Friday, February 6, 2009

Burger at Peter Luger

Man on Wire: What's Beef

The following is the first in what I hope to be many contributions from Man on Wire featuring "Recession Specials" in Brooklyn. Looking for a good deal on a tasty meal? Man on Wire will track 'em down for you. Happy Eating!

Something anyone with a Scottrade account has learned by now is the concept of real value. In these difficult times, it’s up to you, the trader, to gauge the real value of a bank or pharmaceutical company and determine whether its current position is a new reality or a momentary aberration in a confidence starved market. Your insight could be your salvation, and the point is that in an economic downturn such as the one we’re currently facing, the world is filled with opportunity for those with their eyes open. As a broke yet inquisitive eater, my challenge has been to find ways to gauge real value and eat well on a budget, and now with the blessing of our gracious web hostess these are experiences I’ll occasionally be passing on to you, the presumably hungry and broke Brooklynite.

The first lesson in eating well through a recession is leave no stone unturned. For instance, when Cheap Eats are the question the first words that come to mind probably aren’t Peter Luger’s, (178 Broadway, at Driggs Avenue, 718-387-7400), and yet if you should be in the vicinity of the Marcy stop off the JMZ in Williamsburg around lunch time any weekday you can find an amazing deal, not to mention what is arguably the best burger in Brooklyn. Yes, the dripping, marinated Dumont burger will score points with the laymen, but for true carnivores demanding truth and purity in their burger you’ll have difficulty measuring up to Peter Luger’s little known, ancient lunchtime special (served daily till 3 PM). Using a combination of trimmings from its famed aged Porterhouse and Prime Chuck Roll, the 8-10 ounce $9 burger served on a sesame seed bun with a slice of raw onion is is a seminar on texture, but more on that in a bit.

I’d been to Peter Luger’s for a proper dinner once before, and I can’t say I was blown away. The space is folksy enough to stand in for a proper steak house but its run on antiquated, elitist charm. Everyone’s dressed in old school black and whites. The suave, aging host has his hair slicked back and wears a tailored Italian suit. They’re pushing the formal pretentiousness that no longer exists in New York, for good reason. (It makes me feel like a privileged white man eating in an antebellum country club.) One of the best things about the dining experience is the wonderful basket of assorted breads and Peter Luger’s steak sauce presented before the meal, both lunch and dinner.

So, the burger. Ordering this correctly is more science than art, as the busy and impatient attendant has no time for subtleties. I suppose he can’t be blamed. On this particular afternoon a friend and I were sat behind MGMT having a business lunch with their record label. Meat, sides, beer and impossibly dessert afterwards lined the table. The lunch crowd in general is mostly composed of Wall Street survivors and their expense accounts. My piddling burger and tap water can hardly expect priority. I ordered Medium Rare and pretty much got what I ordered. I’m a bit of a meat perfectionist and found this to be slightly over, but there’s not much you can do.

If I seem OCD about this burger it’s because the temp is crucial to the quality. To do the Luger burger properly, accoutrements are superfluous. They’re doing their best to pump your check and not giving much in return. The side of fries, for instance, is $2. The one time I ordered it, I literally was charged $.50 per dried out fry. Then there’s the cheese. For me the hamburger occupies the same space as yellow mustard and mild hot sauce. I have struggled with seeing the point in its existence (unless you're lactose intolerant) when the simple addition of a slice of Gruyere or Raclette can elevate the conversation in terms of texture and flavor. This is the rare occasion in which I’d say hold the cheese; for two reasons. The first is the offering - for $1.50 the kitchen throws a cheap, shitty slice of bland (presumably) Muenster on your burger at the last moment so it comes out barely melted. The second is, once again, the all-important texture of the Luger burger, which cheese only muddles. Medium Rare is the perfect expression of the meat because it’s only at that temp that you skirt between Rare’s mushy blob and Medium’s chewy lump. The loose grind comes apart in your mouth in all its juicy, greasy glory and I promise you will come away with a new understanding of the burger itself. To be fair, I ordered the $3 side of bacon on this occasion and it’s fucking great. It’s a prehistoric wedge of Canadian bacon grilled to an extra crisp. In three words: porky, salty, pornography. Don’t bother putting it on your burger, just polish it off before digging in.

To finish your economic masterpiece, politely request the check. Sure, Luger offers a famed sundae with house made whipped cream, but McDonald's sells dollar cones of soft serve down the street for a buck.


ES said...

hey, more about the lugers bacon; i've heard before from hardcore luger fans and adopted the custom for the last few years of creating the ultimate pre-porterhouse appetizer. It consists of bacon, thrown on their excellent onion roll with a little dab of luger sauce. tomato and onion optional.. amazing little sandwich app. before the steak.

Dillon said...

I agree, a recession like this definitely calls for cheap eats. Be on the lookout for cheap local delis, they always work well.