When we think of “American Cuisine” is there anything more American than the Hamburger? There are a few theories behind who actually “invented” the Hamburger, but in the end, they all come to the same conclusion; the burger was born right here in the US. Maybe this is why people are so passionate about their favorite Burger joint and so utterly offended by disappointing renditions of our beloved burger. There are websites and blogs dedicated solely to the elusive quest for the ultimate in patty perfection. The male species seems to be especially opinionated on the topic. It’s a caveman thing I presume.
So, when I put the call out to my followers on Twitter asking where I might find the best burgers in New Jersey, I got an instant and impassioned reply to my query. As I am beginning to understand, the “best burger” is subject to personal opinion and I don’t want to start a raging debate here, so I decided to ask fellow Food Blogger and “Internet Food Discussion Pioneer,” Jason Perlow, for his opinion on what makes a great restaurant burger.
Perlow pointed me to an interview he did for A Hamburger Today (I told you there were websites dedicated to this stuff) in which he describes the perfect burger. “I think all preparations are equally valid because there are different genres of burgers. At a summer cookout, a backyard burger formed by hand has to be grilled. The classic fast-food or diner burger has to be griddled, and the steakhouse or pub burger needs to be broiled. But each of these burgers has to have a different meat composition, fat makeup, and quantity of meat for each to work under the right circumstances.”
Another very passionate patty connoisseur is Tommy from TommyEats.com. Tommy has his own ideas of what makes for a great burger.
“A great burger needs freshly ground meat (this can’t be stressed enough), salted (stressed again), with enough fat content to lend flavor and juiciness, a good (or preferably, great) bun, an appropriate meat-to-bun ratio, a patty that’s not too small or too big (6-7 ounces seems to be the size where most excellent burgers hover)…and that’s it. You can dress a burger up with cheese or smoked pork products, which will just about always elevate a substandard burger to edible levels, but a great burger doesn’t need the supporting cast (although they don’t hurt). Remember: everything you put between the bun, and including the bun, should *matter*.”
Tommy has been on his own burger crusade here in New Jersey. You can find a whole list of places he has tried and written about on his blog. His personal picks? South City Prime in Little Falls and Copeland in Morristown. In regard to the latter, Tommy added, “they’ve been hit-or-miss…but when they hit, they hit hard.”
There were a few stand outs when compiling this list that need mentioning. Many New Jerseyans evidently rave about the new 5 Guys Burgers and Fries franchises that are popping up everywhere. Not my kind of destination for a burger, but that doesn’t make it any less a great burger place. As I mentioned before, personal preference plays a big part in the “best burger” designation.
Where Diners are concerned, I kept hearing one name over and over; White Manna in Hackensack and Jersey City. White Manna is such an icon it has its own Wikipedia page which informed me that they sell approximately 3000 hamburgers a week. Our friend Mr. Perlow did an excellent post on White Manna, his favorite burger spot in New Jersey.
White Manna as seen in daylight. Photo by “Daniel”, eG Forums
From Diners to Gourmet restaurants, it seems you can find a burger in every venue here in the Garden State. There is one burger that I will never forget, an amazing burger we ordered at Trinity Restaurant in Keyport. Back then it was the Wagyu Beef Burger with Foie Gras, Orange marmelade and truffle cheese, homemade ketchup and french fries. I see the chef has since changed it to Kobe beef on the menue maybe because the Wagyu is just too darn expensive or maybe it was a special. I am sure whatever beef they are using it is still perfection. Oh, but warning, you will be full for days.
And somewhere in between the franchises, diners and the gourmet restaurant lie the pubs and steakhouses, my personal favorite. I don’t indulge in burgers much, so when I do, I like to have the whole experience; a warm cozy environment, a nice glass of wine, and a perfectly cooked burger with blue cheese and saute onions, maybe even some mushrooms on a toasted bun.
There are a few places that come to mind and mentioned as favorites in the pub category. Barnacle Bill’s in Rumson is one. I spent many a Sunday in my twenties chowing down on Barnacle burgers. It’s a rustic, salty place with a nice view of the Navesink river. Another pub with a water view and a cozy fireplace is Harpoon Willys in Manasquan. Both places flame broil their burgers behind the bar.
This has been a fun and slightly fattening post to write (you’ll read my review of Boom in Belmar in the next few days). I am sure we have missed a few favorite places, which I will happily add to our map. I look forward to your comments on your favorite burger spot or on what you consider the key ingredient to the perfect burger.