In a little unassuming storefront in Hell’s Kitchen, you can get some of the best burgers in the city slathered with homemade sauces and dozens of toppings, a delicious shake and some huge-ass cookies. Just don’t ask for fries. They don’t serve any. Why the ixnay on the izefray? There isn’t enough room for a fryer. Once you squeeze into the shop’s narrow seating area, you can see why. It’s still comfy for 4 at a table, as the slinky waitresses sidle behind you with huge platters of chicken churascos, and if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait for one of the 5 or 6 tables. But if you have to, it is worth the wait. And you can get a huge baked potato covered in toppings instead.
We didn’t try a potato. The burgers are enormous, and they have Dirty Chips- aka Zapp’s Chips in the South- available in BBQ, Sour cream & Onion, plain kettle, and Jalapeno. I had mine with jalapeno, which gives a nice palate-cleansing tang between bites of burger. And you’ll be taking a lot of bites. Island Burger is known for toppings, and their huge menu lists dozens of variations that you can have either as a burger or a churasco.
I decided on the Frog (boursin cheese, bacon, and fried onions), Firecracker had the Tijuana (bacon, jack, guacamole, onion), Jokerboy the Purist had a bacon and cheese, and Beast had Will’s (bacon, cheddar, sour cream, onion, scallion, sourdough). We all had bacon. Bacon is the great equalizer. About the only thing on a pig that’s better is perhaps the Crispy Pig’s Ear at The Spotted Pig, which must be eaten in moderation. But it’s so good that our two friends violated kosher to try it. The bacon here is nothing special- not thick or seasoned. The burger and the sauces made up for it.
The burger patties are half a pound- fat and juicy. They will serve them to you rare- none of that nanny state bullshit. I had mine medium, so it was pink and juicy in the center. The patty resembles a huge charred meat donut without a hole. It’s fat and round like a cartoon hamburger, but well-formed so it’s a bit loose inside, and doesn’t feel like eating the huge chunk of meat that it is. The problem is keeping a thick burger and its generous toppings on the bun. Ours were all either on Pullman sourdough- a thick, spongy square slice of bread- or the sesame seed bun. I daresay that these may not be up to the task of holding the burger together. The ciabatta roll we saw a slab of chicken churasco riding was more like half a loaf of bread and seemed much more capable. The next time I go, I will definitely build on a ciabatta.
The flavors were excellent, despite our troubles eating the messy burger. The boursin cheese was rich and creamy with lots of herbs, and the bacon seemed like an afterthough. Very few of the caramelized onion petals remained on the burger, so I couldn’t tell how everything worked together. The guacamole was tangy and creamy, and I might pair that with something hot next time. I didn’t see many spicy sauces, to my dismay. I like a little fire in my burger.
That would give their excellent milkshakes and malteds something to cool off. Remember Pulp Fiction, when a $5 shake was a joke? That’s milk and ice cream. They don’t even put bourbon in it? Well, its time has come to pass. I was disappointed that you don’t get the metal shaker- just a relatively small sundae glass. But oh, the taste. I had a black & white malted, and it was honestly the best malted I’ve ever had. Jokerboy had 2, which is one solution I guess. Me & Firecracker shared a “Kitchen Sink” cookie which was good- though next time peanut butter & chocolate chip will be the one we choose. This monster cookie was oatmeal-raisin-chocolate-pecan-peanut butter, and could have done without the oatmeal. At least we got some fiber. The oatmeal drowned out the other flavors, but there were nice chunks of chocolate.
The burgers are not cheap- they cost as much as a burger & fries at a chain. But this tastes like a real homemade burger. It shocked me that I hadn’t had an honest-to-Wimpy juicy hamburger at a restaurant in so long. Greasy, yes. But at Island Burgers, when you ask for medium, you get it. They don’t cook them all until they are gray inside, like at Red Robin, or any number of burger chains. This is the real deal, and worth hunting down. As far as BIG burgers go, this is up there with Miss Ann’s Ghetto Burgers, and the monstrous bleu cheese burger at The Spotted Pig for pairing size and flavor. Check them out. You won’t regret it.
Just don’t ask for fries. Besides, you can go downtown to Pomme Frites where they serve fries and no burgers.
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