It is perhaps fitting that a portrait of Donald Trump’s father Fred sits behind the bar at Trump Grill in the basement of Trump Tower, looking out into America’s most cynical food court. It was, after all, Fred who gave his son the "small" million dollar loan that provided the foundation on which he would build his empire. And here, just above the foundation of Trump Tower — which practically defines the Trump empire and which the Donald describes as "just about the number one tourist attraction in New York" (it isn’t) — we find Trump Grill, which itself reveals something about the brand.
Take the 12 ounce $27 NY strip steak (please): It comes draped over a bed of gritty, oily mashed potatoes and limp asparagus that appeared plucked from a steam table — both inedible. The menu claims the steak is Prime beef, which at this price point seems cheap, especially as it comes with sides. It is clearly not dry aged, having neither the complexity of flavor nor the litheness the process imparts. And while it is tender enough to possibly be Prime, it exhibits a mushiness that makes it feel as if it may have been tenderized mechanically. On the palate it has a profoundly disconcerting sourness coupled with an odd bouillon flavored finish, as if it has been left in the bag too long (wet aged steaks are vacuum sealed in plastic) or perhaps marinated. There is very little actual charring on the exterior and consequently no textural difference between it and the interior. It is a deeply unappealing steak.
Shockingly the "gold label" cheeseburger ($21.30) is pretty darn good. Imagine a Burger King Whopper that isn’t a sad, flat-packed, paper-wrapped affair but instead rises up like The Donald’s quaffed hair or the wall he is proposing to build. That is this burger — tall and stately with a puffed out chest — loaded with over-sized pickle wedges, fluffy reams of lettuce, and robust discs of tomato and red onion. These ingredients are set atop a patty made from Angus short rib, sirloin and "Kobe" brisket. Said patty comes with an impressive sear yielding to a succulent inner core, the American cheese (the only logical choice) perfectly melted on top. The brioche can be forgiven for its French-ness because it is not too sweet and it holds such a meaty expression of America. The Whopper evocation doesn’t end with the construction — the burger is flame-grilled and the snap and crunch of the toppings coupled with the smokiness and beefy punch from the patty taste like an exulted, luxurious expression of the popular sandwich. Even the freedom fries that litter the plate are beyond reproach.
As good as the burger is the whole operation is deeply cynical, especially the steak which barely rises above catering level in execution. For a brand ostensibly based on the being the "biggest," the "best," and the most "expensive," everything here is staggeringly mediocre. The food isn’t for the "winners" Trump trumpets. Winners eat dry aged steaks at Keens where a lunchtime 8 oz NY strip cost $28 (it comes with fries), or at Porter House NY where $21 gets you a dry aged burger. Both restaurant are the genuine NYC article, the type of places Trump Grill wants to pretend it is