Bill’s Bar and Burger is restauranteur Stephen Hanson’s burger joint in the old Hogpit Barbecue space in the Meatpacking District. Burgers are the centerpiece of the menu, which also features hot dogs, wings, fries, and milk shakes. The most expensive item is a Grouper Sandwich ($9.95).
Hanson is the king of low-brow food. Except for the shuttered Fiamma, his restaurants have never been at the vanguard of culinary ingenuity. He sees a trend and figures out how to down-brand it for popular appeal.
So you figured that a Hanson burger joint would at least be competent. The alleged hamburger experts are officially impressed. Mr. Cutlets, A Hamburger Today, Hamburger America, and the BLD Project are all smitten. We’ll let Cutlets’ comments stand as a proxy for all of them:
The Bill’s burger, at least the one I tasted, is the next step in the evolution of mainstream hamburgers. It takes the aggressive “smashing” technique from Steak n Shake and Smashburger, and applies it even more aggressively, and using LaFrieda beef — a rich blend I couldn’t exactly put my finger in, but lush and sweet in a way that suggested lots of brisket. It’s flatter and wider and browner that the Shake Shack, so much so that it hangs outside of the bun. It’s just luscious and enveloping and compuslively edible. And beneath that crust, which is complemented by a butter crisp toasted Arnold’s roll and a slice of deliciously viscous American cheese, is a torrent of juicy, salty, beef flavor that really lets you know you’ve eaten real meat, not just gray burger tissue. The thing is just fantastic, and there is not one weird topping or middlebrow trope anywhere to be seen. Is it too soon for me to say that this is the best hamburger in New York? I don’t think it is. Certainly it’s the best cheap hamburger in New York, if not the world. Daniel Boulud, Josh Capon, Nick Solares from Serious Eats…we all tried it and were knocked out. But better still than the taste was the fact that it was a blow for orthodoxy, and proof that our national sandwich is still best presented unadorned, in all its rude glory.
I don’t get it.
I dropped into Bill’s Bar & Burger the other night and ordered the so-called “Fat Cat” ($6.95) basically a burger topped with caramelized onions, with tomato and pickles on the side. The burger was over-cooked, and what little flavor it had was overwhelmed by the onions. It’s absurd that this is touted as one of the city’s better burgers. It ain’t in the top 50.
It’s not just a question of taste. The photo (above) doesn’t even look attractive. Those on sites like A Hamburger Today aren’t much better.
This tolerable burger was nothing compared to the awful fries ($3.50), which were over-salted and too greasy. What was worse, it appeared I was served a basket made in two separate batches, as some were burnt and others hadn’t been in the fryer long enough.
The beer was pretty good, and so was the service. There were plenty of empty tables at around 6pm, and there were still a few when I left, around 45 minutes later. By 9pm, I understand there was an hour wait. Don’t waste your time.
As I was getting ready to pay the bill, Mr. Cutlets sauntered in. Acted like he owned the place.
Addendum: It took a while, but finally there’s a pro reviewer who agrees with me: Alan Richman in GQ. I was about 90% certain that I spotted Richman there, but I only caught a brief glimpse of him, and wasn’t positive. He actually looked happy, smiling and waving to the staff. They’ll probably be surprised to learn he hated the place.
Bill’s Bar and Burger (22 Ninth Avenue at 13th Street, Meatpacking District)