Back Forty West

If you’ve ever walked around the east village, you probably know about Back Forty. They throw an awesome crab boil party every summer and boast an excellent burger. I’ve eaten at Back Forty a number of times and have walked away from the meals feeling quite satiated.

But, sorry to say, that’s not the case for Back Forty West, the new branch located in SoHo. The two-floored establishment sits on the corner of Prince and Crosby, right in the center of tourist mecca, which equates to several points against them from the get-go.

Back Forty West Fave Bean Hummus

fave bean hummus

Yelp reviewers share gripes about Back Forty West’s slow service, and, for a change, I agree. It took the waitress about seven minutes to come over and take our drink order. I got the Back Forty West mixed drink, which was pretty good.

Back Forty West’s menu is arranged by what you use to eat the food i.e. “hands,” “fork,” and “spoon.” Under “breads” (an outlier in the categorization convention), we spotted some fava bean hummus and decided to order it. “Why is this under ‘breads’?” asked My Dining Partner. “Because it uses flatbread for the hummus,” I replied. But I agreed with his sentiment. Confusing. Why can’t they just use the word “appetizer”?

The hummus came with some beets and olives on the side, which I mostly enjoyed. On its own, the hummus had the right texture, but lacked any discernible flavor. MDP wasn’t a fan, but I ended up nearly licking the bowl–I guess I was hungry.

Back Forty West Burger

burger

For dinner, MDP ordered the ribs with corn bread and slaw. The ribs were outstanding, but the sides were just okay. His corn bread was drier than most–which is pretty dry–and the slaw had an odd flavor that I couldn’t pinpoint. In typical fashion, I ordered the cheddar burger, which was accompanied by “rosemary” french fries. I put rosemary in quotations because it seems they were rosemary in name only–not in flavor. (Yelp reviewers also noted this fact.) I ordered my burger medium, and it came to me medium rare if not rare. I ate it anyway, since I’m not one of those people that sends food back, but I wasn’t pleased with their misstep.

Though we weren’t largely impressed by the food, we decided to order dessert. I had suggested that we might head to Balthazar for some treats after dinner, but ultimately chose the almond cake with some kind of sweet corn sauce to end our dining experience. The cake was fine, but the sweet corn sauce tasted strange with the cake. I wondered what ever possessed them to put these two flavors together. I’ll never know–and I can live with that.

Back Forty West is fine, but not great. I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re looking for a good burger in SoHo, you might try Burger and Barrel which is on Houston Street, but even that’s not nearly as good as, say, the Shake Shack.

Back Forty West

70 Prince Street

SoHo, New York

Take the N/R to Prince Street. Walk east one block to Crosby Street.

 

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Elevation Burger, Chelsea

According to their website, “Ingredient matter” to Elevation Burger. It’s more than a burger joint. Rather, it has a vision for a sustainable future (although the website doesn’t clarify how their food is “sustainably” prepared). We should buckle our seat belts as we experience an elevated product that promises to be both flavorful and good for the environment.

So does it live up to the organic, sustainable hype?

Yes… at the expense of our tastebuds.

elevation burger

elevation burger

The standard burger is the Elevation Burger, which consists of two patties each featuring a slice of “real cheddar” cheese on top, couched between two sides of a squishy, white roll. Made from organic, grass-fed cattle, Elevation burgers lack some of the flavor that corn-fed cattle yield. However, they compensate with ample toppings of your choice. I selected raw onions, mayo, and elevation sauce (which resembles something in between In-n-Out’s and the Shake Shack’s).

My dining partner felt the cheese overwhelmed the taste of the burger. “[The meat is] not very flavorful. They could use some salt and pepper,” he said.

I didn’t dislike the Elevation Burger, but it’s definitely not in my top 10. As someone who frequently orders a double burger at the Shake Shack, I had no problem with finishing the entire burger on my own. I guess I must have liked it then, right?

We also ordered some fries, which are cooked in olive oil. Thinly cut and soft, the fries don’t compare to those of the Shake Shack. (I’m drawing similarities and differences between Elevation Burger and the Shake Shack to illustrate Elevation Burger’s superiority or inferiority.) I think the crinkle cut fries of the Shake Shack — cooked in trans fat free oil — taste more flavorful and crunchy than those at Elevation Burger.

elevation burger fries

fries

Because we had a Groupon, we tried to order as many menu items as possible to get our money’s worth. Consequently, we ordered a key lime milk shake made with vanilla ice cream, the overpowering flavor of the shake. “Do you taste key lime at all in this shake? I asked MDP. “Not really, but there might be a kick of it at the end.” I can’t be sure that the Elevation Burger staff member, who was charged with making my shake, even included any key lime. All this to say, I wouldn’t recommend the milkshake, unless, of course, you really like vanilla ice cream. At the Shake Shack, the milkshake features distinct flavors and never leaves the customer questioning what it tastes like.

Situated on bustling 14th Street, near 6th avenue, Elevation Burger may be the go-to burger in this neighborhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if they stuck around, but I’m not holding my breath. MDP asked me if I’d go to Elevation Burger again. The answer is: probably not.

Elevation Burger

103 W. 14th Street

New York, NY

Take the F/M to 14th Street.

Recipe Attempted: In-N-Out Burger, Double Double, Animal Style

I’m a big fan of hamburgers, if you haven’t noticed.

When we went to San Diego, I tried for the first time In-N-Out Burger. The special sauce was addicting. The cute wax paper wrapper reminded me of the Shake Shack, but I trust that In-N-Out did the wax paper wrap first.

So, how does In-N-Out Burger compare with the Shake Shack? Ah, the age old question. It’s nearly impossible to know for certain that one is better than the other because the burger joints are on opposite coasts. A five hour plane ride could ruin the important, delicious facets of either burger.

I took matters into my own hands. Instead of pining for In-N-Out Burger, I decided to try making my own Double Double, Animal Style 

.

double double animal style

in-n-out's double double animal style by me

As you can see in the link I shared above, the recipe is quite long. But that’s only because they urge you to create your own ground beef, a part of the recipe I did not follow. I simply bought some ground chuck from the supermarket and proceeded to step five. The recipe calls for squishy hamburger buns, but I opted for the potato buns that I bought from Whole Foods. I made the onions according to plan and assembled the burger as recommended.

Made of mayonnaise, ketchup, white vinegar, sweet pickle relish, and sugar, the sauce was right on the money. I wondered how Serious Eats came to know In-N-Out’s recipe…

My dining partner and I ended up eating only one patty of the sandwich. As you can see in the above picture, the sandwich was huge and unwieldy with two patties. He ate his second patty with a fork and knife, and I elected to toss mine. I served crisp, matchstick fries with the burgers.

If Shake Shack doesn’t do it for you any more, I urge you to try making your own In-N-Out burgers. It’s fun and yields delicious output. How could you resist?

Milk Burger::Burger, Fries, Shake

A long white banquette lines the south wall of Milk Burger. Directly opposite is a bar where a garrulous middle-aged woman sat, chatting the night away with the bartender-cum-waitress. (Tits and ass–theirs–was the topic.) Two other patrons sat at the bar, chomping on Milk Burgers. The place was quiet…except for the blaring infectious ’80s rock over the restaurant’s loudspeakers.

Milk Burger and Portobello Burger

Milk Burger and Portobello Burger

I ordered a Milk Burger, cooked medium (though it was more rare than I would have liked). She ordered a portobello mushroom “burger” with Muenster and cheddar cheeses, just like the Shake Shack. I thought, what the hell, I’ll get a shake while I’m here, so I opted for the black-and-white. We also got sweet potato fries, drizzled with truffle oil.

Milk Burger Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Fries

I have to say, the burger was pretty good. Sandwiched between a Martin’s potato roll, the meat was just greasy enough to strike a fine balance with the Milk Sauce, which tasted mustardy. The portobello burger was grilled, not deep fried as the Shake Shack does. She said she preferred it this way, but found the sandwich to be particularly drippy. (“I’m sorry,” she said, as she wiped mushroom juice from her forearm.) The fries tasted crisp and sweet, and the truffle oil was definitely a nice touch. The black-and-white shake was creamy, dense, delicious.

The owner came over to our table to ask how our dining experience was.

“How did you hear about Milk Burger?” he asked.

“Oh, on the Internet,” I said.

“Good or bad things?”

“Yes,” I mustered, as I thought only that you’ve copied the Shake Shack’s concept through and through.

“It’s funny, Danny didn’t come down real hard on us over the ‘Shake Shack clone’ business.”

“That is funny,” I said.

“He said as long as we remove the similarities, he’s okay with it. We’re actually opening a few other Milk Burgers in the city.”

“That’s great. Thanks. This was excellent.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

End of conversation.

“Hold on, remove the similarities…have they removed the similarities?” asked Shion.

You be the judge.

Milk Burger menu

Milk Burger Menu

Overall, I’d recommend Milk Burger to anyone who happens to be around 2nd Avenue and 106th Street. It’s not worth the trek if you’re, say, on the Lower East Side. But! If Milk Burger opens in your neighborhood, you should check it out.

Milk Burger

2056 Second Avenue

New York, NY

Take the 6 to 103rd Street. Walk to 105th Street turn right, walk to Second Avenue.

Atlantic City: Food and … cats

Wow, Atlantic City. Land of the depressed. I hope to never return to Atlantic City, unless, of course, someone buys me tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld on August 13. Then, I’d go back. (Damn, it’s sold out.)

We went to Atlantic City with a goal in mind: to see Wanda Sykes perform at the Borgata. She was great. She sure does love Obama and talking about her kids. Hilarious stuff.

The food at Atlantic City is worth noting. There are buffets, and buffets. And buffets. And boardwalk food (even the pretzel was fried). We succumbed to the buffet madness and ate at the Borgata buffet, which was excellent.

Portabella and spinach ravioli

Borgata buffet

You can take as many plates as you like. So, I made a plate of spinach and portabello mushroom ravioli (outstanding) and another plate with prime rib with horseradish and Au Jus, creamy pasta primavera, mashed potatoes, and a cheddar biscuit (think Red Lobster). The prime rib was cooked perfectly and was neatly accompanied by the horseradish. The mashed potatoes were underwhelming so I didn’t really eat them, but the creamy pasta primavera was delicious. The vegetables were neither too crisp nor too flaccid.

For dessert, we tried a bit of everything: chocolate-dipped cannoli, lemon and raspberry mousse, gelato, macaroon, and brownie. My favorite was the lemon and raspberry mousse, which was light, delicate, and melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious.

Borgata buffet dessert

We walked on the boardwalk the following day. (We didn’t stay at the Borgata because we aren’t millionaires.)

Atlantic City boardwalkBelieve it or not, there are two Johnny Rockets on the boardwalk. We went to one of them (near Bally’s, not Showboat) for lunch. I had an Oreo cookies-and-cream milkshake, which was decadent and unfinishable.

Johnny Rockets milkshakeWe both ate the Rocket single, which comes with a mysterious special sauce. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but it was like Thousand Island dressing + something else. Very descriptive, I know. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Rocket Single

Of course, the burgers were great. Johnny Rockets consistently puts out a delicious hamburger, at every location.

One of the most fascinating parts of our trip was the revelation of cats on the beach. Why are there cats on the beach? you ask. Because Atlantic City promotes a cat project.

Homeless cat project Atlantic CityYes, the Boardwalk Cats Project, as it’s known, supports local homeless cats. They are spayed and neutered and then brought back to the beach, where they obviously belong. Homeless-like volunteers attend to the cats by feeding them but not by bringing them water. “Water is all around,” we were told. I think the “volunteer” was referring to the ocean.

The “volunteer” also fed the sea gulls, who did not eat her food due to the presence of felines. She urged, “They won’t bother you! The cats, they will not eat you,” but the sea gulls knew better.

We ate decent food in Atlantic City and got a few good laughs out of the cat project. Overall, it was an OK trip.

The Counter: Make Your Own Burger

I had been curious about The Counter since I first saw it in Times Square. It’s taken the place of a certain Juan Valdez coffee establishment, I believe. The idea of getting a decent burger in Times Square struck me–is this truly possible? Void of decent food, this neighborhood is in dire need of anything more edible than Pop Tarts sushi.

Counter order form

The Counter order form

When we sat down at The Counter, the waiter handed us a clipboard with stacks of order forms on it. Pencils were on the table. Expectations were high. We had to design our own hamburger, rather than relying on some burger chef to stir up a list of ingredients for us. (There are ready-made burgers, such as “The Counter Burger,” if that’s your thing.) I selected 1/3 lb. burger with avocado, red onion, lettuce, and horseradish mayo. My dining partner ordered a burger with a multi-grain bun, which looked good, and dreamed of including pineapple on his list. (“It would be good without cheese or anything else on it,” he said. I’m not convinced.)

We started with some fries and onion strings.

The Counter fries and onion stringsServed with ranch dressing (“America’s favorite dressing”) and barbecue sauce (it had a kick to it), they were acceptable on a whole. Individually, the match stick fries won our taste test. The onion strings were light and delicate, which was nice, but they didn’t pack the desired cringe-worthy onion flavor with each bite.

Onto our burgers…

The Counter make your own burgerThe meat was tender and juicy and cooked to perfection. My dining partner’s burger was overdone, he said, but he ate it all so it couldn’t have been that bad. I loved my toppings, which were fresh and ample. After all the burgers I’ve eaten, I should know a thing or two about compiling a delicious sandwich. I was impressed by my own skills. I liked that the horseradish mayo (more mayo than horseradish) came on the side; it doubled as a dipping sauce.

The Counter is a great pre-theater destination. We went to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert last night. Both the burger and show hit the spot.

Lucky’s Famous Burgers

If you walk west down 52nd Street, you can’t miss Lucky’s Famous Burgers. It’s interior screams at you in yellow and orange tones and snares you in from the sidewalk. The tiny space boasts four tables and two counter spaces for your dining pleasure.

So, what does any sentient being order at a place called Lucky’s Famous Burgers? The cheddar burger, naturally. The solid patty of goodness has delicious written all over it. Lucky’s generously tops the burger with tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, mustard, and ketchup. (I’m sure you can ask for the burger to be prepared without any of these.) Like the Shake Shack (the standard), they use a potato bun to bookend the scrumptious inards.

The fries are as wonderful as the burgers. Crinkle cut and on the skinny side, these fries are light and easy-to-eat in twos and fours. Lucky’s offers a few condiments for your fry-tasting: ketchup, chipotle mayo, and Lucky’s sauce–which was a smokey mayo concoction that we couldn’t quite identify. Next time we’re going to try the onion rings.

We ordered a black-and-white shake, which came in a tall styrofoam cup with a plastic lid with a too-narrow straw. Though it was onerous to drink, the shake was pretty good. You could taste the syrup–which I like.

Lucky’s has several locations in the city. I highly recommend visiting one of them.

The One and Only ShackField

SHAKE SHACK AT CITI FIELD

shakesh

Oh, Danny Meyer!

I know the Mets season may soon come to an end. Or it should. Put the people out of New York out of their misery, please.

If you happen to intentionally attend a Mets game or take a ride on the 7 toward Flushing on a game day, I highly recommend paying the ticket price at Citi Field and trying the Shake Shack aka ShackField.

The line feels shorter than Madison Square Park. Incentive enough to see the Mets?

I think so.

It’s a Love Story

First of all, the quality at ShackField is as exquisitely perfect as the original Shack’s. I am not a fan of the Upper West Side faux Shack. While the line’s length varies, my burgers have been consistently greasy. And one time they put pickles on my ShackBurger. Get with the program, UWS. ShackField is far, far superior to UWS–an impressive feat considering the fact that ShackField is, you know, at a baseball stadium and the UWS “Shack” is an actual restaurant. Props to ShackField.

Hunger-inducing photograph of Double Shack

Hunger-inducing photograph of Double Shack

Second, the limited menu is, undoubtedly, what speeds up the process. Don’t expect a regular ol’ hamburger or cheeseburger or ‘Shroom (sorry veg-heads!) at ShackField. The classic ShackBurger comes in two speeds: mild heart attack (single) and triple bypasss (double). I opted for the TB–and I’m alive to write about it.

Third, the fries are somehow more delicious than the original Shack’s. Their crusty, crunchy godliness is elevated by extra salt methinks. Thank you, ShackField.

Another Menu to Burn

The biggest problem with ShackField is the price: ShackBurgers cost $5.75; Double Shacks go for a whopping $8.75 (well worth it); and regular fries–that may be slightly less generous in portion–are $5.25.

If you’re into Concretes, don’t get your hopes up. No such thing at ShackField. Shakes, custard–yes, yes. For ice cream, try Carvel. You could take home an adorable helmet cup ($6 and change). I’m eating yogurt out of mine right now.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Remote interest in baseball? Or Queens? The 7? Check out ShackField. Also, if you’re tired of long lines at Madison Square Park’s Shack, you might prefer the Queens borough version. (I realize it will cost at least $50 for a ShackBurger.)

What’s more important: your money or your time?

And what’s most important?

The Shake Shack
Citi Field
7 train to Mets-Willets Point during game times

Fearless New Blog, y’all

Welcome to Taylor’s Ham!

Delight in musings on music and food from the five boroughs and beyond (meaning, like, New Jersey)!

I’m starting this blog because I need a new writing project and am inspired by Taylor Swift and all-things-New-Jersey, but mostly Taylor Ham–the delicious breakfast meat also known as Pork Roll in public school cafeterias. Taylor Ham is an essential component to a complete New Jersey diner dining experience. Wherever you’re from, if you are one day starved and lost on the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway (a more common-than-you-think phenomenon), take an exit and discover a diner. You won’t be sorry.

Anyway, I thought I’d fuse Taylor Swift with Taylor Ham to create a sensational music-food amalgam mostly focused on pop culture and eats. Don’t contain yourself. Be thrilled.

A few things about this blog:

  • You’ll notice Taylor Swift lyrics in the posts. Instead of writing, “Why it’s Good,” “Why it Sucks,” and “The Bottomline” in my reviews, I’m utilizing popular Taylor song titles. If you don’t think they’re “popular,” beef up your pop culture IQ, friend.
  • I love pop music and live music. You’ll see posts about everything from local country bands to Lady Gaga. You’ll love it.
  • I am a discerning critic of hamburgers. But I enjoy all food and consider my entire dining experience when reviewing each restaurant. Translation: Service matters.
  • Yeah, that’s all you need to know.
  • Oh, my name is really Nicole. But the other names aren’t real. Or they’re real but not in a way that you’d understand.

Do you think Taylor Swift will read this and … want a Taylor Ham and Egg Sandwich?

Me too!

As Julia Child once (or many times) said in her songbird (…) trill, bon appetit!*

nicole

*I really mean Meryl Streep’s songbird trill. Her face and voice in Julie and Julia infects my brain.

ps – Don’t forget about makeshift dialect! It’s alive and I’m well, which is why it’s not frequently updated.