By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
Sitting in the bar, I knew I needed a burger. A couple of them, maybe. Big, fat burgers, mid-rare and bleeding juice over the sides of the buns. I needed the kind of burgers they show in commercials — straight-up porn-star burgers, all greasy and fat and bad for me.
Unfortunately, the bar where I was sitting didn't have burgers (or anyway, not the kind I wanted), and besides, I had other plans. So I had a very nice piece of fish instead, restrained and lovely, set over a bed of quartered sunchokes with a pale yellow citronette. It wasn't the same thing at all.
A couple of days later, I still needed a burger — my craving ramping slowly toward madness — but you know what they don't serve in most pizzerias? Burgers. So I had two slices of good New York thin and liked them well enough, I guess. But they weren't burgers.
Later that night, I found myself on the phone with an old friend, and all I could talk about was the burger joints in one of the many cities I used to call home. Big burgers and little burgers, thin ones and fat ones, messy ones (the best kind) with which I have ruined innumerable shirts. It was too late for me to score what I was after, but my friend, that little fucker, made straight for the nearest In-N-Out for a double-double. I was jealous to the point of contemplating murder and went to bed dreaming of ingenious airborne burger-delivery systems (perfect use for all those surplus Predator drones once the robots rise up and enslave us all) and how rich I would have to be, exactly, in order to have a private jet standing by at all times to fly Laura and me to L.A. for a Tommy Burger or to Rochester for a Schaller's burger with hot sauce whenever I wanted. Pretty goddamn rich, was what I came up with. Not the kind of rich that a newspaperman generally becomes. Maybe if I started my own boy band...
By Saturday, I was more or less out of my mind with wanting. Sitting on the couch, I heard Laura call down to me from upstairs.
"Jay! What's the plan for —"
"Burgers," I barked back.
"Yeah, but what do you —"
"If you say burgers one more —"
Seriously, it's a wonder I'm still married at all.
We were on the road within the hour, headed for Park Burger, a burger joint on the quiet end of South Pearl Street that, after a few delays, had opened on May 16 for exactly two and a half hours, then closed because the kitchen was so overwhelmed by neighbors and friends and long-haul burger fanatics (like me) who'd been waiting months for a taste of what Park Burger had to offer. After all, the place bears the fingerprints of the decidedly un-burgerish Frank Bonanno, who helped Jean-Phillippe Failyau, his right-hand man, build this simple, straightforward burger palace. And after Park Burger got back open the next day, a colleague (not quite a Predator drone, but whatever) had delivered me a ParkBurger, a plain-jane burger with nothing more than burger sauce, lettuce, onions and two strips of thick-cut bacon to gild its proverbial lily. It was so good that I took a picture and used it as the wallpaper on my cell phone for a few days, so good that one wasn't nearly enough.
I made my own run at Park Burger two days later, hitting right at the cheeseburger witching hour (six o'clock, by the way — that moment when you're so starved from a day at work or play that even a 99-cent double from Mickey D's can look appetizing), snagging a high-top at the community table in front (because pretty much every other seat was filled and I hated to take up an entire booth with just my solo-dining ass) and running down the menu with my finger. ParkBurger, mini ParkBurger, double ParkBurger, turkey ParkBurger, buffalo ParkBurger, veggie ParkBurger. No. I wanted something special, something unique to this place, this vision of what a truly great neighborhood burger joint could be. Also, I am a dumb sucker for Froggish influences creeping up in the most unlikely of places, so when I saw the Frenchy listed under "Specialty Burgers," I knew I'd found my dinner. One of those, an order of sweet-potato fries and a drink, because Failyau knew not to even consider opening without a liquor license in hand.
Park Burger doesn't keep a big bar, but it's big enough. Six wines, nicely chosen and international in aspect. A handful of cocktails (including the Strawberry Skyy that I would later taste on that cheeseburger-craving Saturday, borrowing the glass from Laura when her back was turned and drinking away a third of something that tasted like cold lime and strawberry cotton candy, melted in a glass and completely untroubled by even the least stinging hint of alcohol). A nice spread of beers, both local and not so, some German, others Belgians. I went for a can of PBR because I am a philistine.