By Michael Colameco
The food world has become hamburger obsessed. In New York City, the burger ball got rolling in earnest in 2004, when restaurateur Danny Meyer opened his incredibly popular Shake Shack, serving up addictive little four-ounce, griddle-cooked patties on sweet, soft buns. Seemingly overnight, the hamburger went from fast food to haute cuisine. Today it seems as if every restaurant, from your local favorite to the most extravagant, Michelin-starred mecca, has its own special take on the American classic.
Which brings us to the most sumptuous, stunning and luxurious specimen of them all: the Black Label Burger ($26), available exclusively at Keith McNally’s feted Minetta Tavern, in Manhattan’s West Village. Here, hand-formed, hockey-puck shaped disks are placed on a sizzling, 420-degree flat top, then generously brushed with pure rendered beef fat and clarified butter as they cook. When ready, the burgers are set on lightly toasted sweetened brioche buns, topped with a tablespoon of slow-cooked caramelized onions and a dash of sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and served beside a tower of twice-fried golden French fries. The result is pure hamburger heaven.
The secret behind the burger is a signature blend of meats developed by Minetta chef and partner Riad Nasr with the legendary Pat LaFrieda Jr. Now in its third generation, Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors offers what few other butchers can: bespoke custom blends. New York’s top chefs and restaurateurs develop meat combinations in conjunction with LaFrieda, adding significant amounts of uncommon cuts—ground brisket, short rib, skirt steak, and hanging tenders—and even expensive cuts like rib eye and strip steaks, to produce unique, proprietary, and downright delicious creations.
Developed over many late night sessions at the facility, the Black Label Burger features a propriety mix of prime, dry-aged Creekstone Farms rib eye, ground chuck, brisket, and skirt steak, as well as trim from dry-aged strips. The dry-aged meat in particular lends the burger a unique richness and extraordinary flavor profile unlike any other in the city.
If you’re one of the lucky few who can secure a coveted Minetta table, order one for yourself and pair the magnificent specimen with a gorgeous red from the establishment’s substantial wine list (I take mine with a glass of the Tavern’s stunning ’09 vintage Cru Beaujolais, served slightly chilled). Then dig in, confident that, in a city bursting at the seams with top chefs and top burgers, you have arrived at the ground-meat summit.
New York City–based chef and media personality Michael Colameco is the author of Mike Colameco’s Food Lover’s Guide to NYC and hosts Colameco’s Food Show on PBS and the nationally syndicated radio program Weekend Food.