Fresh Kill: the burger at Les Halles downtown

Bourdain Burger

Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain’s downtown brasserie, makes one of my favorite cheeseburgers: ground to order with chopped sirloin, perfectly cooked with a good sear, served alongside some of the best fries in the city. I’ve had the burger at their Park Ave. location and I prefer the John Street joint, in the Financial district. They also serve good beer, from Allagash White to Kronenbourg 1664. Not a fantastic selection, but good. The Brooklyn Winter Lager was my favorite on tap.

Their burger is good because it is simple. A solid sesame bun, some caramelized onions, tomato. And good beef. Nothing crazy fancy, no claims of “single steer” or other nonsense. They grind it from the sirloin trimmings of their many tasty steaks. This time around it felt a tiny bit smaller and a little less fatty. I suppose it depends on what they have. But it is still one of the best burgers in the City. It’s not cheap, but not ridiculous. For great cheap burgers, there’s HB Burger, Shake Shack (AVOID the awful Times Square one), and the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien (behind the curtain). Those are around seven bucks and really damn good.

The best, I am told, is at the Minetta Tavern. We have yet to try it. It is $26 for the top end burger. The burgers at DBGB, the beer & banger joint, are half that and are fantastic, one of the best. So is the roquefort burger at Spotted Pig. So it’s tough to go pay that much for a burger, even as a treat. How great could it be? If it is as disappointing as the “single steer” burger at Pig & Prince in Montclair- I’d rather have a $7 burger from Krug’s Tavern- then it’s money down the drain. But I will try it eventually, and report back to you. My standard is still the Cloverleaf Tavern. They make a consistently good burger, if you get it medium to medium rare. Sometimes the kitchen overcooks them, but when they get it right they are one of the best around, especially for the price.


Fresh Kill: Giovanni’s Deli

Welcome to Fresh Kill, the latest feature of the blog, where I will document in detail the many burgers, pizzas and sandwiches that caveman Tommy takes down on the wild Veldt.

Giovanni’s is a small Italian delicatessen snugged between the cozy houses of a quiet neighborhood in Secaucus, New Jersey. The amusing name means “black place of snakes” in Algonquin, and it was once known for its effusive odor, due to both its proximity to the Meadowlands swamp, and the pig farms, rendering plants, and junkyards that once populated the town. The pigs and their stink are long gone, and the only snakes are the convoluted streets and highways that clog the area, like the roots of an ambitious houseplant outgrowing its meager pot.

Giovanni’s has the usual cold cuts, from Kohler ham to prosciutto and capicola (gabbagool, in the common parlance). But the real draw is the hot cooked foods, with daily specials. They make their own fresh mozzarella, and it is some of the best I’ve tasted. It was still warm and creamy, and they do not skimp.

I ordered a breaded chicken cutlet on a hard roll with mozzarella, hot peppers, and balsamic vinegar. The chicken was crisp and tender inside, full of flavor. The mozzarella was creamy with the subtly tart milk taste of the best fresh stuff, comparable to the mozzarella di bufala I had in Napoli. The peppers were not very hot, but did have good flavor, and the sweet vinegar gave it all a little zing. An excellent sandwich, enough for two meals, which I ate one after the other.

My compatriots had meatballs in sauce and chicken parmigiana, and raved about both. They also sell soups and Italian snacks, they make their own pasta salads, and they offered rigatoni in meat sauce and eggplant rollatini as the specials. They have a few tables and chairs inside and out, but expect to wait. The lunch line was not long at all, and well worth it.

So what’s the verdict? Was this wildebeest worth taking down? This carnivorous caveman was perfectly sated. The mozzarella is the shining star, so do not neglect it on any sangweech (sandwich, in English) you get here. I would gladly return.