The concept is at once alluring and preposterous: a whole lobster, a burger, or a lobster roll for $20. Burger & Lobster got it starts in London where £20 gets you the same deal. It has proved to be a smashing success over there, not only because the price is right but because the Brits have a genuine fondness for American culinary excesses, like giant lobsters and gargantuan hamburgers. The question is: How does this formula work in the land of excess?
B & L opened here in NYC back in January 2015 in a massive space that formerly housed a Tiger Schulmann Karate studio. I questioned at the time whether the restaurant would be able to net enough business to stay in the game, but as it turns out Burger & Lobster has been kicking ass. Spread out over two levels with 350 seats and tanks for 4,000 lobsters, the project would have been considered ambitious in a tourist-filled area like Times Square. In what seemed like a questionable move at the time, this huge restaurant opened on a rather sleepy stretch of 19th Street.
Over the last year and a half, the concept proved to be just as popular here as on the other side of the pond — so much so that early next year the company will actually open a B & L in Times Square, with more expected in the future. I previously examined the menu prices and determined that B & L provided a very good bargain indeed if you went with the lobster, and that the burger was probably a little over-priced compared to the competition, but not egregiously so. I didn’t delve into the aesthetic qualities of the burger itself, but as it turns out it is worth the dollars and calories. Of which there are many.
The beef is sourced from Nebraska from Hereford stock and the company uses the same supplier that services B & L’s London operation. The blend is a custom affair featuring tri-tip, brisket, and chuck that is chopped and formed into 10 oz. patties by butcher Pat LaFrieda. According to B & L’s chef Danny Lee, the beef has a 70/30 meat-to-fat ratio, which is relatively high, because he wanted a burger that would be able to stand up to the richness of the butter-swamped lobster across the table.
Lee uses a Montague broiler for a rather unique cooking technique: the seasoned patty is first seared on a flat top and then finished in the broiler section. This process imbues the patty with both an aggressive Maillard-rich sear and a smoky flavor. The cheese is a high-low criss-cross of cheddar and white America that is traipsed over the patty at the end of cooking, right before a tangle of crisp bacon is heaped atop.
Like the beef, the bun is also made to measure by B & L’s baker. It's a hybrid of brioche and potato bread that's designed to both contain the plump patty and retinue of toppings, as well absorb the gushing juices. The bun is so densely studded with both black and white sesame seeds that they add a noticeable textural component. The burger is appointed with a generous smear of special sauce and a tuft of shredded lettuce, as well as thick slices of tomatoes, pickles, and pickled onions. The latter two ingredients are cured in house and both are superb.
The purist might be tempted to order this burger commando-style: plain, without the rabbit food and special sauce. And generally this is a practice I fully support. But that would be a mistake here. The bun is ideally suited to match the plethora of toppings, but strip it down to just the bare essence of beef and bread and the ratio is off in favor of the latter. The flavor of the beef still comes through — it has a steak-like heartiness — but texturally things get a bit stodgy. There's synergy between the meat, the bun, and all of the toppings, although the burger's comical size makes it difficult to fit everything into one bite.
I must admit that I am generally annoyed by such burgers, but in the context of a restaurant where everything else is also eaten by hand and where bibs are handed out to guests, the wanton abandon required to eat this one actually feels right. A fistful of diminutive sliders or a couple of "normal" sized burgers would look ridiculous next to the giant, clawing lobster, or the roll brimming with knuckle meat. According to Lee, the burger is almost as popular as the lobster itself, especially during the winter months. The restaurant goes through an average of 2,000 pound of beef a week. That is a lot of burgers. Also a lot of lobsters that get to stay in the tank a little longer.