Sunday, January 31, 2010

Burger Joint (New York, NY)

@ Le Parker Meridien Hotel, 199 West 56th Street, New York, NY 10019, T: 212-245-5000

My friend M. had told me about this secret burger joint in a luxurious hotel in Manhattan, which serves the best burgers in the city. Allegedly, it is so secret that if you ask about it at the hotel lobby, they will not tell you where it is. At the same time, you can find info about it on its website. So, here is the inside scoop: when you walk into the lobby of the Le Parker Meridien Hotel, walk up to the huge red-burgundy curtain and look for the narrow hallway on the left... at the end you see a neon burger sign... that's where the entrance to the Burger Joint is!

The Burger Joint is a small hole-in-the-wall, which looks a bit like a student restaurant/pub. Clearly, the secret is not well kept, as we had to join a significant line, which only grew larger and larger while we were waiting (and eating). That said, the people behind the counter work hard and are quite efficient. This is helped by the very limited menu of the Burger Joint: burger, fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I went for a Hamburger with "the work", i.e. lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mayo, and mustard, having it cooked medium-well ($6.89). I also ordered a portion of french fries ($3.67), which are big enough to share. The burger is not very large, but it was very juicy and tasty; absolutely exceptional, but definitely not the best I ever ate. That said, it was probably better than the Pop Burger. The fries had a bit of a strange taste; not bad, just strange.

VERDICT: 91/100
Burger Joint is an experience, first and foremost. It is undoubtedly one of the most original and surprising locations. At the same time, they serve really good burgers. In other words, when you are in Manhattan, go there and don't be fooled by the curtain!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Franklin Steakhouse (Franklin, KY)

3898 Nashville Rd, Franklin, KY 42134, T: 270-598-5028 (exit 2 of I-65)

We stumbled upon this place without any prior knowledge. From the outside, Franklin Steakhouse looks pretty authentic. Inside, the place still looks the part, including the rsmoking edneck clientele. What upsets the picture is the Asian personnel. A dirty steakhouse in Kentucky that is run by Asians!

I went for the filet mignon, which comes with one side (I chose wedges) and a house salad, at a cost of just $12. The house salad wasn't promising; it had potato chips in it and came with an au jus croissant. Bizarro! The steak was very tender, however, although the meat didn't have too much taste. The wedges were crispy and tasty.

VERDICT: 80/100
Franklin's is not a top steakhouse, but offers quite good steak for very little money. Moreover, the sides are quite tasty.

Fun fact: the restrooms are fairly gross, but definitely the warmest I have ever visited.

Ann's Snack Bar (Atlanta, GA)

1615 Memorial Dr (Dixie Street SE), Atlanta, GA 30317, T: 404-687-9207

Many places claim to be home to a famous dish, but few can actually substantiate that claim. Ann's Snack Bar in Atlanta is home to the World Famous Ghetto Burger and that claim is only partly exaggerated; while most of the world might be oblivious to the ghetto burger, meat lovers in the US are not. In 2007 the Wall Street Journal declared Ann's ghetto burger the best burger in the country! Clearly, I had to find out for myself.

Stories about Ann's Snack Bar always discuss at least three things: (1) the burgers; (2) Ann's rules and 'tude'; and (3) the waiting times. The Snack Bar holds only eight seats and you are not allowed to enter the place when all are occupied -- which is almost always the case. The poor soul that does enter, will be told clearly and convincingly by Ann to wait outside (similarly, use of cell phones is strictly forbidden and Ann will tell you to go outside to talk).

When I arrived, on a cold January (Tues)day at 11.40, ten minutes after she opened, there were exactly 8 people inside and no one waiting outside. Some five minutes later one person came out, and I took his place. Unfortunately, Ann first had to help the other seven people, which took a good 20 minutes, before she cleaned the grills and took the order of the next eight, including me. Obviously, I ordered the Ghetto Combo ($10.14 including tax), which includes the ghetto burger, french fries, and a drink (I took the overly sweet punch).

There is something unexplainable to Ann's ghetto burger. As the few haters have noted, there is absolutely nothing special or secret about the ingredients of the burger. Nothing is home-made; most comes from Wall-Mart, as she herself confessed. This not withstanding, the final result of all the ordinary ingredients is an extraordinary burger! The ghetto burger includes a toasted bun, some mayo, ketchup and mustard, a thin layer of chili, and two huge patties of meat (ca. half a pound each) which are grilled on a griddle with onion and cheese (I had mine, as always, without cheese) and sprayed several times with steak spices. Similarly, the frozen fries are packaged and deep fried in way too large quantities; still, defying all logic and experience, and I used to work in a Dutch snack bar (!), they come out very crispy and tasty.

VERDICT: 98/100
Let me come clean: yes, I was intrigued by the hype, but no, I wasn't there to succeed. In fact, I hate waiting and am not a big fan of small places where strangers talk to me. In other words, Ann's Snack Bar is not really the place for me and I was ready to write a negative report. Moreover, seeing the burger being prepared, and noticing the lack of anything special or secret, I was ready to be underwhelmed. However, I was not... not at all. The ghetto burger is absolutely awesome! It is juicy, has a wealth of flavors (I liked the combination of chili and mustard), and, if you are able to finish it (as I was), sends you into a burger coma from which you arise wanting... another ghetto burger. Sure, next time I'll have a barbie I'll try to make my own, but I'm sure it will be nowhere near as good as Ann's. So, next time you are in Atlanta, and have time to kill, (even with a 'short wait', it took me over 1.5 hours!), go to Ann's. I know I will!