Saturday, June 11, 2011

Where to Dine on the Best Grass Fed Burgers in NY

Over 14 billion hamburgers are consumed annually in the United States. McDonalds proudly tallies its more than 245 billion -- or about 4 million a day in the US alone. 
But as any burger-loving New York “Wimpy” will tell you, awesome metrics are not the story. Taste is.  
After all, Delmonico’s Restaurant in NYC is reported to have served the first hamburgers in 1834 for the whopping sum of $10! Mixed with kidney and bone marrow.

With thousands of New York restaurants serving some version of the revered and iconic hamburger, what better way to celebrate National Hamburger Month -- or anytime, than to mark the diversity that is New York and to taste the gamut  -- from grab n’ go to highbrow.  
With a twist. 
All had to offer local, sustainably grown vegetables and fries and buns or bread that is baked locally.  And the meat had to be organic.

Following is a can’t miss lineup of some of the best New York restaurants serving grass-fed beef hamburgers.

Elevation Burger: 
The tagline says it all:  Ingredients Matter. 

Elevation serves 100% USDA-Certified Organic, 100% grass-fed, 100% Free-range beef that is ground at the restaurant, sourced from a co-op of 30 ranchers in the United States.
The vegetables and produce are all fresh from area growers and greenmarkets. 

The fries are cooked in olive oil.  The menu offers five burgers: the 3.2 ounce hamburger for $4.49, the most popular Elevation Burger, with double meat, double, Real cheddar cheese –for $6.89, to the Vertigo Burger which was the Burger Month promotion too. Understandable as it’s a “ Stack ‘Em Up: Build Your Own 3 to 10 Patty Burger.” 

Eat the 10 patties in 10 minutes or less and get the Vertigo Free! And get a photo in the Elevation Burger hall of fame (or shame, depending on one’s dining aesthetic!)

Elevation also offers a Veggie and Vegan burger for the – for the “unholy” non-meat eaters. The savvy Elevation management (does that make them “Elevate-ors?!”) offers the burgers sans buns – which is brilliant. The burger can be wrapped in lettuce.   I love this idea!

Prepared fresh daily, the dozen toppings include Hot Pepper Relish, Balsamic Mustard, ketchup, caramelized onions, and pickles. 

The thick shakes and malts are made with fresh products from local dairies. 
The drinks start with a choice of chocolate, vanilla or coffee ice cream, with one or two flavors to add including real bananas, real strawberries.  There is an emphasis on the concept of Real here.  Sad state of overall fast food dining that the qualifier Real needs to reinforced…

There are assorted juices, teas and sodas too with local flavors.  Wild Bill’s Sarsaparilla is smacked with flavor.  

Desserts are fresh-baked oatmeal pecan and chocolate chip cookies made with organic eggs and butter. 

The back of the menu touts the benefits of Organic for anyone who’s been living under a rock.  But seriously, Elevation Burger should get a Distinguished Service Award for helping to educate its potential customers to the benefits of choosing organic, no antibiotics, no pesticides, less calories than grain fed beef, 400% more vitamin A and E.
It’s a no-brainer.  Watch out McDonalds. 
Free delivery; online ordering too. NYU students can use their Campus Cash Card.

But it’s the taste that will have customers ordering up bags of burgers. Knowing they are healthy is just over the top! (Elevation Burger’s logo features mountain peaks.)

Fabian Rosario, Elevation Burger
According to Fabian Rosario, Elevation Burger’s New York owner and manager, the menu is geared to keep it simple and well, Real.  

Now operating for six month, Rosario says its “grand” opening was the season’s worst snowstorms on record.  But nothing could stop this gem of a restaurant from taking it up a notch in time for National Burger Month.

Elevation Burger is located at 103 W 14th Street, NYC 10011, 212-924-4488.  Order directly: or via iPhone App.

Stand and Shake Shack   Good, reliable, middle of the road in terms of price and menu offerings.  Stand offers excellent hamburgers, sliders and the BEST homemade ginger beer. The Dark & Stormy made with the ginger elixir is just this side of illicit! There is also homemade pineapple soda.  The burgers are $10 to $18. And the blue cheese dipping sauce is a creamy and salty addition.  There is a burger soup too!

Shake Shack has seven New York locations: from Brooklyn and Citi Field to the Times Square and Madison Square Park
The burgers cost from $4 for a single to $7 for double and $8.50 for a Shake Stack. The burgers are angus steer burgers ground fresh daily.

Food Hall by Todd English:

Tucked away like a secret speakeasy, down a long flight of stairs and through a hallway – the restaurant’s exuberance is a fizzy, buzzing welcome. 
Stepping inside The Food Hall is not unlike feeling you’ve stumbled upon a big party in progress.  Which in fact it is indeed!  Celebrity Chef Todd English has created a food-as-theater mecca that hits the right note. Guests-as-audience thumps with the beat of the action, er cooking, while watching from front row seating at the marble bar cum dining table, or from the communal dining tables – all with tall seating. Gotta see the show!  

Chef Jeff managing the Grill (w/headset)
The energy exuded from nearly ten open kitchens is palatable.  The chefs wear head sets -- a la rock stars – all to coordinate the food items that are prepared at the specialty culinary stations and, like good air traffic controllers, brought to land safely - and served together for the dining guests. 

The stations are:
Sushi Bar
The Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar
Cheese & Charcuterie
Flatbread Pizza (cooked in its own fire oven)
Signature Pastas
The Grill

Greg Guerman
All the Food Hall team is unfailingly courteous and evoke an effervescent pride in their food role.  The waiter Greg Guerman, (who could be Prince Harry’s doppelganger and played hockey with chef Todd’s son back in Red Sox land.  
(Not surprising he is mending his ways and is now ensconced in New York’s Yankee Empire state to work in sports. Where the best teams are located!) 
With sophistication, Greg eagerly grinned his way through burger and beer suggestions, straight to the red velvet cake for dessert.
He didn’t miss a beat.  Hard to go wrong here, though, with more than 10 burgers and sliders to choose from.
All are served on light, flaky, toasted brioche roll that is baked locally at Hudson Bread.
There are two pages of wines, scotch, sake and cognac and beer.

Start with the draft beer, Delirium. It is a Belgian beer, light in color, heavy on the alcohol. With 8% alcohol content, drinkers will be forgiven if they think the pink elephants on the glass are a result of the delirium beer or from the tremors and shakes: that inspired the beer’s moniker!  

The Food Hall Burger is one of the restaurant’s top two most popular.  Not hard to taste why it earned that rank. It’s a half-pound of American Kobe, fired onion, grilled bacon, roasted tomato, Gorgonzola and bbq sauce for $16.  
It was enticing: juicy meat with balanced textured and flavor enhanced by the saltiness of the bacon and gorgonzola, rounded out by the crisper roasted tomato and bbq sauce of truffle aioli is divine.  

The TE Sliders (Todd English) are the other menu favorite.  These cutey pie little burgers come three to a serving with a garnish of a pickle nesting on top like Princess Beatrice’s wedding day Fascinator.  But more refined. 

The Kobe beef is shredded just so. The dipping sauce is more of a disappointing Russian dressing and frankly, the burgers were so very tasty, they didn’t need a thing. The TE sliders come with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, fried onion, and sweet mustard relish for $12.

The Risotto Tater Tots are genius.  Light, crispy, golden brown with a confetti of Parmesan sprinkled zen-like on top like coconut on a cake. They are too good.  The beet salad was crisp and flavorful - a nice balance to the meat-packed meal.
The Fries are terrific. They are thin, fried to perfection, with Parmesan and parsley.  We were told these treats are Tommy Hilfinger’s favorite – he lives in residence at the Plaza and often orders them up.  They are indeed irresistible.  

The Prime Rib Sliders are a burger heaven. The best, juiciest meat that soaks the bun just so, along with the fontina fondu dipping sauce.  Perfect. At $16.


The over-the-top Big Pastrami is an $18, must-try recommendation. It is a lot to eat.  Essentially, it is a Reuben – on top of a big hamburger!  In any event, it IS delicious.  It’s one-half pound of American kobe beef, shaved kobe pastrami, Gruyere cheese and sauerkraut on a roll.  The pastrami has integrity – no marbleized fat blobs.  All the cheese and juice and kraut mingle together for a sensational big, hearty taste.  

Discover this jewel of a restaurant as a local hot spot. Take in some celeb spotting too, as guests often include royals, stars, and designers. 
When asked what the craziest “party” they prepared at the 140-seat restaurant, general manager, Emily Kripitz, Catering Director, The Plaza Food Hall, said they staged an episode of Iron Chef with a not-to-be-named celebrity customer and his team, and Chef Todd English as judge.  She said it was a riot of fun – and good food.

Take out is available. But don’t miss the party!  Go to The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English, located at One West 59th Street Concourse, Floor A, New York, NY 10019. 212-986-9260  Open Sunday-Thursday 11am to 10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am to 11pm.

If the question is Why would anyone go the Palm Court at the Plaza to celebrate National Burger Month - or just one of the city's best hamburgers, they’ve got it all backwards. The question should be, "Why not dine at the Plaza for burgers?"  
Eloise is a delightful burger mate!

OK, ok, the $26 burgers might give some Wimpys a mild case of sticker shock. 
But think of the total experience and the cost issue melts away as soon as one slides gracefully onto the blue velvet divan of a seat and snaps the white linen napkin into laptop position in anticipation of a grand, glamorous burger experience. 
After all, this iconic, much-loved American meal deserves a special homage.

The piano soothes, the crystal and silver sparkle, the palms bow in reverence.  
Fariz Tello, The Plaza Hotel Palm Court
Ah, and there is Fariz Tello, the 20-year veteran server who seizes control like a maestro – in a very favorite uncle kind of way. 
He dispenses with the rest of the world, it seems, and immediately recommends a Long Island wine to start, along with the New York Pine Island Oysters Rockefeller.
The stunning appetizer is prepared with Long Island’s North Fork Satur Farms tender spinach (thank you, Eberhard Mueller and Paulette!)
along with Pernod Pastis, and Parmesan.

The wine is a Sunflower Chardonnay from Pindar Vineyards in Peconic Long Island and  
Fariz pours the golden honey of a wine and offers a toast of “good health & happiness.”
It’s a promise and incantation he can keep, given the meal to come. 
Fariz and his team offer impeccable service.  They are pros.  And when they say, “It’s my pleasure,” it’s authentic. They passionately deliver food and wine information. They know the food’s provenance.  The recommendations, along with the food, all serves to heighten the dining experience.

The Oysters Rockefeller are like liquid stars!  The frisson following the melt in your mouth crisp, clean ethereal Pine Island oysters and sweet, fresh spinach, buttery cheese, is a sublime, sensual game-changer.  It is a standout on the $32 Lunch Prix Fixe menu that is a cornucopia of delectable choices including local Beef Carpaccio, Steamed Bouchot Mussels with fresh pork sausage, lobster broth and kumquats, and two desserts: Sticky Toffee Pudding and Assorted Truffles and Macaroons – confections that are sinfully good.

Fariz says Lobster & Waffles for another appetizer.  Succumb. To a poached Maine lobster, savory onion waffle, and American caviar.  This is it. Although the waffle did seem a bit superfluous -- like a country cousin to the noble ensemble.  But it is billed as a sandwich so the bread element is pretty creative.  The lobster and caviar combination is terrific – a bit of salt zest on the light and succulent lobster.  The lobster, cucumber and watercress fusion is refreshing – elegant and jazzy at the same time.

Speaking of lobster, the lobster rolls are crazy good, accompanied by fresh guacamole, peeky toe crab, curried eggplant, and corn chips, all made in-house. These would be oh-so-perfect for the new bar menu as Chef Willis Loughhead later pointed out. 

Chef Willis knows how to elevate casual to elegant and special.  
He’s acquired his culinary magic at food emporiums such as The Modern, where he was chef de cuisine and the Ritz in Florida.

It’s almost a given that New York landmark hotels and restaurant food too often suffer from a lack of expectation. Boring. A stuffy great aunt would approve the predictable thrump of food that thumbs its finger at the decades. 
Here, Chef Willis nudged the menu to a great potential -- a heightened expectation.
The Palm Court reopened last April, and Chef Willis and his team have focused their talent on providing the tipping point of casual elegance married to a fidelity that honors the luxury of the grand hotel, along with an allegiance to uncompromised food.
Chef Willis Loughhead, Executive Chef, Palm Court, Plaza Hotel
“We wanted to demystify the legend and make it approachable,” Chef Willis explains.  

The asterisk at the bottom of each menu points out “As part of The Plaza’s commitment to environmental stewardship, this menu contains locally sourced, organic, or sustainable items wherever possible…. “  Many items are created using fresh and nutritionally balanced ingredients…”
The menu items are delightfully surprising. (Lollipop chicken is sassy and smart!)  
The culinary creations are inspired. They are prepared with fresh, local and in many cases, artisanal food.

The burgers at the Palm Court prove to be outstanding. 
It starts with the meat.  It’s well-marbled. Delicious.
Chef Willis says he gets his premium grass fed beef from Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in Kingston: the oldest farm in New York.

The Surf and Turf Burger is piled with those delicious Pine Island fried oysters and pickled onion relish. According to Chef Willis, the concept of the oysters and the burger was sparked by the classic foie gras and oyster pairing.  Here, the black truffle oil, red wine work with the oysters - made crispy with panko breading, to tango with the burger’s undertone of juices and the spice from the relish add a briny, not too salty taste.

The herb fries are light shoestrings, tantalizingly seasoned with salt and parsley and thyme. The potatoes come from Harrison Farms. Chef says he works with a Long Island farm to buy them and all the shallots he can get from his farmer friends.

The Chili Cheese Burger ($26 too) is slow cooked short rib chili braised in red wine, shredded, with beans goat cheddar. The sauce and meat are spot on.

Also, the burgers are painstakingly cooked to order. Medium rare is medium rare.  That makes a taste difference. Each burger is unique. 

Fariz pours a Napa 2007 Claret- a merlot and cabernet blend that was perfect with the burgers: woody, fruity and a touch of cranberry and raspberry.  It tasted light so not to overpower the burger, but heady enough to stand up to the big taste.

The bread and buns are from Pain D’Avignon bakery.

At the Palm Court, burgers are followed by expresso!  And Dessert. The confections are made by pastry chef, Jasmine Bojic, formerly at Tavern on the Green. 
Fariz suggests the macaroons that are indeed sweet… light and creamy and just the right finish. The torte was a triumph.  

The Palm Court immersion is a not-to-be missed dining experience. Go for the ambience.  Return for the food.

Dining on burgers in New York can be celebrated in a spectrum of never-ending variety. With a benchmark of organic, grass-fed beef as muse, New York chefs create burger masterpieces to be enjoyed and feted. 

J. Wellington Wimpy “will gladly pay you on Tuesday!”

 Experience the Plaza as only Eloise can. (Do you know who author Kay Thompson used as her muse for this iconic and enduring character?)  One of my favorite childhood books: