Island Burgers and Shakes (9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen): I’ve been hearing about this place roughly forever, but certain folks knowledgeable about my purist tendencies warned me that it might not be to my liking. Last night finally offered an opportunity to sample for myself, and I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite, but not for the reasons that everyone thought.
The interior and service are pleasant enough, certainly – not too upscale, not too much of a hovel. I have to admit that it’s rare that I’m in a restaurant in Manhattan these days, so it was a bit of reverse culture shock to be seated next to a table of chattering ladies of the magazine industry (not to mention the excellent CD collection on rotation).
A little bit of my history with “revisionist” hamburgers: for the portion of my life spent in Utah, I’m fairly certain that my favorite burgers were topped with things that would make any purist blanch. At B&D Burger, the pastrami burger was tops (nothing like meat as a condiment, right?), while at the infamous Red Robin chain, ordering a burger with pineapple was not out of the ordinary.
While I’m certainly more likely to order a burger naked or with cheese only these days, it’s not a bad trip down memory lane to order something like the Pop and Top burger, topped with the bizarre combination of jalapeños, roasted red pepper strips, and “Thai-style” peanut sauce. Of course, the Gothamist-AHT burger party attuned me to the possibilities of both chiles and peanut products on burgers, but they did it separately. Would the combination be as good?
Well, no, of course not, but it’s not a fair fight – the actual burgers underneath the mound of toppings were a little lean for my taste, and my dining companion and I agreed that they were slightly too charred (on the edge of burnt, like the grill is turned up too high). Thus the peanut sauce was denied the opportunity to chemically meld with the burger and its grease, and the peppers’ and chiles’ flavors were isolated thrills rather than a coherent whole (and, for the spice freaks, the jalapeños are not particularly fiery).
So I guess I have to say that Island was as disappointing to me as everyone thought, but for unforeseen reasons. C’est la guerre.