My quest for the ultimate burger in 2014 began in the East Village and ended up teaching me a lot about my adventure; be open minded. I decided to try Whitmans, a lesser known spot famous for their Minnesota inspired Juicy Lucy burger. Like most places in the village, especially the East side, restaurants lack the glitz and glam factor. Get messy and chug a locally brewed beer.
Whitmans kills it with their signage, marking a chalkboard out front with the true thoughts on every carnivore’s mind.
The upstairs area of Whitmans serves as a waiting area for those picking up delicious burgers and sides to go. It’s a narrow, small space, initially deceiving. The woman behind the counter directed us down the stairs to the main seating area, where an adorable server with a slight accent tends to the few tables. It’s dark, with small candles illuminating each of the wooden tables.
Exposed brick walls and vintage looking dark blue wall paper gives a bit of flare. It’s a comfortable, relaxed environment and something not expected of a burger joint. It feels slightly romantic, although the individuals dining here were most definitely not on dates. Bros and hipster, village dwellers occupied the tables.
Karp and I ordered pints Captain Lawrence Winter Ale and toasted to the beginning of our year of burger adventures. Before ordering the burgers, we ordered the Fried Pickles. When this graces the menu, it must be ordered.
The half sour, sliced pickles are lightly coated in batter and deep fried until golden brown. Unlike many poorly executed versions, you can actually taste the pickle instead of batter being used to mask the flavor. Served with their special sauce, a spiced mayonnaise, it gives a nice little kick and also a contrast in temperature, with the pipping hot pickles coated in the cold dipping sauce. Some of the better fried pickles.
We decided to split two different burgers, deciding on the famous Juicy Lucy and the Hound. The two burgers we ordered are prepared with a short-rib blend, while others include brisket, as well as other lean proteins, like turkey.
The waiter warned of the smoldering hot pimento cheese encased in the burger. It melts inside as the burger cooks, creating an air pocket of cheesy goodness. Since we were splitting, I made the rookie mistake of cutting the burger in half, allowing for half of the cheese to prematurely ooze out. Still, the burger was great, almost like an elevated cheese burger with a bit more kick of spice from the pimento cheese and spicy pickles.
Our favorite though, was the last minute decision. The Hound. This burger made both of us realize that we might be surprised on our quest and that Internet opinion is not the end all be all in the burger world.
The beef short rib blend is smoked with applewood bacon infusing the patty with all of the wonderful flavor you love from bacon. It’s slightly woody, very smoky, while still really juicy from the fattier blend of beef. The arugula provides a peppery flavor and the strings of crispy potato add a crunch in a classier way then adding Ruffles potato chips a sandwich. The soft, lightly toasted bun holds everything together, soaking up all of the juices from the patty with each bite. This burger is ridiculous.
From what I’ve read about Whitmans, I believe they’ve extended their menu recently, experimenting with new combinations, like The Hound. If that burger gives any indication of their future, their ascension into burger joint fame, outside of the Juicy Lucy, will be swift. They hit all the high notes; crunchy, sweet, tangy, smokey, peppery, mild spice, soft bun. In other words, they get all the elements (burger, bun, toppings) right. While the ones we tried lack the ‘conventional’ nature of a damn good burger, it avoids crossing the line into a gimmick. The beef patty prepared with the right blend of meat and correct temperature. And the bun is simple, soft and buttery.
Whitmans. A great first stop on the quest for a New York City’s burger champion. You my friend, made a very good impression.
Whitmans – 406 East 9th Street – New York, NY
Location: East Village, NY
Type: New American, Pub
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Neighborhood Hang, Cheap Eats, Take Out (delivery available via SeamlessWeb)
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Fried Pickles, The Hound