I don’t know where to start writing this article. Do I talk about the seemingly indestructible force that is restaurateur Stephen Hansen and his BRGuest group? Do I talk about the opening of another burger bar in a city that may, or may not be, saturated with one-stop-burger-shops? Or do I talk a little bit about Pat La Frieda, just one name in a whole slew of new, hot, celebrity butchers?
I didn’t think that in researching the opening of Bill’s Bar & Burger I would be hit with such a range of storylines, nor such a complexity of emotions. Bear with me for the moment while I go off on a tangent. I promise you, dear reader, your patience will not be disappointed.
The classic art of the butcher has lost its way. Or should I say ‘had’ lost its way? Back home in England there was a subsidized campaign to get traditional butchers to hire and train apprentices, so as to ensure the survival of the exceptionally masculine art of chopping up dead animals with grace and aplomb. In London, those with the luxury of being able to afford it, all have their ‘local’ butcher, to whom they turn for important culinary events. The simple and honest truth is that local butcher cut meat is undeniably fresher, and of a higher quality than the ‘prime cuts’ one tends to find at the big super-market chains. Yet invariably, quality over the years was replaced with convenience and cost. Now, I am happy to see that the tide of sub-standard food has been stemmed, and is instead flowing back from whence it came.
Do the names Pat La Frieda, Tom Mylan, or Joshua & Jessica Applestone mean anything to you? They are the old-school of the new-school; the butchers who took the time to perfect their art, and as a result, have seen their businesses become a resounding success in recent years. One can’t utter the name Pat La Frieda without also mentioning Keith McNally, and the $26 gourmet burger he commissioned for his re-vamped Minetta Tavern.
So, now that we’ve done a little history per se, let us return to the point at hand.
With a few small exceptions (Barca 18), everything Stephen Hansen touches seems to turn to gold. As such, we look upon the opening of Bill’s Bar & Burger this Friday with a sense of anticipation, laced of course with a little trepidation. There are so many burger restaurants in this city, and few cut the mustard. Pop Burger does things their way; miniaturized burgers, super-sized prices. The Shake-Shack is, in this writer’s humble opinion, not worth the wait. Their ‘burger, fries and a shake’ combo is certainly tasty; it is by no means a burger to blow me out of the water.
I know meat. I’m not saying I know how to butcher a cow with the same effortless elegance that the professionals do, but I know how to eat the damn thing. I know the difference between good meat and bad meat – I can distinguish a well put-together burger from a bad one. I also know that I am a Hansen fan. I have eaten at enough of his restaurants around the city (most recently Primehouse), to know that the man has an eye, and a tongue, for quality. So when I hear that he is opening a traditional diner, decorated in tin and dark wood, complete with neon signs and cluttered photos, I start to salivate. With a menu described as no-frills, centering on a big, intensely juicy burger’ (priced at $8-$16), and a host of micro-brewerys on tap, as well as milkshakes done the old-school way, I get the feeling that my love/hate relationship with the Meatpacking District just swung back towards the love side.
The perfect excuse to justify that winter-warming weight. I’ll see you there – I’m the one with the excessive toppings.