At 4:50pm, people were playing hacky sack on the sidewalk in front of Park Burger. At 4:55 kiddies were bouncing about in the sunshine. At 5, the door to the Old South Pearl burger joint swung open for business for the 1st time. Delicious, the looks on the faces of the servers & line cooks gathered in a knot at the counter—a mix of terror, dread & determination to appear cheerful—as we streamed in. I said to one of them, “You knew the neighborhood was going to descend on you, right?” She smiled wanly. By 5:02, half the seats in the small, bright, space, all blue-&-orange stripes & chrome on white, were occupied—& by 5:30 it was packed.
Why all the gaga frothing fuss over a burger joint & nothing but? It’s not like you can’t get a halfway decent patty on a bun at Pearl Street Grill or a dozen other watering holes down the block & in the vicinity. Well, in part it’s the very purity suggested straight off by the name & illustrated more recently by the posting of the menu in the window—short & sweet with just 11 burgers, 2 kinds of fries, 1 side salad, 8 milkshakes, a root beer float & fresh-squeezed lemonade, plus wine & beer, including a fair number of Belgians. (It’s also cheap; nothing’s over $10 but wine by the bottle.) In part it’s pedigree—the owner is Jean-Philippe Failyau, a protégé & sometime partner of Frank Bonanno, magic man behind my immediate faves Osteria Marco & Bones, as well as lovely Luca d’Italia & Mizuna. And it’s partly that special, ineffable something, an aura emanating from the storefront that had us neighbors convinced it was going to be really good.
All of two hours after its grand opening, our hunch was validated. If Park Burger didn’t hit it out of the park last night, it came gratifyingly close.
The below was taken maybe 10 minutes into our meal; check out the cool black-&-white canvas depicting sorta vibrating cows in back. And check out Petey aka Constant Watcher‘s creamsicle milkshake,
smacking of fresh creaminess with bits of orange pulp. Loudly as the peanut butter–chocolate shake called to me, a Spanish rosé sang more sweetly over that maddeningly seductive flamenco tempo of its. (My poor head is a place of constant libationary cacophony.) Pours were generous from a selection as short & sweet as the menu—wide-ranging for numbering only 11, from German riesling to Argentine malbec to Spanish garnacha. The beers, by the by, number 11 as well—someone’s lucky number, apparently. Or someone’s a fan of Spinal Tap.
We started with a large order of fries, hand-cut so carefully they didn’t look it.
Hot & crispy, they were rather underseasoned (& thus the only minor disappointment of the meal); we had to S&P them quite a bit before we were satisfied. Not so the sweet potato fries the Director & I also split, on whose yea-veritably-golden exteriors the salt granules were visible to the naked & horny eye. I’m not sure they were quite up to Sputnik’s snuff—but I’m not sure they weren’t either; they were that close. I’ll have to stage a fry-off soon.
Our waitress apologized for the fact that the burgers themselves took about 25 minutes; we assured her we completely understood, that we’d hardly expected clockwork on day one—& besides, we were enjoying ourselves, soaking up the sunny, sing-songy, super-local color, with kids chomping away grinning & parents snapping photos & gladhanding their pals from down the block.
But when they finally arrived, they were no slouches. A little smaller than your average half-pounder at 1/3 of a pound, & flatter rather than fatter—despite which the crew managed to do a fair job at keeping the meat on the rarer side of medium—on big, freshly toasted buns, they’re also piled with goodies, including other meats, making the patty size ideal. (The mini, meanwhile, ain’t, at a quarter pound;
our friend Judy declared it, with its 1000-Islandesque house “BurgerSauce,” the best she’d had in ages—for what’s that’s worth, since she also admitted she hadn’t had a burger in ages.)
To the Frenchy with ham & Brie, I added caramelized onions,
& with the results—all salty & juicy, chewy & gooey, fat & touched with sweetness—I was just as pleased as I could be, sitting there mugging like Bill Cosby doing his chocolate-cake-for-breakfast schtick. As for that pickle, I do believe it was housemade, or at least house-tricked-out with fresh herbs.
The Director, chile monstruo that he is, wasn’t sure at 1st about the El Chilango, deeming the guacamole-to-jalapeno ratio too high, but he eventually hit the jackpot at the center & perked right up.
Petey did the DIY thing with pepper jack & bacon, which I didn’t try, but it sure looked plush.
When we left around 6:30, there was a line out the door—&, I heard from an excellent source today, not long thereafter they closed for the eve, apparently unprepared for the sheer crush of sandwich-munchers. Might I suggest they get used to it quick?