I love a good brunch, but more importantly, I love a good burger. Where do you go to satisfy both needs? Only one place in my book: Minetta Tavern.
Me and my friend Lindsay aka The Lunch Belle have been dying to test out Minetta's famed Black Label Burger for the longest time, and I am happy to report that it was well worth the wait. But before I get into that, let's walk through the entire experience, shall we? Hell, I waited for that burger for months…you can wait a few mere paragraphs.
Minetta Tavern doesn't look like much from the outside – it's kind of tucked away on the corner of Minetta Lane between Bleecker and West 3rd in the Village – and the only windows are in the very front of the restaurant by the bar, but the blinds are closed all the time so you can't see inside, and when you walk in, you have to walk through a dark hallway and a heavy velvet curtain just to get to the hostess stand. Pretentious much? Whatever – I just wanted to eat.
We were taken to the back of the restaurant which screamed Parisian cafe (in my opinion): old black and white photos on the walls, black and white tiled floor, gleaming yellow light and red seats. Oh and the foreigners surrounding us made the whole "European" vibe that much more real. The service was good, albeit a bit confused. We must have had 3 or 4 waitresses show up to ask for our drinks, and we told each of them the same drinks every time, and still didn't get any. That, and they also double booked my reservation – one for 2 pm and one for 6 pm. I had trouble getting a res at this place for weeks and yet somehow I managed to snag two in one day. Score!
Finally – time to eat. We ordered the Chilled Gulf Shrimp appetizer with Fennel, Artichokes and Coral Vinaigrette. Out of all the yummy-sounding things on this menu, chilled gulf shrimp? Really?? Well, I saw a waiter walk by with it and the shrimp looked big enough to rent it's own apartment, so I was officially intrigued. Sue me. It was fresh, meaty shrimp, and the fennel with lemony artichokes gave it such a refreshing taste. It was actually a better choice for a starter than you would think; not that there's anything wrong with their selection of Panier (chocolate brioche, fruit focaccia, croissants and canele).
As the title of this post states proudly: this brunch was really based around the Black Label Burger. I've heard such things about this burger (including the fact that it's $26), that I knew we had to split it. I also knew that it was brunch, so we needed some eggs to round out the meal. Shirred Eggs with Black Truffles and Baguette Soldiers was our choice – and not a bad one. Lets just get the eggs out of the way so I can describe this burger. I'm so one-track minded. Shirred eggs, traditionally, are baked eggs in a ramekin with cream, butter, and cheese (is there any other way?). Minetta put it's own little spin on it by shaving black truffles on top (this would justify the $20 price tag I assume) and serving long slices, or soldiers, of crispy french baguette bread for dipping. And believe me, you WANT to dip. The eggs were not runny, but the yolk was; take your baguette and swirl some yolk around in the buttery, creamy pool of eggy goodness. It's a rich dish, but how often do you have eggs with truffles on top anyway? Might as well give in.
Speaking of giving in…this Black Label Burger could turn a vegetarian into a chest-pounding, blood-thirsty carnivore. Funny side note: we asked for it cooked "medium" which prompted the waitress to tell us that this burger is served "European style", which means it's pink most of the way through. "Isn't that what "medium" means??" we asked, confused. "Well, no, it means just a hint of pink in the center", she replied. "No, I think that's medium-well.." we countered. "Ok, I just wanted to make sure." Then she walks away. So I guess I've been asking for the wrong burgers my whole life. FYI people, if you want a medium to medium rare burger, make sure you ask for it "European-style" – they'll know what it means, apparently. Anyway, this was probably the best burger I've had in a long time – and it has no cheese! They actually frown upon ordering it with cheese, and after tasting it, now I know why. When it arrived, I just stared at it for a second. The juices were running down into the bun, and it was cooked perfectly with a bit of caramelized onions on top. Truly, the best part was the meat itself and the crust on this thing – yes, crust. The meat had such a perfect char on it that it created this crust, which encapsulated the flavors and made it like a juicy-meat-preserver. That sounds naughty. But you know what, I felt kind of naughty eating it. I'm pretty sure my eyes rolled back into my head at least once. Can a burger be that good? Can it be worth $26?? Yes. It can and it is.
I would discuss dessert, but I got sorbet (I know, boring). I didn't want anything too heavy and I didn't want to ruin the taste of delicious burger still lingering on my palate. But were there downsides of Minetta Tavern? I could say that the service was a bit disorganized, and the pickle that came with the burger was downright strange (kind of like a bread & butter pickle dipped in battery acid), however, you could have blind clowns on unicycles taking my order - as long as that burger arrives safely to my table, I'd go back tomorrow.