The ultimate burger resides in a dark Tavern in the West Village, guarded by a big bouncer with a clipboard. Minetta Tavern is the odd man out on McDougal Street, which is lined with head shops, tattoo parlors, late night food joints and cheap, NYU bars. It’s the dark wood storefront makes the restaurant mysterious and confusing, but the foodies in the know waltz inside, past the bouncer, through the front door and past the mahogany, velour curtains. The inside is crowded with tons of well dressed people sipping glasses of wine and drinking light beer.
Minetta Tavern is a New York City staple, which was revamped in the early 2000s, giving new life to a 1930s relic. For my sister, Leigh’s last meal before heading back to LA for school, I decided it was time to give her a real taste of classic New York. We were lead away from the crowded bar area to the cozy, dark red booths towards the back. The walls are lined with black and white caricatures, giving a vintage steakhouse feel to the restaurant (think of upscale version of The Palm decor).
The waitress handed us gigantic menus, also noting the specials for the evening. As we debated which appetizer to order, the specialty escargot with gnocchi caught my eye. It was a true test for Leigh, who has become more and more adventurous as the summer went on. She reluctantly agreed to try Snails, figuring she can eat all of the other components if it wasn’t for her.
Before we started our meal, the waiter dropped off a little plate with four round puffs.
Turns out the little amuse-bouche (bread came later) was a Brazilian Cheese Puff, which is an absolute favorite of mine. Our best family friends are from Brazil and I love the moments at their house when these delightfully light, airy pastries come out of the oven. The inside is warm, with a sweet melted cheese flavoring the flakey puff. If you’ve never had one before, you are missing out.
Then, it was time for adventure.
Lucky for Leigh, this preparation of escargot was a little less scary. Typically, the snails are served in shell as you pick up the treat and fish out the meat from the inside. In this dish, the snail meat was kept whole, acting as the protein in a gnocchi dish. We both picked up the dark brown curled piece of snail, coated with a light herb puree. We toasted and with one swift bite, devoured the piece of snail. It’s a light protein that absorbs the flavor of the olive oil, garlic and herb puree. It’s slightly sweet, with a spongey consistency. I absolutely love Snails, and recommend to anyone to have a little of guts, and try escargot at least once in your life, especially if you are in Paris, then you have no choice!
Back to the dish as a whole. The gnocchi were delicious, shaped more like a cavatelli pasta then the tradition square shape I’m used to. It allowed for all of the ingredients to be similar in shape creating a harmonious dish. The fried garlic added a crunch, while the summer squash brought a brightness and sweetness to round out the appetizer. We made a great call with this dish, and Leigh learned that she actually likes escargot. Total win.
Now, it was time to select our main course. I knew about a month ago when I made this reservation that I would be going all out and ordering the Black Label Burger, which is priced at $26 and known as one of the most life-changing pieces of meat between two pieces of bread. Leigh selected the Roasted Chicken with Pommes Aligot.
A few minutes after we ordered, the table next to us began scooping out cheesy potatoes from a cast iron tin. She quickly asked the waitress which type of potatoes came with her dish. The waitress smiled and pointed to the dish at the table next to us. If we weren’t already excited to eat, we now couldn’t wait.
Before our dishes arrived, the waitress asked if I would be needed ketchup. I quickly said “No,” and she flashed a big smile, saying “Good Girl.” Bringing a thimble of Horseradish Mustard and Mayonnaise to the table. Word to the wise, do not put ketchup on this burger.
Finally, the burger arrived. The delicious Black Label Burger with a thick layer of Caramelized Onions situated on a perfectly toasted sesame potato bun.
Before I fully describe the greatness of this burger, I just want to point out that I think Marshall Eriksen from How I Met Your Mother said it best;
Just a Burger? Just a burger. It’s so much more than “just a burger.” I mean…that first bite—oh, what heaven that first bite is. The bun, like a sesame freckled breast of an angel, resting gently on the ketchup and mustard below, flavors mingling in a seductive pas de deux. And then…a pickle! The most playful little pickle! Then a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce and a…a patty of ground beef so exquisite, swirling in your mouth, breaking apart, and combining again in a fugue of sweets and savor so delightful. This is no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread. This is God, speaking to us in food.
Now, my burger. My little bite of heaven.
The light pink patty cooked to a perfect medium temperature is absolutely moist and flavorful. It melts apart since the non-traditional prime dry aged beef tends to be more delicate. The lightly toasted sesame potato bun absorbs all of the juices from the rich patty. The caramelized onions propel this burger into a completely different world. They are sweet and tangy cooked down to delicious perfection. I added one single slice of a juicy, bright red tomato on top of the caramelized onions, giving a burst of sweet freshness to the rich burger. With a few bites, I looked down to realize the burger was almost gone. It’s surprisingly lighter then you might expect, since the meat crumbles in your mouth with each and every bite.
On the side, crispy pomme frites add a saltiness to the fries. When dipped into the spicy horseradish mustard, there’s another layer of complex flavor that lingers on your tongue as you go back and forth between the burger and fries. It’s pure perfection on a plate and puts most other burgers to shame.
If you aren’t looking to go all out, the less-expensive Minetta Burger is argued to be even better then the Black Label. I need to see for myself next time, having the ultimate burger off. But for now, I’m a gigantic fan of the Black Label Burger and tell any meat-loving aficionado needs to have a taste of prime dry aged beef.
For the red-meat hating kind, the Roast Chicken is another serious winner.
Imagine the cheesiest, creamiest Southern Grits. Now instead of Grits, use potatoes. You’ve got Pommes Aligot, a remarkably creamy, yet slightly grainy texture, in a good way. As you lift up the fork, the potatoes have a stringiness of melted cheese. It’s wildly addicting and out of this world, especially with the rich broth on top. Each piece of chicken is moist with a nice crispy skin. On the side, the slow braised Swiss chard has a slightly bitter flavor cutting through the creamy, cheesy potatoes. It’s a large portion, so be prepared to have amazing left overs for the next day.
At this point in the evening, we were completely stuffed and beyond satisfied. The charismatic waitress joked with us, helping to take an adorable, necessary last minute picture of our final New York meal together, at least for Summer 2013.
Minetta Tavern is a perfect place for a special night or a burger that’s better then the rest. It’s somewhere all burger loving New Yorkers need to check out at least once. But once you taste the Black Label Burger, you know that craving will come again. Save up a few bucks and splurge, because you’ll be extremely happy afterwards.
Minetta Tavern – 113 MacDougal Street – New York, NY
Location: Soho, NY
Type: French, Bistro
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Special Occasions, Celebrity Sightings, Late Night
Favorite Dishes: Black Label Burger, Escargot, Roast Chicken, Pommes Aligot