I first heard about the Burger Joint in le Parker Meridian four or five years ago when I asked a business colleague where to find the best burger in NYC. I was shocked to hear that it was behind a giant velvet curtain, in the lobby of a fairly swank hotel, near Central Park. Then another friend sent me a link last week to a Zagat article about the best burgers in 25 cities and the Burger Joint was there as well. When I consulted my “bible” and found it there, as well, it became part of the plans for the weekend.
When we arrived in the lobby, there was no signage, but there was a line snaking around the corner of a curtain and down a hallway by the reception desk. So, here I stood a little before 1:00 on a Friday afternoon, waiting in line, beside that curtain. We asked the hotel concierge, whose desk was inconveniently (for him) located right beside the line what he thought the wait would be. He estimated 30 minutes. He was only off by 50%.
As we got closer to the neon burger, there were a line of boxes along the wall with flags on the front of them allowing visitors to fill out their order in their native tongue, then hand it over when they reached the counter. There was a family of five in front of us who were completing their orders in French and a Japanese couple shortly ahead of them handing their orders to the cashier.
Once we could see inside, the first big sign read Cash Only, followed by instructions on the most efficient way to order your burger (hamburger of cheeseburger – cooked how – what on it). These folks have this process down to a science – and that’s a good thing as there was little room for error. There was actually little room of any kind. The place was packed and there was constant table churn. Jo grabbed a table for us when she saw it open up while we were in line and someone was standing by our table, waiting for it, as soon as we stood.
The kitchen was small (4′ x 15′, maybe) staffed with four people. Three of whom are pictured below:
The lady on the left (you can only see her left arm) takes orders and money. Only. The man in the middle manned the grill (blocked by his body in this photo) and fed the white bread buns into the salamander at the top right. The lady in the hairnet was the “maker” – she read the orders, told the man whether she needed a medium rare cheeseburger or a well done hamburger and then placed on the condiments (lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, ketchup, mayo, mustard), wrapped it in paper and handed it to the missing woman. Who then bagged and grabbed the fries and yelled the customer’s name for pickup.
We were sitting in the back right corner of the room, in front of this “don’t write on wall” wall, and the music was varied and loud, so I ended up standing near the counter, waiting to hear my name. When she yelled for me, I took two paper wrapped burgers and a bag of fries to our table.
The Zagat review described it as “a cartoon Wimpy burger, brought to real life”. This is an extremely accurate description – the ingredients weren’t exceptional, but the gestalt made for an excellent burger.