People have been asking what I think about Salvation Burger since the day it opened in early February. It's a burger place and everyone loves to talk about burgers, but the star burger at Salvation Burger costs $25 and doesn't come with French fries. This detail deeply upsets people because everyone wants fries with their burger. The ones at Salvation Burger—which are thin, crisp in places, and wonderfully salty—cost an additional $7.
Sure, you can find a cheaper hamburger dinner elsewhere. A squishy Shack Burger, which is inconsistently delicious, costs just over $5, and the cheeseburger at Rose’s is one of my favorites at $17, spare and cheering. The twin patties at Houseman are profoundly satisfying at $19, under a heap of caramelized mushroom and onion. There's no arguing that burgers can't be luxury items: Minetta Tavern’s fat, hard-seared burger is $32 (with fries).
April Bloomfield has been making great burgers for years, from the Spotted Pig’s burger, capped with melting Roquefort, to the lamb burger with feta at the Breslin. But her Salvation Burger is its own animal, an extravagant eight-ounce hulk with all the weight and intensity of a good steak. If that's the way you like your hamburger sandwich, this one is worth the $25. If you are more partial to any of those other styles listed above, the Salvation Burger's price point will likely remain a mystery, yet another of New York’s small, peculiar injustices.
The source of the meat is neither a secret nor a celebrity butcher in New Jersey. Bloomfield ships in whole cows (going through three to four each week) from a farm just west of Albany, N.Y., so the kitchen can mix un-aged cuts from almost the entire animal for the patty (some parts get used up in appetizer specials such as seared beef heart with salsa verde and chili with corn nuts).
The fresh sesame buns are baked here: puffy and perfect-looking, brushed with rendered beef fat and browned a little. Unless you request otherwise, the meat is served almost mid-rare, blushing pink as can be off the wood-fired grill. Sometimes it comes with only a little smoky, stinky blue cheese dripping with butter and grilled mushrooms; sometimes caramelized onions accompany. Either way, it's delicious—and in direct competition with Minetta's. This is not the sort of burger that disappears in a minute or two. It's the kind you must work at slowly and messily, the kind you daydream about later, when you’re supposed to be doing other things.
Salvation Burger is a very optimistic name for a burger place, maybe because there is no salvation for the burger, that fat stack of bread and beef whose endless production is taxing the planet. Note: Bloomfield’s veggie burger is very good. The first time I tried one, it seemed a little sad and small and tightly packed. On a more recent visit, it was magnificent, tall as a bistro burger and dressed up with tangy yogurt. It’s made from a variety of lentils, vegetables, and sweet potato vermicelli, and it is seasoned very lightly with garam masala, an Indian mixture of sweet, warm, brown spices, a move that adds to its depth and sense of meatiness.
The restaurant is connected to the Pod Hotel on 51st Street, a big, loud dining room with raw concrete ceilings and a cattle-themed decor. The best spot, if you can get it, is a relatively private four-seater booth by the wall, with a TV screen playing goofy footage of a fake fire called "extra classy psychedelic yule log" on a 13-minute loop. The counter overlooking the kitchen is comfortable enough if you’re alone, concentrating on a hot dog and beer.
While service is always friendly, it can be inconsistent when it comes to attentiveness and timing. Maybe no one tells your group of four that there are only three oysters and three shrimp per order. The friend who announces herself vegan at the beginning of the meal may not be alerted that the salad contains cheese and the veggie burger has yogurt. These are small things, but once Salvation Burger has figured them out, the restaurant should feel more cohesive and might catch up to the quality and pricing of its food.
Ken Friedman, the restaurateur and Bloomfield’s partner, is occasionally in the dining room, helping a runner or getting chatty with diners. "April is obsessed with McDonald's," he said to my table as the desserts landed. You can see this most clearly in the exquisite fried apple pie, or the similarly constructed—but even more delicious when fried—lemon pie, which is filled with a barely sweet fruit curd. It’s squared off and golden and served so hot out of the fryer that you must be careful not to burn your tongue. The similarities end there.
Salvation Burger is at 230 E 51st Street (Midtown); (646) 277-2900 or salvationburger.com
Rating: One star (good)
What to Order: Salvation burger for a bistro-burger-style thick patty ($25); Classic burger for thin and crisp double patties ($17); Veggie burger ($16); Fries ($7); Fried lemon pie ($6); Toasted marshmallow shake ($7)
Need to Know: Salvation Burger does not accept reservations and does not seat incomplete parties. Put your name down during lunch and dinner rush hours, and chances are a table will be ready within a half-hour to an hour. In the meantime, the Pod Hotel has a bar with Wi-Fi next door that serves drinks from the restaurant.
Who’s Next to You: Middle-aged men in suits, with ties flung back over their jackets; Parents with children and baby strollers; Tourists and guests staying at the hotel next door
Soundtrack: Santana; Janet Jackson