The L-shaped, floor-to-ceiling red curtain tucked away in the back left corner of the lobby of Le Parker Meridien hotel on 119 W 56th St. hides something. From lunchtime until around midnight, when people are queued up to the single entrance into what lies behind the corner, this curtain appears to be the only barrier between a mundane hotel and a secret operation to which few have the password.
As it turns out, behind this curtain lies one of the few “hole-in-the-hotel” places in New York: a restaurant called Burger Joint.
Burger Joint, despite its elegant facade, delivers a less-than-elegant product. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)
Burger Joint’s name is self-explanatory, if not mockingly redundant. It is a small dive, with the atmosphere of an old New York speakeasy, featuring a menu that offers nothing more complicated than burgers, fries, drinks and shakes.
I must admit that when I visited Burger Joint I was not the average uncultured, uniformed swine that knows nothing of good New York burgers. I had been to the top competitors in the fast-casual burger game: Five Guys, Shake Shack and New York Burger Co. I was an active participant in the debate over the best burger in the city.
So when I made my way into the swanky Manhattan hotel, I wanted my own reasonably-priced burger to bring to the table whenever my friends debated the subject. “But have you ever been to the Burger Joint?” I would ask them, ready to argue my point. Burger Joint has a slew of devout fans who defend its traditional approach to a delicious burger. I thought I might be able to join these unconventional foodies.
The line, which I waited in for about 20 minutes, concluded with a hasty worker to whom I gave my order: a regular hamburger, medium with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and ketchup, with a side of fries and a soda. I paid in cash (the place is cash only) which totaled a little under $15. I then joined a group of about 10 other customers hunting for tables in the already-cramped space. Luckily, by the time my order was ready, a table opened. Its previous occupants felt their post-meal conversation was the reason for the audible disgruntlement of my friend and me.
The burger, served on a tray from a worker behind the counter, came cooked a little juicy for my liking, but snugly packed into its wrapping despite the inch or two of fresh toppings. The meat itself was top quality, with excellent chars from the small grill behind the counter.
The burger was standard, in all its glorified simplicity. There were no crazy flavors, no exquisite spices. In short, there were no surprises. It was as boring as waiting in a hotel lobby to get a burger. This is not to say it was lacking in anything — the burger fit the standards of taste for an objectively good burger: it had good texture, it was a fair portion and it had tasted the way I thought it would. But, it failed to exceed any expectations one might have for such a secretive, successful operation stashed in the lobby of a hotel.
As for the fries, they were nothing special, if a bit floppy and under-salted. The bun, to my delight, suited the patty well in size and breadth.
By the time I finished my burger, I was plenty full with about half of my french fries left. I was set to sit around and just pass the time with my friend, but the woman hovering over our table with a tray of food guilted us into surrendering our table.
For a place with such a relaxed approach to the art of cooking hamburgers, Burger Joint had an atmosphere that was anything but relaxed, while the only thing the restaurant did fulfill was a broad definition of a satisfying burger.