Picture yourself at a barbecue on a lazy summer afternoon. With one hand, you hold a frosty beer; with the other, you bite into a thick, juicy hamburger. Soft bun meets juicy tomato, crunchy pickle and savory, beefy burger in that one perfect bite — THE TASTE OF SUMMER...
That is, at least in theory. Far too often, the burgers I find at backyard barbecues are little more than crusty, blackened pucks of meat drowning in ketchup and mustard. Meanwhile, the humble hamburger is enjoying a haute-cuisine revival at kosher restaurants in New York and across the country.
Restaurants such as Rare in Miami, Shilohs and La Gandola in Los Angeles, and Shallots and Ken's Diner & Grill in Chicago, create gourmet burger offerings that are worth trying out. At Amsterdam Burger Company, a new Manhattan restaurant run by Chef Mike Gershkovich, there are five variations on the classic beef burger, plus burgers made with tuna, chicken and lamb. At Pardes, in Downtown Brooklyn, a miniature burger is topped with a red wine onion jam, bacon and chicken liver. Midtown stalwart Wolf & Lamb serves burgers made of rib-eye steak. With this wave of popularity and reinvention, it seems like it’s the right time to take a second look at the homemade burger.
What is it about a burger that keeps us flipping them onto the grill every summer, and ordering them every time we eat out? “Burgers are nostalgic,” said Wolf & Lamb co-owner Zalman Wuensch. “Everyone remembers burgers from childhood — that Sunday afternoon barbecue, that family time. A satisfying burger takes you back to that—it’s more than just a meal.”
“We are living in a time where basic things, simple preparations, are valued,” said Chef Mike Gershkovich of Amsterdam Burger Company over lunch at his restaurant. “A hamburger is the definition of good eats.” Straight- forward as it may be, it takes skill, care, and a few secret tips to make a restaurant quality burger at home.
The secret, Gershkovich revealed, lies in simplicity and attention. “If your raw ingredients aren’t good, no additions or doctoring is going to make the final result taste good.” The key is starting with quality ingredients, handling them carefully, and paying close attention to even the smallest details. “Toppings are accessories,” he insisted. As for his own personal favorite burger topping? “A fresh cut slice of red onion. That’s it.”
Chef Daniel Espinoza, the chef at Wolf & Lamb agrees. It’s ironic, of course, that the head chefs at these two Manhattan eateries known for their creative burger toppings both insist that the best burger is a simple one, but it is a testament to their shared conviction in putting quality first.
Click here for more from our chef burger experts in our Burgers 101.