By Terry Trucco
Long before Shake Shack – and the $32 Daniel Boulud truffle burger – there was Burger Joint, the hole-in-the-wall hamburger heaven tucked behind a velvet curtain in a corner of Le Parker Meridien. This week it celebrates its tenth birthday.
In a city where lunch at a hotel restaurant rarely costs less than $25 – and dinner costs a lot more — Burger Joint stands apart. Hamburgers are $6.89, cheeseburgers $7.35 and each comes fortified with lettuce, tomato, onion, sliced pickles, mustard, ketchup and mayo. Want more? Fries are $3.67 and a milk shake, Sam Adams on tap or wine costs $5.05. Prices were even cheaper when the place opened, with $4 hamburgers, $1.25 fries. Still, it’s hard to quibble.
Even with the advent of grab-and-go hotel shops where a coffee, a cookie or a hefty
sandwich can be had without breaking the bank – or dealing with sit-downs, servers and tipping – Burger Joint is a deal.
Long lines typically snake from the restaurant into the lobby from the time the place opens. So it’s amusing to hear Steven Pipes, Le Parker Meridien president, recall Burger Joint’s early days, when maybe 25 people a day ventured in. “It was scary,” he recalled in a video interview with Eater.
Part of the problem was finding the place. Then as now the restaurant is well hidden by big red curtains with only a modest, wordless neon image of a hamburger on the wall near the entrance. Word got around. When Burger Joint hit 600 burgers a day, “that was the most we thought we could do,” Pipes says. That’s history, though he doesn’t give the new total.
Some fast facts: the beef comes from two butchers who do nothing but make burgers. And the staff is loyal. Several workers started when the place opened. A current cook and counter person met there, married and now have two kids.
We stopped by recently and joined the line, an international mix of locals, hotel guests and more hipsters than you normally see in midtown. Given its length it moved remarkably fast, and before you could say ground beef we were inside the joint’s small, scrappy digs that look like a 1970s shake shop transplanted from Queens.
Burgers, cooked to order, come wrapped in butcher paper with fries in brown paper bags like on the boardwalk in Coney Island, ca 1950. The burgers are terrific – juicy, meaty and substantial cocooned in classic white buns (no brioche here). Fries are thin and crisp. Ketchup is plentiful.
We scored a seat on a stool at the communal table, perused a magazine and listened to the couple from Brazil next to us rave about the money they saved at the Joint. They polished off every bite. We did, too.
Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien, 119 East 56th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.