It seems like several Manhattan and Brooklyn neighborhoods are lately becoming populated with a new style of burger restaurant. Daisies in the West Village and Mighties in the Lower East Side’s Market Line are examples, both offering great versions of a classic cheeseburger.
The latest burger wave started last year in Brooklyn, at places like Cozy Royale and Burgie’s, where the beef patties shrank from behemoth bistro size to a smaller, extensively seared, butcher-driven standard. Operators with an eye toward franchising made burgers the focus of their fast-casual menus, further concentrating on clever branding. There were multi-patty versions for those who demanded more meat, and vegetarian substitutes made from Impossible Meat and others.
Months later, the trend swept into downtown Manhattan neighborhoods with a vengeance, as four new places opened in quick succession: Morgenstern’s, Bronson’s Burgers, 7th Street Burger, and Smashed, all flipping gloriously greasy burgers oozing cheese at prices ranging from $6 to $12. Of there, 7th Street’s the best, though it most closely emulated the Shake Shack model. It had an even sparser menu than Shake Shack’s, while elegantly evoking the working class burger joints of the past, like a creased black-and-white photo of a place your grandpa might have visited.
Now, two more burger joints have appeared downtown in a similar style. Daisies Better Burgers opened just three weeks ago in a narrow space on Hudson Street near 10th Street, in a storefront that has been like a revolving door for restaurants over the last decade — most recently a place offering daylong brunch all week. The cream-colored façade open to the street sports a bright red awning, making it shine brightly on the block, and stark white tables cluster on the sidewalk in front.
Ordering is from a counter in the rear, and you can see the kitchen filling the space behind it. The counter attendants tout the sustainability and ethical sourcing of the ingredients, and indeed the website has a page listing suppliers, name-checking Niman Ranch as the source of its beef. Three burgers are available, the classic (hamburger, $11; cheeseburger, $12), a bacon burger ($13), and the “fancy b” ($15), which offers an upgrade of truffle mayo and gruyere, instead of American cheese.
I tried the classic cheeseburger on two separate occasions, and the first time it was a bit dry and overcooked, but the second time it was splendid, cooked medium rare and seething with pink juices. Deposited on a shiny brioche bun, Daisies’s burgers are dressed up with lots of salad, including lettuce, tomato, sweet pickles, and red onions, perhaps in an attempt to make them even more virtuous-seeming. The effect isn’t a bad one — especially if you’re a fan of the old California garden burger style. But if the patty isn’t perfectly cooked, the mild-tasting beef recedes into the background under the vegetal onslaught.
One more aspect of this burger bears mentioning: in addition to plain mayo, it comes smeared with something called Daisies relish. On careful examination, it turns out to be a sort of tomato compote, maybe intended as a substitute for ketchup. It’s not bad, but you wouldn’t want to put it on your fries. Those fries ($4.50), by the way, are yellowish, sprinkled with herbs, and on the mushy side, though they come festively swaddled in tissue in an enamelware cup, as if this were a fancy bistro. A fried cauliflower ($7) option is better, which seems like Middle Eastern flourish.
While the beef from Daisies is mild and unassertive, the meat at Mighties (note the similar streamlined lack of apostrophe in the branding) is intensely flavorful, and not just as a result of its careful sear. This new burger counter, an offshoot of the nearby Ends Meat butcher, bravely moved last month into Market Line, the pandemic-challenged food court underneath the Essex Market.
The shallow kitchen is the site of frenetic activity, and the menu, using what it lists as “grass-fed beef,” offers only two burgers, as well as fries and a hot dog, plus a higher-end dry-aged burger ($22) on Fridays. The two-patty Mighties burger ($16) is the thing to get. It comes on a heavily sesame-seeded bun that’s thankfully not a brioche, with nothing but raw onions, American cheese, and a sauce that flaunts a mustardy note, though doubtlessly contains lots of other ingredients. The meat is not only intensively flavored, but has also been aggressively salted, which makes the flavors explode.
The fries are great, too — skin-on, firm, and filled with flavor. The cheeseburger ($13), which also sports lettuce, tomato, pickles, and the same sauce, along with American cheese, was not as good. Piled high, the farmers-market-level produce distracted from one of the beefiest tasting burgers I’ve ever tried. By the way, the hot dog ($7) topped with frizzled onions and shallots is worth ordering, too.
So, I’d recommend the plain cheeseburgers at Daisies and the Mighties burger at Mighties, though I’d skip the fries at the former in favor of the fried-cauliflower side, and go with the excellent fries at the latter. Still, both burgers beg comparison with the one at 7th Street Burger, which is better in my estimation.