I have a new camera! After over four years of faithful service, my Powershot SD600 found itself broken screen down in the Knewton e-waste bin. Having never owned a camera with manual control of shutter, aperture and focus, I’ve been coming to terms with my newfound powers at every meal.
Many of those meals have taken place on the south side of Williamsburg, my neighborhood of 18 months and the landing pad from which I’ll launch into my new Brooklyn residence in the next two months. I’m looking forward to buying new kitchen appliances, living in a nicer neighborhood, and being closer to Prospect Park, Sunset Park, and Calvin’s Royal Ribs. I’m not looking forward to leaving some of New York’s best fried chicken, a fantastic bierhall, neighboring Greenpoint and all of its Polish treasure, the presence of music venues and some great riverside parks, and my short walk to the city’s most decadent babka.
The strangest transition will be learning to think of Williamsburg as the dining destination it is becoming, not as the post-gentrification fallout shelter-cum-playground it has been. Pies and Thighs will no longer be that #1 lunch spot with no menu item unturned. Lomzynianka will no longer be my standby dinner table for entertaining out-of-towners. Lucky Dog will no longer be my haven for shuffleboard and one too many late night beers. The newly christened Blue Bottle coffee shop on North 4th will retain its mystique.
If the fanfare swarming around Fatty Cue and other up-and-coming restaurants is any indicator, dining in Williamsburg will only become more and more difficult once I’ve left. I shudder to think of the day I’m forced by circumstance to walk into Pies and Thighs for Sunday brunch. Knowing, however, that this reckoning is inevitable, I’d like to close out my days on S. 3rd with my last great taste of favorite places, especially those that I won’t necessarily want to make the trip from downtown Brooklyn to enjoy.
I’ve started with burgers. I’m not quite sure how I ended up consuming a burger a day for almost an entire week, but if you’ve ever wanted to compare the high flying hamburgers of the south side, I’ve done some heavy eating on your behalf and offer some notes on the most prominent options of these here corners.
The Laurels: Dumont Burger – $12.50 with fries/rings/salad
Brioche, bibb lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and one underwhelming hunk of ground beef. The cooks at Dumont Burger make no mistakes, but if I were to name a restaurant after a burger, I would make that burger of more memorable stuff. I’ve come back to this burger several times over the course of the past year and still can’t figure out what people can possibly like about it that merits $12.50 plus tax and tip.
Yes, it’s a lot of meat. Yes, it’s juicy and fairly seasoned. Yes, there is value in simplicity – I of all people respect that idea. Yet, every time I think back to my last Dumont Burger, all I can remember is how much I liked the house made pickle spear, and there’s something downright bothersome about that fact.
The Stalwart: Peter Luger – $8.95
Sesame seed bun, ground beef made from some of the most lusted-after aged beef in the country, and a round of raw onion on the side. The title “Best burger in New York City” has been thrown at the feet of this lunchtime-only steakhouse burger more often than the reports of inconsistency that serve to temper lofty expectations; however, for $9.00 plus tax and tip, I’d call this one a steal.
Whereas Dumont’s beef patty is pleasant but unmemorable, Luger’s broiled blend of porterhouse and prime chuck is almost overbearingly distinct. The meat is intensely rich, its strong flavors of beef and butter calmed down just a bit by the patty’s full and tender texture. I feel uncomfortable doling out accolades at this point in my relationship with the Luger burger, but this meal is a rite of passage I feel comfortable passing on to the next hungry soul.
The Challenger: Pies and Thighs – $8.00 with fries
Hamburger bun, iceberg, tomato, pickle, onion, mayo and a beefy-yet-reasonable patty that weeps quality all over the plate. The one menu item I couldn’t try during Pies and Thighs’ first week in business was their burger, so I went back as soon as it was available and found myself facing the juiciest burger I’ve had since my last visit to the Apple Pan.
Made from portions of the Meat Hook‘s signature beef blend that are set aside to be ground more finely and in smaller batches than the rest of the butcher shop’s product, the patty in Pies and Thighs’ burger is fat-toned and sop-your-plate-with-your-bun juicy. Repeat visits have yielded varying results on the grill job, but if the lovely ladies of Pies and Thighs manage to exert some quality control over the temperature of their burger, it will even out into one of the most enjoyable burgers in the city.
The Higher Floor: Diner – $12 with fries
A bun supplied by Amy’s Bread, lettuce, pickled red onion, and a stout, highly touted disc of grass-fed beef (brought to fruition by butcher Tom Mylan, who now owns the Meat Hook). My initial expectations for Diner’s gourmet-grade burger were stoked by Robyn’s glowing reviews, and this burger did not in any way disappoint – in fact, it’s my favorite New York burger outside of Madison Square Park by quite a wide margin.
The bun is buttery and crisp. The dressing is minimal without being afterthought. The mustard available on the side is fresh, coarse and flavorful without packing too much of a punch to deter from the grass-fed beef, which sings with a mature, very-well-salted, beefier-than-beef flavor that has changed the way I perceive hamburgers. One year ago, I would rather have spent $12 on light beer than on a high-falutin’ burger in a New American diner throwback. Now, I’m hurting at the prospect of no longer being five minutes away from this gem of a hand-held meal; its marriage of complex flavor to beautifully simple texture ups the ante on every other burger in its price range.
Gripes about Dumont notwithstanding, I’ve found that the burgers of Williamsburg constitute just one set of this neighborhood’s great range of quality eats. If the creativity and investment money continue to flow, I’ll look forward rather than backward when I decide to make these soon-to-be-old stomping grounds my own dining destination. Insert beef pun here!