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Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen – New York, NY

Burgers, Manhattan, New York, NYC By November 4, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: Schnipper Old Fashioned: a flat top classic 5 oz griddled patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, house sauce, double cheese(American) and griddled onion
the bucks: $6.99
the coordinates: New York, NY

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I supposed that could best describe how Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen fits into the burger narrative of New York City. One bite, Hell, one glance at their burger will have you thinking Shake Shack faster than a line can form at the Madison Square Park location with David Chang thrown into the mix. The building blocks of burger cookery at Schnipper’s and Shake Shack are certainly similar enough to call the two restaurants rivals. Though I believe much thought went into the creation of the burger at Schnipper’s; namely the epic food road trip that brothers Andrew and Jonathan Schnipper embarked upon prior to conception and opening, it’s not hard for many to simply call Schnipper’s a Shake Shack clone. Unlike that lingering issue with the chicken and the egg, there is no debate on who came first. Shake Shack captured the hearts of burger lovers in New York City back in 2004 and no one has looked back since. But in a city as big as New York, there has always been room for a little competition. By the way, Shake Shack ain’t hurting for business, cue those infamous lines of people waiting up to an hour, locations opening up nationwide and the company going freaking public. And really what’s wrong with making a clone of something awesome? I suppose the aversion we have to clones comes down to all those sci fi movies coming out of Hollywood where clones, especially of ourselves, turn out to be really evil and cause wanton destruction and mayhem. And since real life seldom serves up a Will Smith or Bruce Willis to handle these evil clones, we remain generally weary of them. Well I say don’t think of Schnipper’s as a clone. Think of it a necessary intervention by the powers that be to make awesome burgers more accessible, like how the New Deal provided jobs for an out of work populace. Only this time instead of jobs it’s quality burgers for John Q Public who are on the clock with an hour to spare. Whatever you call it, you will be paying $7 for a near perfect cheeseburger. Cloning might be an evil thing in Hollywood, but when it comes to cloning an iconic cheeseburger style at Bang for your Burger Buck – clone on.

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Hat Creek Burger Company – Austin, TX

Austin, Burgers, Texas By October 8, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: The Big Hat – double cheeseburger featuring cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and house pickles. Custom add ons included bacon and a mustard based house sauce.
the bucks: $7.20
the coordinates: Austin, TX

My first impression of Hat Creek Burger Company took about 30 seconds. It more or less amounted to a slight glance to my left, as I drove north on a dusty restaurant row called Burnet road, surveying my new home base of eating. Playgrounds at restaurants were still a new and under appreciated X-factor for me. The bright red colors and logo screamed corporate branding. Even the shape of the establishment made my Spidey sense tingle with the presence of a chain restaurant. Turns out, while I bare little other resemblance to Spider Man – I was right about my initial suspicion: the Hat Creek on Burnet used to be an Arby’s. Besides sharing a similar baseline price point, the similarities thankfully end there. It may sound strange for you to hear this but Hat Creek Burger Company makes good burgers, not necessarily great burgers. I believe the true burger lover comes to Hat Creek for reasons beyond the food – like the playscape, the decent craft beers, the option of wine(recommended only in case of emergency), the flat screen TVs, and the general ambiance of the outdoor seating area whose appeal just increased exponentially with the arrival of Fall, in a now, somewhat subdued, sweltering Austin. Now this search is about finding burger gems that toe the line of quality and value, and it would be unfair to include Hat Creek unless it held true burger promise. Well, fear not my faithful, promise I did find. Wade deep into their crowd pleasing menu and you will find some sauces, respectable bacon, and a proud practice of pickling that are worthy of a burger add on. Oh yes, I am recommending add ons. As much as I preach against the ordering of extraneous or excessive burger toppings as they deter better taste and plunder your burger budget, it is equally criminal to ignore options and upgrades that will make you smile with Bang for your Burger Buck satisfaction. I suppose you now want to bite into these juicy upgrades. Well, start your scrolling. 

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Lucky’s Famous Burgers – New York, NY

Burgers, Manhattan, New York, NYC By September 30, 2015 1 Comment

The Vitals:
the burger: The Lucky, USDA Prime Angus patty, Iceberg lettuce, Spanish onion, vine ripened tomato, deli pickle, house sauce on a Martin’s Potato bun
the bucks: $6
the coordinates: New York, NY

I’m sure for many a New Yorker, Lucky’s Famous Burgers is just another blip on the burger radar screen. If you didn’t narrow your search down to $10 and under, it may not even pop up on Yelp. With no shortage of burgers in New York vying for your snuggle time at their counters, even at this price point, the question you might be asking right now is why go to Lucky’s Famous at all? Well for one thing, they take flattery with genuine sincerity there. I called up a few weeks ago to confirm some details on the bun and when I mentioned that I just loved their burgers, all at once I could hear the surprise, disbelief and gratitude, even over 3G.

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Mikey’s Burger – New York, NY

Burgers, Manhattan, New York, NYC By September 15, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: The Mikey: 5oz NY Bar/Pub style meatballesque patty, topped with lettuce, tomaton, onion, corned beef hash and a mustard sauce
the bucks: $6.5
the coordinates: The Lower East Side, New York, NY

I have a confession to make: I have no sense of direction.

Feels good to get that one off my chest. So, last week I took on a rather gargantuan task of bringing Bang for your Burger Buck to New York City. One week and 1500 miles later, it feels good to say I have a fairly substantiated opinion of the burger scene in New York. But the trip was not without regret; I still long for the burgers I missed in the outer boroughs due to time, travel and stomach constraints. Because of this miscalculation, I am adopting a firm commitment to not trust any map, at least when it comes to planning burger trips in the New York metropolitan area.

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Phil’s Icehouse – Austin, TX

Austin, Burgers, Texas By August 27, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: Mini Burger Sampler Basket: three topping concept driven sliders from a selection of eleven different renditions plus a 50/50 mix of regular and sweet potato fries
the bucks: $9.49
the coordinates: Austin, TX

Sliders and the restaurant “Playland”. Two crucial components to Phil’s Icehouse. Two elements that are frankly way undervalued in the burger world. After recently completing a 1500 mile road trip from Los Angeles to Austin with a three year old, I came to appreciate the power of the Playland. An appreciation that came with a cost. One can only imagine the legendary Chicken Fried Steak or BBQ Brisket I passed up because the aforementioned diner or shack failed to offer a slide and climbing wall. A regret that seems actually more bearable than the thought of enjoying the most blissful bite of fork tender beef brisket only to turn into chewing gum once your 3 foot tall dining companion commences a meltdown. So for those 1500 miles I ended up eating more than my share of Chicken McNuggets, Square hamburgers and fake milkshakes. But hey, that’s part of the sacrifice of being a Parent right? Wrong. Leave it to some smart entrepreneur who recognized this ridiculous disparity of fine food and fun times for the ankle biters, and set up a place like Phil’s Icehouse. And speaking of fine food, how about fine tuning about 11 compelling burger combinations then offering them in miniature form, aka sliders? Sound like a good idea? Well, it tastes like one too.

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Belcampo Meat Company – Los Angeles, CA

Burgers, Los Angeles, West Coast By August 19, 2015 No Comments

The Vitals:
the burger: Double Fast Burger: two 3oz patties of enlightened grass fed beef, house made American cheese, custom burger sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion
the bucks: $8
the coordinates: Los Angeles, CA

One of the most compelling debates on how to make great food erupted perfectly on Twitter a few years ago between Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert over which factor was more significant: technique or ingredient. Bourdain’s argument for technique sort of “won”, as he pointed out that whole cuisines developed around humbling circumstance thereby elevating “lesser” ingredient into what we now know as American Soul Food or Countryside French. Ripert’s retorts for the case of ingredient highlighted the fact that in the food world of today, Chef’s who demonstrate good technique have an almost unparalleled access to fine ingredient, making the debate somewhat moot: Technique and Ingredient are equally significant though don’t always exist in perfect harmony.

The debate haunts my mind with every great meal I encounter. Few times is there true balance between technique and ingredient, and when it comes to Bang for your Burger Buck, often it is technique that is taking the spotlight. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying this fine debate but ingredient comes down to bucks, and saving a few means technique has to step up. There are loads of excellent burgers that I don’t cover and the reason is price. Though I don’t want to think of Bang for your Burger Buck as a “$10 and under club”, it kind of is. Because of this journey that is driven by value, of feeling compelled to make “the find”, I have deprived both you and I, the pleasure of encountering and documenting an “ingredient” driven burger. Until now. After visiting many a burger joint, primarily in Los Angeles, I have come to a place where I am overwhelmed to make the following declaration: the Fastburger at Belcampo Meat Company is the best Bang for your Burger Buck in Los Angeles. Yup, I said it. I don’t do the stars thing – every burger in here is a case for value, but the Belcampo Fastburger is the best deal in town and this is because the burger embodies the balance of excellent technique and superb ingredient. Even crazier than making that kind of contentious “throw down the gauntlet” kind of statement is that the sheer greatness of this burger, the Bang for your Burger Buck, does not stem from the quest of making a great burger but rather from the philosophy of sustainable food. Ethical farming seldom enters the forum of Bang for your Burger Buck but exemptions are made when a burger tastes this good. Add to that an asking price of $8, and this double cheeseburger is an exception welcomed with jaws and wallets, wide open.

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