Welcome to Burger Time, the burger-centric column by Eater's resident carnivore Nick Solares. This week he checks out the burger at a popular Brooklyn seafood shack.
Generally speaking you get better far better seafood in a steakhouse than steak in a seafood restaurant. Shrimp cocktails, raw oysters, seafood towers, and, of course, surf and turf are all firmly entrenched in the steakhouse dinning vernacular. On the other hand that steak you see on the menu at seafood restaurants is more often than not a bum steer, rather than prime grade beef. Think sirloin rather than short loin or rib cuts. But what about further down the gustatory food chain? What of lobster rolls and hamburgers? Do the same rules apply? In my experience the law is inversed.
Hamburger stands tend to have terrible fish options, if they have any at all (don’t even get me started on filet o’ fish). On the other hand, there are some very fine hamburgers indeed on the menus of casual seafood restaurants on Long Island and across New England. Parochially speaking, burgers and lobster rolls coexist comfortably on numerous menus around NYC as well. The Lure and Bash burgers at Lure Fishbar for example, are arguably the best things on the menu. And more recently, British import Burger & Lobster has made a splash in the Flatiron District with its one-price menu selling both dishes.
Despite this I was still surprised to find a burger on the menu at The Red Hook Lobster Pound, a restaurant renowned for lobster rolls. Especially because of how accomplished it is. It was quietly released when the ‘Pound relaunched as a full-fledged restaurant back in April. Like other quality burgers that pop-up unexpectedly on area menus, the Hook burger ($15) started off as whimsy and ended up as an all consuming project. "We are know for this amazing lobster roll, so we felt that everything else on the menu has to be that good, and that’s not that easy," says Susan Povich, founder and owner (along with husband Ralph Gorham).
After extensive development — including multiple tastings and expending an "inordinate amount of money on the research" — Povich finally came up with a burger worthy of the lobster rolls, which are widely regarded as among the best in the city. The resulting hamburger is constructed from a heady blend of dry-aged short rib, chuck, and brisket, exclusively using Certified Angus Beef (CAB). Povich is cagey about its origin, revealing only that it comes from a butcher on Long Island. The burger weighs in at eight ounces and rises over an inch in height. It is cooked on a blacktop griddle with a rather unorthodox technique — it is weighted down, which hastens cooking time and insures maximum contact of the patty surface resulting in an impressive crust. Surprisingly the patty remains succulent, at least when cooked to rare.
In a nod to the split-top lobster, roll the crown of the Martin’s potato bun is lopped off and the remaining half is buttered and griddled, adding an extra layer of crunch and richness. The patty comes awkwardly perched atop a stack of lettuce and two tomato slices, which skews the sandwich towards the unwieldy. I dispensed with them and Povich concedes that plenty of customers order it without. I like the starkness of a burger that is served sans rabbit food — in the pantheon of dry-aged burgers, it is in keeping with some of the finest of the breed found at Minetta Tavern and the Brindle Room.
I do like the special sauce which is made using the same housemade mayo that graces the lobster rolls and adds some sweetness to counter the extremely pronounced dry aged flavor. The patty doesn’t quite have the depth of flavor of the Black Label, but it comes close, and at a considerably gentler price point — $15 versus $28. I also dig the cheese option: "American or nothing." Although this burger doesn’t really need cheese at all, due to the richness of the beef and the copious butter on three sides of the bread. But whether you like burgers loaded with topping and cheese or commando-style with just bread and nothing more, you will find much delight in the one at Red Hook Lobster Pound. It satisfies the essential architectural requirements of a hamburger while providing a profoundly beefy experience. If the lobster rolls here evoke Maine and Connecticut, this burger, with its dry aged beef and Martin’s potato bun, is pure NYC.
Red Hook Lobster Pound, 284 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231