J.G. Melon always comes up in conversation about the best burger in the city. It’s Upper East Location was always a major deterrent for me, thinking that this would be a stuffy, white cloth type spot with people cutting their burgers with a knife and fork. Boy, was I totally wrong.
The restaurant is one of those places that feels like it has been there forever, with an old dive bar vibe and 1950’s decor. The bar area is softly lit, while the dining area is even darker. It made me wonder if the sun had set, would I have even been able to see my food.
My friends and I snagged a few seats at the bar while waiting about 20-30 minutes for our table in the back. This is an extremely short wait by J.G. Melon’s normal standards, but we weren’t complaining. After ordering a Stella at the bar, we all learned quickly about the restaurants CASH ONLY policy. A few friends ran out to the ATM across the street, but the reality of the place is a $20 bill is more then enough for a full meal here (beer included).
After sitting down, I made the novice mistake of asking questions about the menu. The waitress gave a gruff, “what you see is what you get,” statement before walking off. Do not come here expecting fine, life changing service and perky girls with fake smiles. It’s about the food and they are too busy worrying about the burgers to waste time answering questions. You learn fast here.
I decided to order simple, a burger with American Cheese, while the boys ordered Bacon Cheeseburgers and Leigh took the healthier route with a Turkey burger.
Now this isn’t the prettiest burger presentation wise, but I quickly realized why everyone raves about J.G. Melon. There’s no nonsense and unnecessary ingredients on the plate. Griddle-cooked patty, a melted slice of American cheese, golden brown white bun, sliced raw onions and pickles. The waitress brought a side plate of bright, juicy tomatoes and lettuce. That’s it.
The burger meat is a bit looser then I’m used to, making it airy and flaking, which creates a melt in your mouth sensation. The quality of burger meat is high, putting it on a completely different level then any dive burger you might encounter.
We ordered the cottage fried potatoes on the side, which look like fluffed up, crinkled chips. The have crisp, ridged outside and a fluffy creamy interior. It’s easy to keep popping these into your mouth, while still holding onto your burger in your other hand.
Leigh couldn’t stop raving about her turkey burger, which she said had the same amount of flavor as any hamburger she’d ever tried. It’s generally difficult to find a good turkey burger that doesn’t seem overly dry and forced. Leigh found it, so for those who don’t eat red meat, this is a great option.
The table was eerily quiet as everyone devoured their burger. But once we all came up for a breath of air, plates licked clean, we agreed that this spot was legit.
It’s an old school kind of a place that sticks to the basics. So often now you find so many places trying to reinvent classics to stop customers from getting bored. J.G. Melon embraces simplicity and creates a damn good burger. That’s why everyone keeps coming back.
J.G. Melon – 1291 Third Avenue – New York, NY
Location: Upper East Side, NY
Type: Pub, American (Traditional)
Perfect For: Neighborhood Hang, Late Night, Cheap Eats
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Cheeseburger, Turkey Burger, Cottage Fried Potatoes