Saturday, October 23, 2010

Summer Burger Challenge: Results Edition!

Well folks, Summer seems to have come to an end. I know so because, much like Punxatawney Phil, I caught Jerry Lewis attempt his annual warbling on "You'll Never Walk Alone" on my TV box back during Labor Day. And since then, the air had started to get chillier, then unusually warmer, then chillier again.

With this in mind, along with the fact that the temperature dropped a solid 20 degrees in a single day, I think it's high time I post my results of my long-awaited Summer Burger Challenge.

If you remember waaaay back in this entry, I told you that the challenge involved me going around to burger joints that were exclusive to Long Island. It's just to give you, my loyal readers, a taste of the regional delights that can be found here. But I'll tell you right away that there were a few...cheats that I'll get into when I get to them. Let's begin!

Our first entry is from Frank-N-Burger, a little hole-in-the wall burger joint on Route 25 in St. James. It might not seem like it in the picture, but this thing was pretty damn big as far as normal burgers go. That big pink thing spilling out under all the lettuce? That's ham, baby, and it's the only burger place on the entire list where you can get it as a topping. So, in essence, you can actually eat a Ham Hamburger.

My verdict: It's Good! The ham made the overall taste seem a bit off, but that's ham for you. It's been a while since I had this one, but I thought the burger was pretty good & juicy. You'll have to visit for yourself, which I highly recommend.

By the way, you'll see a recurring theme here with pickles. I never really warmed up to pickles until about last year, and even now I still can't stand them on burgers. I personally think it adds a rubbery, salty texture that shouldn't be in the way of my chewy burger, so I just take them off the burger and eat them at my leisure. Case in point: this pickle slice was pretty thick, and while it tasted like an average pickle slice would, I didn't want that damn thing on my burger.

This little beauty comes from a place called All-American Drive-In that sits on Merrick Road in Massapequa. A Long Island institution, this thing has been standing around since the 1950s. It's roughly around the same age as McDonald's, except this place never sold out or significantly raised their prices since the place opened.

Sadly, I didn't take an exterior shot, but here's one that I did find on the place's Facebook Page:

The place sells the regular fast food fare: Burgers, Fries, Onion Rings, and Knishes. Like I said above, they're pretty damn cheap. Seriously, the most expensive thing on the menu is an order of fried butterfly shrimp for $5.25, followed by a Quarter Pound burger with cheese at $2.55! They also have Krusty Partially-gelatinated Non-dairy Gum-based Beverage, I mean shakes that only run you $1.65. Hell, getting the typical meal of Burger/Fries/Drink will run you under eight dollars, and that's pretty much awesome in this economy.

My Verdict: As I said above, it's like McDonald's if they never sold out, so it's pretty good for what it is: A cheap fast-food burger joint. It's miles above any typical fast food chain, but far from the best burger in the challenge.

The last of the Long Island exclusives is from American Roadside Burger, which can be found on East Main Street in Smithtown. They have a special burger called the "Roadstar," which is a 4-patty burger that, when eaten, gets your name on the wall. As the double cheeseburger pictured above is average size for a burger with two patties, this is not a difficult feat to pull off as the walls are literally covered with names. Hell, I've done it and it's not so bad. There are entire little league teams on the wall for god's sake!

This brings me to My Verdict: Awesome. They're tender, juicy, and the toppings compliment the burger instead of overpower it like a bunch of other places do it. They offer a great sauce that they refer to as "Pink." What's that, you ask? I didn't know, but one of the nice folks there told me that it was a combo of ketchup, mayo, and Worcestershire sauce. I gotta say, it tasted awesome and definitely gave the burger an extra oomph of flavor. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Check that place out, yo.

This burger is from Bobby's Burger Palace, whose only location on Long Island is in the SmithHaven Mall in Lake Grove. Before I go any further, the mall was named for the fact that it's bringing the towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven together, yet it's technically in Lake Grove. That's like a football team saying that they represent New York, but play in New Jersey! That would be silly.

But back on track, there are only FIVE of these things around, with the only NY location being where I said it was. Two of them are in New Jersey, one's in western Philadelphia, and the other one's in Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. I don't know WHY that part of Long Island was chosen, but here we are. Yep, we're heading into the Franchises now.

The burger shown above is the Dallas Burger, which consists of a spice-crusted patty, bbq sauce, Monterey Jack cheese (Cheese? CHEEEEESE?!), and coleslaw. Of course, this is Overinflated Ego Chef Bobby Flay we're talking about, so every ingredient has to be the best it can be, as hot as it can be, and as expensive as it can be. Seriously, the burger is not that big, and it alone runs you $7.50. However, it also happens the be the only burger place on here that sells beer. But, like everything else, it's overpriced.

My Verdict: Bobby got lucky, this burger is GOOD. Good meat, good ingredients, good fries, but too expensive for what you get. There's great selection of sauces, though.

Any of those are good, especially the Chipotle Ketchup. But I don't recommend trying the sauce they give you for the fries. I can't really put my finger on what it tasted like, but I didn't like it that much.

Remember when I said there were a few cheats? Well, this is one of them. Behold: Fatburger! I included this one because they USED to be on Long Island, but they disappeared from here a little less than a year ago for some reason. This one was hit on my vacation to Atlantic City. It's located in the Borgata casino, where it's open 24 hours!

My Verdict: PRETTY DAMN GOOD. While the burger looks small, you can get bigger sizes than this. Either way, very awesome taste and I shake my fist at Fatburger for moving out of Long Island! I really wish I didn't have to go that far for good burgers! By the way, this is also the only burger chain that offers a fried egg for a topping, along with selling steak fries! Those things are equally as great.

This here is the other cheat. This is from Johnny Rockets, a 50's-style sit-down Burger joint usually found near tourist traps. Again, I got this one on my trip to Atlantic City. BUT, with an uppercase and emboldened "B," there ARE Johnny Rockets in the NY/Long Island area. The closest ones to me are in the Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, and in the food court of the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. (BTW, awesome mall. It's Long Island's Mall of America, but not as big!)

Keeping with the 50's theme
, the entire restaurant is sparkling white, much like America in the 50s itself if stuff like Leave it To Beaver, I Love Lucy, and 50s Nostalgia Cafes lead you to believe. And there are awesome old-fashioned jukeboxes at every booth and every place seems to have its own "song" that the staff are required to dance to, should someone shell out the nickel to play it. As I mentioned here before, the one in Cedar Point was "Love Shack." The one in Atlantic City had "Stayin' Alive," and the one in the Tangers had a few girls sing and dance to "Respect."

They also decorate a cup or plate with a smiley face made out of ketchup, so there's that.

My Verdict: It tastes nearly diner-quality, but it's nowhere near as greasy as you would think it is. So, in a sense, it's pretty awesome. Not the BEST thing ever, but it's only because of the awesome competition that I'll get to in a moment. But also worth mentioning are awesome milkshakes (Strawberry Banana FTW), and the fact that they refill your fries! Let me reiterate that: ALL YOU CAN EAT FRIES. And they're freaking good!

Here we have a burger from Cheeburger Cheeburger, found in Farmingdale and other places around the country. If you're thinking about that old SNL sketch where everyone keeps saying "cheeseburger cheeseburger, no coke, pepsi," then get out of my head. But in all honesty yes, they named the restaurant after the sketch, pepsi and all. The Pepsi there? With shots of vanilla? To die for. By the way, Johnny Rockets does that, too, and they're also to die for.

The theme here? Much like Johnny Rockets, it's a 50s/Early 60's Burger Joint, and they go all-out with it. The music, the crap on the walls, even black people have to eat in their own separate section. Okay, I'm seriously joking about that part. But unlike Johnny Rocket's sparkling white Everything, there's lots of little nostalgic tidbits everywhere! Lots of old ads, Elvis memorabilia, and 50's neon to make your eyes bleed! Also of note is the fact that while you're waiting for your food, they got stacks of trivia cards at every table, so you can impress your date by proving how better you are than her with your memory of obscure facts from yesteryear.

But before I move on to the burger, I gotta talk about the shakes. Oh yes, there are shakes here. While Johnny Rockets up above has a good selection of many staple milkshake flavors, Cheeburger Cheeburger prides itself with having 75 flavors. I need to repeat that number in bold on its own: 75 flavors. Sure, they count "Strawberry" "Banana" and "Strawberry Banana" as separate flavors, but hey, you gotta love having the option of having all three at once or in separate shakes. Not only does it stop there, but you can combine any and all of those flavors into some unholy mikshakey concoction. The menu itself claims there's over 378,000 combinations. (What, 378 thousand?! But that's impossible!!)

I got a lot of catching up to do, folks. Suffice to say, they're pretty awesome. You got the milk, you got the shakes, and you got tiny little marshmallow-sized ice cream chunks in the mix, too. Definitely recommend it.

My Verdict: Well, see that fork and knife in that picture above? You're gonna need them. While I'm strongly against the notion of people eating burgers with utensils and acting like their nose is 5 feet above my eyebrows, the burger tends to fall apart. The thing is quite juicy, sure, but it's also kind of dry at the same time with lots of good ol' burger grease to help it slide into your stomach and blood vessels. It's a good thing you get your choice of an assload of toppings, because they improve the taste of the already good burger.

The burger in the pic has my default toppings of lettuce, raw onions, pickles, coleslaw and ketchup, but they also got 20 other toppings along with eight kinds of cheeses to satisfy your dairy fancy. The more whacked-out toppings include Worcestershire sauce, artichoke hearts and peanut butter. I've always wondered what peanut butter on a cheeseburger would taste like, but I figured that my taste buds would forcibly tear themselves off my tongue before the burger even hit them. With all the choices, I keep wondering why they don't offer fried eggs like Fatburger does, but I guess they just want to be "those guys" and be against the burger topping train.

Sure, this one's not from Long Island, but rather Midtown Manhattan, but checking out The Shake Shack was too good to pass up. A Manhattan landmark since its opening in 2004, there are only six locations in the entire country (with two more on the way), with 4 of them in Manhattan itself. There's one in Citifield (ugh, the Mets), and the other is in Miami for some reason.

After opening in Madison Square Park (unlike Madison Square Garden, there's an actual garden there), it became well-known for its burger and shakes, not to mention its long lines. Yes, no matter which Shake Shack you go to, there will be a line out the door, regardless of the time of day. Fortunately, if you want to know just how popular the flagship location is, the main site has a webcam that gives the tubes a 24 hour broadcast of its line. Who knows how many people there are now? Maybe there's a dancing taco or some bears doing aerobics? Anything can happen in Manhattan, and no one will even bat an eye.

Let's get to the food. You can imagine a place called "The Shake Shack" would have good milkshakes, right? YES. By far the best strawberry milkshake I've ever had, and this comes from someone who loved Johnny Rockets and Cheeburger's and is a frequent drinker of Friendly's Fribbles. Sure, it's five bucks for what is essentially a small, but you have to remember that everything edible is two dollars more expensive in New York City, even the penny candy. That stuff is surprisingly overpriced there.

My Verdict: VERY good-quality burger. Like I said, it's jacked up in the city, so it SEEMS expensive at $5 a pop, but it, the shake, and the fries (which are pretty good, but nothing to cheer about) are completely worth waiting a half-hour for the deal that you're getting.

Last but not least, we come to Five Guys. These guys have places all around the country, and there's a simple reason why: THEY'RE AWESOME. Yes my readers, I saved the best for last. This is most likely the best fast food-like burger you'll ever have outside of your local mom & pop burger joint or even your own home.

Just look at that picture, isn't that the sexiest burger you've ever laid eyes on? I should know, because I've been to five of them in the LI/NYC/NJ metro area multiple times at various points around the summer and they have yet to disappoint me. Sure, the folks there give me dirty looks for attempting unspeakably dirty acts of eroticism around their burgers, but it's nothing they haven't seen before.

A few things you should know about this place: The default size is the double cheeseburger (pictured above), so if you choose the "Mini Burger," you'll just get a single patty and be declared a wimp for life. Company policy, folks. Also company policy? The Fries. Not only are they awesome in a sense that you're eating awesome salty fries that have that perfect french fry texture of "not too crunchy, but not too soggy," they give you a ton of them. Well, they give you the amount that's in your order, then they take another scoop of fries and stick them in your bag that all of the food is served in just because they love you.

Wait, it gets better. While you wait for your order, there are boxes of peanuts available for you to scoop out and eat. Yes, the kind you crack open and eat like the petting zoo squirrels you are. You gotta love those things, even when the food is ready about 10 seconds after you eat half of your stash.

Along with all those things, you have the burger. My Verdict: Surprisingly juicy for a double cheeseburger cooked well-done. Yes, it's probably the only minus I have for this place, but you honestly can't tell it's well done and hints of dryness are only detected if you force yourself to look for it. If in the event the burger is slightly dry, the toppings make up for it. The one I always get? Lettuce, onions (raw, of course), pickles, ketchup, and sauteed mushrooms. They also got the standards, like bacon, relish, tomatoes, mayo, jalapenos, and whatnot, but I don't really care about those (well, except maybe the bacon now).

Let's see what an entire meal looks like, shall we?

Again, incredibly sexy. Great burger meat, great toppings, awesome fries, and all the peanuts you can stomach. So, in short, WHY AREN'T YOU EATING THERE RIGHT NOW?!

This concludes my Summer Burger Challenge. The main quest, anyway. I went to a few more places around the summer, but I plan to assemble those in a future entry as I have yet to get to the places that were recommended to me by close friends, along with places that I've discovered in the past few weeks and have made a mental note to check out sometime.

Now that my last summer post is finally completed, it's on to October-centric entries! Be sure to read my coming fall entries, expected to be posted sometime in January at my current rate.

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