The most exclusive hamburger in the United States

New York is home to some amazing burger joints. The Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien hotel, a handful of Shake Shack locations and Burger Burger down on Stone Street topped the list for me … until I found some incredible sliders in an unusual place.

Skip all the city’s hottest dining destinations, and march yourself down to Wall Street. No, I’m not joking. There’s an amazing hamburger at 11 Wall Street, just in from the corner of Broadway and Wall. Those of you who work in the neighborhood are probably feeling a bit confused right now. That’s the address for the New York Stock Exchange!

Yep, exactly.

One of the most recognized and important financial centers in the world is also where you’ll find some incredible eats.

Though you’re probably most familiar with the bustling exchange floor that you’ve seen on CNBC, there’s a lot more going on inside that building, which is closed to the general public. To get into the NYSE, you need a reason, and to sample the fare, it has to be an important one.

I found myself at the NYSE a few weeks ago for a closing bell ceremony with IR magazine. After the bell announced the end of the trading day, I joined the other guests at a cocktail reception in an elegant space clearly designed to exude the gravity of both the building and the reasons people have for being in it. The hors d’oeuvres passed by carefully clad waiters was of a caliber you’d expect to find only at the most prestigious restaurants in the city, and nothing disappointed.

But, those burgers

Despite the fact that I find myself at some upscale eateries, I have a penchant for pedestrian grub that I’ll never overcome. I can’t resist a great hot dog, and a carefully crafted hamburger, for me, is heavenly.

A waiter walked by me with a tray of sliders, and it never occurred to me to decline. Confession: passing on these tasty treats didn’t occur to me after this scenario was repeated several times.

The burgers were tiny (duh – sliders), taking a mere two bites to consume. The fact that they disappeared so quickly is probably part of the reason why I had so many, though both taste and my absurd appetite doubtless contributed. Perfectly prepared, they were somewhere a tad south of medium, leaving them juicy but not dripping … perfect for eating with nothing more than a cocktail napkin between the burger and your hand.

The meat itself came just short of the edge of the bun. At first thought, this may seem meager, but experience proves otherwise. When I chomp into a big burger, I want the flesh to pass the bun and hang over the side, reinforcing the feeling that I’m biting into something that’s undeniably substantial. With sliders, however, this doesn’t work well. Passed hors d’oeuvres mean eating while standing, and a higher risk of spilling something on yourself. The lack of overhang reduces this risk, allowing you to eat and enjoy worry-free. While this is a plus for the average person, it’s incredibly important to me (I tend to spill).

Nothing, frankly, compares to sinking your teeth into one of these sliders. The burst of flavor is powerful. The outside of the burger is slightly crisp, though the inside is soft and moist. In two bites – three or four if you’re a normal person – it disappears, and you’re left hunting for a waiter. After all, you don’t want to wait for everyone else to take one!

So, how do you get the chance to dine on these delicacies?

While it helps to know somebody who knows somebody, your best bet is to have a friend (a) whose company is going public and (b) who is important enough at that company to be able to score an invitation for a guest who doesn’t work for that company at all. Good luck with that

Of course, you could always come up with a great idea, start company, make it fabulously successful and go public on the NYSE.

Until then, however, you’ll have to be content to drool.

[Photo courtesy of IR magazine]

Times Square Fairfield Inn to celebrate “straight 10s” with Shake Shack

If you kept track of my Shake Shack odyssey a few weeks ago and built up an appetite, you’re a few weeks from being able to satisfy it. On October 10, 2010 … that’s 10-10-10, in case you didn’t realize it … the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Times Square is going to make it easy for you. To celebrate the day of straight 10s, the hotel will give a $10 gift card per room for guests to use a few blocks away at the Shake Shack on 44th Street and Eighth Avenue (the last stop on my trip).

This deal is pretty wild. Too often, hotels try to ship you over to local tourist trap restaurants, where you really don’t experience the best the city has to offer. Fairfield Inn, on the other hand, is working with a Manhattan institution, making it easier for guests from out of town to dine like a local.

So, is the midtown Shake Shack the “tourist” one? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that it isn’t. This Shack can hang with the other three in Manhattan, and the staff uses the same techniques that it employs at the other locations (e.g., providing menus to customers when the line is long) to keep the process moving easily.

There is one catch, however. Keep your receipt: you may need it to get into the bathroom!


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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) 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.

The Parker Meridien NYC knows how to serve a cheeseburger

I know I’ve written a lot about hotdogs, but I’m also a big fan of burgers. I guess my true affinity is for anything that’s bad for you. Nothing beats a great dog, but I have room for variety and sometimes crave an amazing burger. In Manhattan, you should look no further than the Parker Meridien on W. 56th St. (or W. 57th St., you can enter from either side).

You’re probably thinking about a $20 hamburger (more with cheese), because nothing’s cheap at a Parker Meridien. Well, for this burger, you’ll have to pass Norma’s (which is a great brunch spot, but far from cheap) and look for the neon cheeseburger on the wall. Welcome to the Burger Joint! It’s hidden in a hallway next to the concierge desk, and if you ask for directions, the staff will direct you easily. They know what you’re looking for.

During most peak dining hours, though, the location will be obvious. Look for the incredibly long line and be prepared to wait.

When you finally do reach the Burger Joint, you’ll notice a substantial shift in the décor. Scrawled between the many posters on the walls are light attempts at graffiti (but lots of them). The signs are handwritten in magic marker. The upscale uniforms visible in the rest of the hotel are eschewed for attire that’s considerably more laid back. The restaurant’s name says it all. It’s a burger joint, nothing more. But, it excels at its one mission – putting an amazing hamburger between your teeth.

Read the menu before you get to the cash register, or you’ll probably be sent to the back of the line. Demand for the product will force you to wait for a while, so there’s no reason to make it worse by screwing up at the moment of truth. The sign provides strict (but easy to follow) instructions on how to order. Speak loudly and confidently.

The restaurant itself is usually crowded. It’s tough to get a seat, and there’s always an asshole or two who lingers after finishing. So, you’ll be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting for your grub to be cooked, bagged and handed to you. Deal with it; there’s no alternative. From time to time, one of the cooks will step from behind the counter and scream at loiterers to get the hell out. It’s not done delicately … and it shouldn’t be.

If the dining area is full, or you just don’t want to mess with the crowds, there’s a great inter-block alley between W. 54th St. and W. 55th St., and it has tables and benches. This is a great dining spot when the weather is favorable. Also, you’re only a short walk from Central Park.

So, what about the food? You can’t go wrong with the burgers and fries, which comprise the entirety of the menu. The burgers are tasty, but do benefit from a bit of ketchup. I’d be happier if they were larger. The fries are thin-cut and the best (of this style) in the city. I haven’t tried the shakes (not really my thing), but I can tell from how many have been ordered that they must be good.

The total cost for all this isn’t absurd. For three cheeseburgers, two generously-sized orders of fries and a drink, I dropped $31.50. You’re going to have a bitch of a time finding a deal like this anywhere else in the city, I assure you.

The bad economy hits the dollar menu with a vengeance

If you have a kid, you’ll probably find yourself at the local McDonalds a little more often than you’d want. But this post is not about the joy a Happy Meal can bring a kid, it is about how McDonalds is handling the declining economy.

The photo on the right was shot at my local store, sorry for the crappy quality, I was trying to be as nonchalant as possible when I snapped it.

The text reads “We’re introducing the double hamburger with cheese to the dollar menu and are moving the double cheeseburger and the McChicken, both at a new price of $1.19 to the sandwiches section of the menu“.

So, naturally I had to ask them what the difference is between a double hamburger with cheese, and a double cheeseburger. The extra 19 cents in a double cheeseburger goes towards ONE slice of cheese.

It is official; the bad economy has finally turned companies completely insane in their quest to squeeze more money out of us.