Despite the fact that Burger Weekly was conceived in an uptown apartment, very few Harlem hamburgers have graced the digital pages of this blog. My experience with Harlem’s hamburger options was so limited that I was unable to put a top ten list for the neighborhood in Burger City. This was unacceptable to me, so I rallied two separate groups of burger fiends and organized two days of touring Harlem’s bovine best.
Chez Lucienne was the first stop on the first day, and to say that things got off to a rough start in the beginning would be an understatement. Though the restaurant was more than half empty, it took an eternity for anything to get done. Bringing a beer from the bar to the table took over ten minutes. Our group ordered a hamburger and a French onion burger, but both came out as hamburgers about thirty minutes after we put in our order. Rather than make us a whole new burger (which would surely have taken another thirty minutes), the kitchen just melted the French onion toppings on our hamburger, leaving us with a dry and overcooked hunk of meat. Further, much of the food was served cold. The whole experience was a total mess, and Chez Lucienne should be forced to take down the neon “Great Burgers,” sign that they have up in their window.
Minton’s provided the group with a complete 180-degree experience. Brunch at Minton’s is accompanied by a soothing jazz set (that comes with your meal at a $10 cover). We tried the Venison Burger, which is typically served at dinner. This incredibly gamey burger is topped with sweet blackberry onion jam, potent farm cheese, and country ham. The conventional taste of the ham does a great job in balancing the almost bitter, venison flavor. The patty was succulent and hefty, and completely unique from almost anything I have tasted in New York City hamburgers. The challah bun was a great touch as well, rounding out the distinct sensations from the meat with a comforting, soft and eggy exterior. The price tag for this burger is quite heavy at $27.00, but worth it for the truly adventurous.
The Cecil is right next door to Minton’s, and shares a kitchen with the jazz club. The menu is pretty much the same, but the ambiance is quite different. Whereas Minton’s is a dimly lit, upscale joint, the Cecil is a bit more casual, filled with a lot more natural light, and serves a crowd more interested in conversing with each other than listening to music. The Wagyu Beef Burger, served at both restaurants, has a delightfully soft texture, sandwiched in the same bun used for the Venison Burger at Minton’s. Despite its supple nature, the patty never falls apart, and the bun holds up to the heft of the meat and toppings. Everyone on the tour was pleased as punch with the way the arugula worked as rabbit food on this burger.
Cedric Bistro was the best overall experience on the first day of the tour. The small restaurant has a great energy, and the staff was a pleasure to meet. The Burger A Cheval brought its own tasty party to the table. The running egg was fun to maneuver, and when the egg whites were gone the yolk remained to be soaked up by the bun. The pickle made for an interesting flavor combination with the egg. The cheddar cheese wasn’t melted very much, but that didn’t negatively impact its tang. Since my group was splitting burgers at this point and needed a fourth entree to justify our paired bottomless mimosas, we opted for the blueberry pancakes. This isn’t a pancake blog, but if it was I would write at least 300 words about these flapjacks. They were truly like no pancakes I’ve had before. They must be tried.
Jimbo’s Hamburger Place was the first stop on day two of the crawl. The second group started the day with cheapo burgers from a burger chain that is almost exclusive to Harlem. Just about every burger on the menu, which is also littered with breakfast foods, costs less than five dollars. So while nothing that comes off the grill at Jimbo’s is particularly noteworthy, it certainly brings enough to the table to be worth the price. At least as good as any fast food joint you’ll visit, and for the same cost, I’d grab a burger from here and french fries from McDonald’s if I was in the neighborhood and only had a few bucks on me.
BLVD Bistro earned a spot on the burger crawl two years after opening. The bun on this burger helped it to stand out from the rest of the pack. It was so rich that it almost tasted as though the patty was situated between two pieces of French toast. The meat had a wonderful texture and a nice char, but the center of the tender patty didn’t have much in the way of seasoning. The toppings and bun on this burger, as well as the great wait staff and Sugar Hill beer, elevated this to “very good” territory.
Harlem Tavern is a spot that I had heard a lot about before going; some good, and some bad. Many told me that this place had a great beer selection and a fun atmosphere. That was true. I was also told that the burgers at Harlem Tavern were less than stellar. That was also true. Our burgers actually came out burnt, brought to us by a waiter that was actively grumpy. We were especially bummed because other waiters seemed to be having a great time and were treating customers spectacularly. Our waiter must have been having a bad day. Our tongues started having a worse day when we tried to shove the burnt patties into our mouths. Nobody finished their share of their burger at Harlem Tavern.
The Grange is something of a hipster oasis in Harlem. It was the final stop on the crawl, and even though I was tired after a full weekend of burger-eating, I was very happy with what I found here. The buttery brioche bun was almost as good as the one at BLVD Bistro. The patty melted in my mouth, making each bite a dream. The crunchy fried shallots were a lot of fun, and the melty cheese was perfect in every way. A lesser burger would have had me feeling bloated and cranky, but this piece of work made my long commute home a pleasant one.
Didn’t see your favorite Harlem burger joint in this post? Check our my Harlem burger listing, it might be there. Still don’t see it? Shoot me an email and let me know what Harlem burger I’m missing in my life.