all Kimberly’s to by giving them a special gift – a complimentary Frette linen robe to take home.

See, being born in the 80s has its perks! The name is currently the 57th most popular in the United States, according to BabyNameWizard.com, so it seems like quite a few guests will be able to score this promotion.

Just a quick tip – if your name isn’t Kimberly – don’t try to steal the robe. Some hotels have inserted tracking devices in the linens to thwart thievery.

New York City can make you deaf: new study links city noise to hearing loss

The locals hate midtown, and we just got another reason why.

It turns out that visiting the most heavily trafficked neighborhood in Manhattan could be hazardous to your health. Noise is the problem. Of course, it comes as no shock that parts of Manhattan can be quite loud. People, taxi horns and construction represent just part of the list that can rattle your ears and, eventually, cost you your hearing.

According to a study being released today at the International Conference on Urban Health at The New York Academy of Medicine, there are several neighborhoods where the risk to your hearing is substantial, especially for residents who become accustomed to it over time.

My Fox New York reports:

Most readings – even in several small parks meant to be oases of green and calm – were above 70 decibels. People whose daily noise exposure tops an average of 70 decibels can lose some of their hearing over time, said Richard Neitzel, a University of Washington research scientist and another of the study’s authors.


The result, of course, is that people have nowhere to go for a little peace and quiet.

Some of the noisiest spots in the city aren’t where you’d think to find them. Of course, midtown is noisy, but First Avenue above 14th Street? Broadway in Inwood? Well, these are the city’s trucking routes, which kicks up the decibels a bit. The Lower East Side, East Village and West Village, it seems, have fewer buffers and the added complication of nightlife – not a problem on the Upper West Side (I can assure you), which is fairly quiet.

[photo by joiseyshowaa via Flickr]

Four views of Shake Shack burgers in New York City

The line always seems to be long in Madison Square Park. Shake Shack, known for its burgers as well, always draws a crowd, and it isn’t unusual to spend an hour or more waiting to sink your teeth into its greasy delights. I’ve done it, and I know I’m not alone. Well, the stand’s popularity has led to expansion, and there are now four locations across Manhattan, with a fifth in Queens at Citi Field. Since those that follow never compare to the original, I was curious as to how they all compare. Could the concept withstand such rapid growth?

I set out with the noblest of intentions. Fellow travel blogger and friend Laurie DePrete (who took some of the photos) and I planned to hit the four Manhattan Shake Shacks on one Saturday afternoon. Scott Carmichael reached out to me over Twitter just wish me luck and let me know I was nuts (thanks, Scott). With my heroic appetite, I planned to down a double cheeseburger and fries at each location: Upper West Side (Columbus Ave and W. 77th Street), Upper East Side (E. 86th Street between Lexington Ave and Third Ave), Madison Square Park (Madison Ave and E. 23rd Street) and Midtown (Eighth Ave and W. 44th Street) – in that order.

My plan was to start on the Upper West Side, where I live, cut across Central Park to the Upper East Side, shoot down to Madison Square Park and then cut up and over to Midtown. Fatigue and the prospect of getting full never entered my mind. Neither ever does.

Below, you’ll find the results of my excursion, a look at the four Shake Shacks in Manhattan:


Eating all this @shakeshack food will be tough. 4 in all! RT @ScenebyLaurie: Stop #2 on the #NYC @shakeshack crawl http://4sq.com/covAmRless than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter

1. Upper West Side

This was the second Shake Shack to pop up, and I was excited to have an option close to home. The line frequently stretches around the corner onto W. 77th Street, though it’s rarely as intimidating as the original at Madison Square Park. On the Saturday I undertook this endeavor, the line was short, and I was able to order in about 10 minutes. Seating was tight, as expected, by Laurie and I were able to grab a spot on the counter, standing but with some space.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the cheeseburger, a double, but it struck me that I’d have to change course to survive the day. Though the burgers are a bit small (at all locations), they are filling. On the Upper West Side, expect to find the fare a little less greasy but still enjoyable. The taste was a bit flat. You’ll still be happy as you chomp away, but there better Shake Shack options in the city.

Where the Upper West Side restaurant stands out is in seating. There is plenty of it indoors, and don’t forget to look downstairs if you find the street level to be crowded. Also, there’s a bathroom on the premises, which is always helpful when you eat burgers and gulp lemonade.

After this first stop, we agreed to walk to the next location. To make it through four, it seemed like a good idea to move around a bit in between to keep the blood flowing … and the extra pounds at bay.

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2. Upper East Side

Unlike the first stop, I wasn’t hungry when I got to this one – but I wasn’t not hungry. I switched to a single cheeseburger and fries, cognizant of the road ahead. From across E. 86th Street, I saw that the line was out the door, but my concerns receded as I got closer. The stretch up the stairs from the cash registers to the front door isn’t long, so I figured the line would move quickly (it did). To help the process along, there are menus hanging outside, and a Shake Shack staffer walks by periodically to hand them out.

Seating inside is a bit scarce, but there’s plenty outside, perfect on a day like the one we used to tackle the four Shake Shacks. And, like the Upper West Side, there are bathrooms on the premises. The décor is a bit sleeker on the Upper East Side than in the other locations, and the staff was swift: the lines moved quickly because they moved quickly, too.

I was impressed by the burgers on the Upper East Side. They were soft and moist – nice and greasy, which is how a burger from the Shack should be. Hold yours with the wrapper to keep your shirt from getting drenched (learn from mistake I’ve made a number of times on visits to Shake Shack). As for taste, this spot’s burger was bursting. I devoured it shamelessly.

When I tried to stand from the bench in the outdoor dining area, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to. I was three burgers and two orders of fries into the adventure, and I was full … with two more locations to go. I was satisfied – and I definitely wasn’t hungry any longer. I was also tired. I turned to Laurie and saw a look implying the same feeling, but we decided to soldier on, slogging over to the subway for a ride down to Madison Square Park.

This project was becoming work.

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3. Madison Square Park

The original was our third stop simply for logistical reasons. Given the starting point and the way the subways work, it made sense to take this one on third. Also, we’ve both eaten there countless times, so we had a reasonable benchmark against which to compare the Upper East Side and Upper West Side locations.

As we walked through the park, a familiar sight emerged: a long line. We braced ourselves for a wait of at least half an hour before realizing that we needed it. I’d be able to rest my stomach for a while, try earnestly to build up an appetite again and prepare myself for the home stretch. I sat on the ground for a moment to gather my courage.

You’ll find free water at every Shake Shack location, and at this point we needed it. I headed over to pick up a few cups from the urn (the other three have running water) and rehydrated, something I’d been neglecting. Slowly, we advanced to the counter, where I ordered another single and fries. I wasn’t eating to alleviate hunger at this point, I was just looking for the taste.

The original remains the best. Grease dripped from the burger (though not as much as on the Upper East Side), and the familiar flavor erupted in my mouth. The first bite was incredible – everything you’d expect a burger from the Shack to be. It was soft, warm and thoroughly enjoyable. Then, I looked down at my tray and saw that I still had the rest of the burger in front of me. I was only able to make it through half – likewise for my fries – before deciding I had enough information and giving up.

While Madison Square Park wins on taste, the surroundings can be a challenge. There is lots of seating, but it’s all outdoor. Given that the crowds tend to be largest here, they fill up quickly. During the lunch rush, with people spilling out of the nearby office buildings, you may have trouble finding a chair anywhere. Protect your food from the occasional bird (I speak from experience), and bring change for the bathroom (a freestanding public one is your only option, and it’ll set you back a quarter).

After giving up before finishing, groaning and shaking our heads, we decided to keep going. Again figuring it would be a good idea to keep the blood flowing, my burger buddy and I started the trek back uptown, dreading the final stop. It was getting close to 10 PM, leaving us just enough time to get to the Midtown location – our final stop on the Shake Shack tour. My feet felt heavier with each step. My stomach hinted that a mutiny was on the horizon. After swapping knowing glances, Laurie and I decided to leave the Eighth Ave location for another day.

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4. Eighth Ave

We waited a little over a week before resuming the tour, a natural reaction to overloading your body with some of the finest burgers New York City has to offer. Situated on Eighth Ave, I expected this restaurant to have frightening wait and no available seating. It’s close to Times Square and Port Authority, which led me to believe there would be endless tourist traffic. To my surprise, however, the line lasted only about 15 minutes. As on the Upper East Side, Shake Shackers armed with menus came out periodically to help people make their decisions before getting up to the counter to order.

The Midtown Shake Shack offered a tasty burger (I found Madison Square Park and the Upper East Side to be better) that came fairly quickly. It wasn’t terribly greasy but was enjoyable nonetheless. Seating was tough, as people seemed to take a bit more time with their meals while the kitchen was able to turn over orders quickly.

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Like the other indoor locations, the Midtown spot had bathrooms for customers. To use them, though, you needed to enter a code on the door. Unlike most places, which use a token or a key from the counter, Shake Shack was savvy enough to put the code on every receipt, minimizing the time it takes to get where you need to go. The Eighth Ave restaurant also had a more powerful faucet for water, which led to shorter lines for those fighting thirst. It’s clear that the company learned a few lessons before opening its newest space.


Getting the last of the #manhattan @shakeshack stops in!!! (@ Shake Shack w/ @scenebylaurie) http://4sq.com/dhBg7Bless than a minute ago via foursquare


And that was it.

Toiling through four Shake Shacks, even if the last was left for a later date, was far more challenging than I expected, and I learned just how much my stomach can hold. If you’re headed to Manhattan, it’s worth visiting one Shake Shack – but only one. Don’t try to cram them all into a demented burger tour. You really are only hurting yourself if you do.

Munch on Mozzarella on Madison in Manhattan

One of the frustrations of Madison Avenue in midtown is that there isn’t much to eat. You have to dash down a side street to get a quick bite, which leaves you craning your neck at every intersection to see if it’s worth taking a few steps off your path for a chance to fill your stomach with something you want. After a while, you just give up and walk into the first restaurant you see after your will has been decimated.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The next time your trudging up Madison from one luxury retailer to the next (and there are many, so many), duck into the Atrium at the IBM building on the corner of E. 56th Street, and skip street food in favor of mozzarella. Obika, a mozzarella bar, is made for cheese fiends, with a wide range of alternatives, not to mention meat tastings and pastas that you can add to your meal if, for some strange reason, mozzarella isn’t enough.

When you order, cautions the New York Daily News, don’t let appearances deceive you:

There were three mozzes atop a bed of spinach on the tasting plate. It didn’t look like a lot, sitting there, but wound up being more than enough for the two of us. We agreed, though, that had the cheeses-and us-been joined by a little wine, we probably would have mopped up every dairy-oozing morsel.

If you are addicted to cheese, you can carry the theme straight through dessert, with a ricotta mousse, topped with pine nuts and honey. I can tell you that the taste is unbeatable – and that the dish is incredibly heavy. As small as it looks, share it.

The drawbacks are present but not sufficient to ruin the experience. Writes the Daily News of Obika‘s atrium location:

The ceilings are high and the atmosphere nil. The bathrooms are down an escalator, around the corner from some Trumpean joint or other. And, worst of all worsts-and I can only assume that this is due to its location-Obika doesn’t have a liquor license. Their location in Kuwait City does, but not Manhattan. Cheese without wine? That’s just wrong.

The location’s ideal, though, when you’re hauling full shopping bags to your next credit card-melting store and need a break for a taste of attainable luxury.