Like Emily before it, Emmy Squared is a serious pizzeria masquerading as a casual neighborhood restaurant, that also happens to serve a hamburger worth seeking out. The original offers a new school approach to Neapolitan pizza issued from a wood fired oven, while Emmy Squared traffics in Detroit-style deep dish pies cooked, rather unorthodoxly, in an electric oven. To the best of my knowledge, Emmy Squared is the only restaurant serving such pizza in NYC.
The burger at Emily is one of the city’s best. A hefty, dry-aged affair with a pretzel bun, it costs a whopping $26 (we used to call that a "Manhattan price"). That dish was born when chef Matt Hyland wanted to eat something other than pizza for lunch one day. It soon became a verbal special and eventually a full time menu item (albeit with limited supply). A smash hit, the Emily burger sells out most nights.
Not surprisingly, there is also a burger on the menu at Emmy Squared and it has followed a similar evolution: Hyland felt like eating a fast-food style hamburger one day, so he made one and it became an off-the-menu verbal special at lunch. But this burger is already on a different trajectory than the original — it serves as the foundation for a subterranean burger bar that is currently open on Friday and Saturday nights, moving to seven nights a week in the near future. Dubbed Le Big Matt, the new burger features a fast food-style double stack of 3.5 ounce grass-fed beef patties from Fleishers Craft Butchery. Hyland switched to this purveyor at both restaurants because he wanted to use grass-fed New York State cattle for his burgers. While the Emily burger uses dry-aged beef, Hyland went with a wet-aged product at Emmy Squared, which keeps the cost down a little: it is $22 (we used to call that a "Manhattan price" too).
Each patty is griddled to medium before getting crowned with slices of white American cheese. The stacked patties are then topped with bread and butter pickles, and lashings of Sammy sauce, which looks like the ubiquitous fast food special sauce, but packs considerably more punch. The patties are set atop a cushy bed of shredded Mizuna (a leafy green similar to arugula) and held snuggly in the same wonderful pretzel bun that the Emily burger comes with, to equally good effect.
Sammy sauce is named after the cook who holds down the burger line over at Emily. Like a special sauce, it is mayonnaise-based, but in place of ketchup, it gets its color and kick from a sweet Indonesian-style sambal. This condiment imbues the burger with a smoldering heat, not unlike that of a green chile cheeseburger. Fortunately it doesn’t mask the other components — they still evoke the fast food hamburger. Which is to say one is hit with a melange of flavors, rather than the clearly definable components of, for example, a larger burger like the one at Emily. The duplication of layers in the double patty stack serves to blur the distinctions of ingredients. The burger has a wonderful synergy of flavors — salt, fat, sweetness, and heat.
Hyland reports that the burger is the best-selling single item at lunch, which is somewhat surprising considering that it is only a verbal special and Emmy Squared is principally a pizzeria. Then again, it is every bit as compelling as the Emily burger, despite its very different flavor profile, architecture, and evocation. The Emily burger reflects the chef at play with luxury ingredients — dry aged beef, Grafton cheddar, and cornichon — while the Emmy Squared burger is more of an homage to the great double patty stacks of the golden age of fat food hamburgers.