The National (Greenwich) “Ugly Burger” is a Beautiful Thing

rsz_160310_ctb_burger_3There is a new King of the Hill of hamburgers in Greenwich.

Since celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian opened The National several months ago at the lower end of Greenwich Avenue, I have received numerous emails telling me about its burger. On a sunny day I ventured to Greenwich, grabbed a table and ordered “THE NATIONAL UGLY BURGER” which includes Cabot Cheddar cheese, crispy Shallots, Ntl Sauce, and served with malt vinegar chips. I ordered it medium-rare.

The burger arrived and it was served on a wooden cutting board, with a pickle speared through the top of the bun. The melted cheese was oozing around the edges, dripping towards the serving board. The sautéed shallots were peeking from under the cheese, partnered with the edges of a single lettuce leaf. If the taste was as good as the presentation, this would be a great burger. The burger was accompanied by the chips that were vertically arranged in a separate metal vase.

After removing the pickle, I cut the burger in half and the interior was cooked exactly to medium rare. The patty was medium in size, possibly 5-ounces, with a nice crust and the interior presented a very loose grind. A quick taste of the meat…a medium level of richness, with at least two cuts. (A call to the restaurant after my visit confirmed the meat was brisket and chuck from Creek Stone Farm in Arkansas City, Kansas and ground in-house.) The cheese was thick, and expertly melted atop the patty with the sautéed shallots between the two. Not mentioned on the menu was a sauce that was shmeared on the Challah roll (from Royal Bakers in Danbury).

The first bite of the Ugly Burger was far from ugly…it was fantastic. The ingredients were perfectly balanced. The meat delivered a medium level of richness, was juicy and incredibly smoky. The melted Cheddar cheese was creamy and very nutty. The two unique and delicious ingredients were the sautéed shallots that were very sweet and the sauce, with a tomato-tanginess…they were excellent additions. And the smokiness that the wood-burning grill infused into the meat was more than outstanding. The challah bun was a great choice, not only with its taste but it did not disintegrate during the meal.

The burger was served with malt vinegar chips. Unfortunately, these were very disappointing. They were overcooked, nearing burnt, and over-salted. I only wish they would change the menu to include fries instead of the chips. With a $19 price tag for the Ugly Burger, guests deserve a better accompaniment.

Overall the National Ugly Burger was outstanding. It presented incredible flavors, perfectly prepared and delivered wonderful balance.

376 Greenwich Ave – Greenwich, CT 06830

(203) 861-6851

Barrel House in Stamford: Pizza, Beer and Burgers

What is the result of combining an incredible selection of local beers, a wide choice of meats and vegetables to join delicious Mozzarella and red sauce atop a great pizza crust, with an atmosphere that is simultaneously relaxed and exciting? Barrel House in Stamford.

Barrel House opened last December in the space that formerly housed Market and Patrizia’s restaurants with a focus on pizza, burgers and and a vast array of local small brewed beers. The second restaurant by the owners of Cotto Wine Bar down the street, Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi, designed a very different atmosphere and menu. Silvy told CTbites, “We wanted people to come to Barrel House and enjoy pizza and burgers with friends.” From the moment you walk through the door, you know this will be a lively and fun-filled experience.

The restaurant seats over 100 guests in a combination of banquettes, high-top communal tables, and regular tables, all surrounded by rough hewn reclaimed wood walls and illuminated by retro-bulbs hanging indiscriminately from the ceiling. The entire left side of the dining room is occupied by the bar, with three TVs and a twenty-dispenser beer tap offering an array of local limited edition brews. Silvy mentioned, “Some of our beers are only available at Barrel House for a limited time. We work with many local breweries to offer our guests some very special beers.” The twenty-beer aluminum tap dispenser is like none I have seen, and many of the names were new to me including Triple Karmeliet, Left Hand Stout Nitro, Evil Twin Biscotti Break, Beer’d Whisker Witt and Troegs Scratch Series Choc Stout. In addition, Barrel House offers several wines by the glass, cocktails, and a few specialty cocktails.

The menu is divided into several sections, including Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Entrée, and Pizza…CTbites was invited to sample some of the appetizers, a few pizzas and one of the burgers.

The first appetizer was the Limoncello Wings, which can be ordered in a group of 6- or 12-wings. They were served with a side of chunky Gorgonzola cheese plus carrots and celery. The wings arrived, split at the joint, and lathered in a sauce that mixed Claudio’s Limoncello recipe with a spicy red sauce. The wings were slightly crisped on the exterior and moist on the interior. The resultant Limoncello sauce was more Buffalo-style, not too spicy. Dipping a winglet in the blue cheese created the traditional Buffalo-Gorgonzola cheese combination, and a great start to share with a few beers.

The other appetizer I enjoyed was the Eggplant Croquettes. Three golf-ball sized orbs were sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and served alongside a small dish of Marinara sauce. The croquettes were crispy on the exterior with the filling comprised of eggplant, smoked Provolone cheese, and Mozzarella cheese wonderfully gooey. These mini-eggplant parmesan balls were even better when dipped into the Marinara sauce.

Since a majority of the menu is focused on pizza, it was time to move to the main event. Barrel House offers two sizes, the regular, which is ample for two (or one with a very large appetite) and the “Pala.” The server mentioned it would serve 3-4, but it can easily be shared by 5 or 6. When it arrived I was overwhelmed by its size, and pleasantly surprised that the kitchen decided to create three separate pies on one large crust. The toppings were (a) a traditional pepperoni with Mozzarella and red sauce, (b) a “Broccoli” with rabe, sausage, red peppers and Mozzarella, and (c) a Diavola” with hot soppressata, Mozzarella, cherry peppers and black olives. When I asked the server about the three sections she stated that you can order the Pala with one, two or three separate combinations.

The first test of any pie is the crust, it sets the stage for the quality of the rest of the pie. Barrel House’s crust is outstanding, light and airy, like biting into a cloud, with just a hint of salt and a little chewiness. It is definitely one of the best in the area. The Pala was pre-cut into twelve pieces, each quite large, and the crust was ultra-thin throughout, and it was a bit difficult maneuvering the slices onto the plate Once there, each of the three sectors presented very distinct, and incredibly flavorful, combination.

The boldest was the “Diavola.” The diced cherry peppers were spicy, but not incendiary and the saltiness of the olives created a great salty-spicy balance, which were complemented by the soppressata and a wonderful red sauce. The pepperoni was my next stop and many judge a great pie by the pepperoni and Barrel House’s was as good as any. The pepperoni slices were razor thin, crispy, and delivered great flavor. A simple pepperoni pizza would be a great choice. The white broccoli rabe and sausage was a mild alternative to its two spicy neighbors. The sweet sausage ovals were a great accompaniment to the broccoli rabe and the Mozzarella cheese.

I also enjoyed a regular-sized “Veggie” that can be ordered either as a “white” or “red” pie. Mine was made without the red sauce and included eggplant, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and zucchini atop melted Mozzarella cheese. Each slice was dedicated to one of the toppings and they were delightful, mild, and earthy. The red sauce would be an excellent addition and I would order it “red” on the next visit.

I also sampled one of Barrel House’s Bacon Cheese Burgers, which is an 8-ounce patty served with melted Cheddar cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, on a brioche. The meat, bacon, cheese and bun were delicious, but the onions were much too sweet, distracting from the rest of the burger. I will call this burger a work-in-progress and I would order next time without the onions.

Overall, the downtown Stamford culinary scene has a new, and great place for pizza, burgers and beer. With a hip vibe, a great selection of beers and loads of toppings to make a fantastic pie, walk in, sit down and enjoy the atmosphere and the food with friends.

249 Main Street – Stamford, CT – 06901

203-890-9922

Really Liked

  • Eggplant Croquettes
  • Diavola pie
  • Pepperoni pie
  • Sausage and broccoli rabe pie

Liked

  • Limoncello wings
  • Veggie pie
  • Burger (without onions)