J. Alexander’s (Boca) – Sleek Spot with Challenging Food

16-burgerFrom the outside, this restaurant looks like an upscale Florida version of a NJ diner. Once inside, the enormous four-sided bar separates two dining areas with more a pubby feeling than NJ red p-leather booths. The menu ranges from a few unappealing appetizers, many salads and sandwiches, plus entrees. All of the food is prepared in the large, open-viewed kitchen in the rear.

On the first visit I ordered a bacon-cheese burger medium-rare with tomato and pickles plus fries. The menu stressed hand formed chuck daily so I was expecting a very juicy burger. It arrived already cut in half to show it was prepared properly. The first item I noticed was the size of the bun; it was incredibly tall and overshadowed the exposed patty, tomato, pickle, and the single slice of melted cheese; the bacon was hidden under the bun. The second item was the lack of juice extruding from the burger, even though it was chuck and cut immediately after leaving the griddle.

A quick taste of the meat. It was OK but had a bitter aftertaste. It was medium in grind with decent richness. The folded and hidden slice of bacon was also pretty good; the bun was OK but much too large. The two slices of tomatoes were excellent. Overall it was an OK burger but should have been juicier if it was chuck. The fries were horrible. The shoestring variety were cooked a little too long and then the kitchen doused them with salt, head snapping back amounts.

16-tacosOn the second visit I ordered the steak tacos. A swath of sour cream sauce was first shmeared onto three large soft tortillas and topped with a slice of steak, shredded lettuce and Monterey Jack cheese and finished with a little pico de Gallo salsa. The steak was prepared to medium rare. After one bite, I knew this was not for me. The steak was covered with a seasoning package that was both overwhelmingly salty and incredibly spicy. The salsa was also spicy. My wife offered half of her burger and when I tasted it, it was not even as good as the OK burger from the first visit, with a spongier consistency than my first visit. The server and manager asked if I would like something else, and they did a good job, but I chose to call it a night.

Overall Alexander’s exterior of a NJ diner rang truer with the food than the decor. An OK burger, very over-seasoned tacos, but fries that would never be served in NJ.

Bedford 234 Burger – Not Bad for a Sunday Brunch

A beautiful Sunday, a leisurely 10-mile bike ride…time to re-charge. Where to eat between Yorktown Heights and New Canaan. I used to love the burger at Meetinghouse in Bedford and have heard some pretty good things about the new incarnation, Bedford 234, so we decided to grab lunch.

It is located right off the square, next to the Bedford Playhouse. When we arrived, tables were set up outside, with a family enjoying their brunch, but a few too many flies and bees forced us into the re-decorated interior. The space is still very Americana with paintings and posters of animals next to the American flag, the small bar area upon entering still has the single TV with the Jets game in full force, and the main dining room was 25% occupied.

The menu is filled with the names of all of the farms they use, so I thought the burger had the possibility of being excellent. I ordered an iced tea and the 234 BURGER (medium-rare), which is described as a dry aged blend, served with crispy onions, a choice of cheese (I chose American) and fries. For additional $2.34 (on top of the $18 price) I asked for the maple Sriracha bacon.

The burger is large, my guess is 8-10 ounces, two slices of bacon sat on top of the melted cheese. Lettuce and tomato were also included. I cut the burger in half and it was more towards rare than medium-rare but that is more acceptable than going to medium+. The meat was mild in flavor, surprising from a dry-age blend. The maple Sriracha bacon was good, but lacked any significant maple or Sriracha flavor or spice and the bun was a little on the state side, but it was Sunday. It was much better than most in the area, but for a burger and fries priced over $20, it should have been much better. On a positive side, the crispy onions were about as good as you can get, and the fries were excellent.

Service was fantastic, the server was always available, was pleasant, checked in and did all the necessary good server things.

Overall, it was an OK experience, we had a great time laughing, the service was excellent, but the food was a little disappointing.

635 Old Post Road – Bedford, NY 10506 – (914) 234-5656

Stick with the Burgers @Bareburger

The second Connecticut location for Bareburger, in Harbor Point, opened six months ago, its second Fairfield County location (the first opened in downtown Ridgefield in 2013) as the micro-chain-gone-global expands its Connecticut offerings. For an overview of Bareburger and an exclusive interview with its founder, Euripides Pelekanos, click here.

Several months ago CTbites was invited to a media event at Bareburger in Stamford. Downpours and personnel issues left a less than favorable impression of the cuisine. After a three-month hiatus CTbites was invited back and treated to several appetizers, a few burgers and a dessert. Visit number two left a better impression; Bareburger serves very good burgers, with bold flavors and combinations; unfortunately, the appetizers are still a challenge.

The second visit started with three of the smaller selections. The first was the “Macho Fries,” which were ordered with both regular and sweet potato fries. The fries were topped with guacamole, pepper jack cheese, spicy pico de gallo, pickled Jalapeño peppers, and buttermilk ranch dressing, almost a Mexican poutine. The guacamole was very watery and more oniony than I prefer, the pico de gallo delivered even more onions, the Jalapeños and dressing added some kick and creaminess, respectively, but the pepper jack cheese was barely present, and the onions overwhelmed everything. The sweet potato fries were perfectly cooked, but the regular fries were limp.

The “Crispy Brussels Sprouts” were served with Manchego cheese and lemon. Unlike the first visit, the Brussels were well prepared with nice crispy edges and the Manchego was a good complement. I kept looking for the acidity of the lemon to brighten the dish, expecting the next bite to contain this ingredient, but the lemon was MIA, and it was needed to balance and brighten an, otherwise, uninspired dish.

The “Guapo Chop” salad was served with little gems romaine lettuce, topped with scoops of Queso Fresco cheese, guacamole, pickled Jalapeño peppers, pickled red onions, spicy pico de gallo, tortilla chips, and avocado basil dressing. There was a significant miscue on the first attempt and required a replacement. I really enjoyed the pickled onions and Jalapeño peppers but the thin guacamole and pico de gallo were again present and, not surprisingly, the onions overwhelmed the lettuce, which should have been the main focus of the dish. I thought the buttermilk dressing would balance the dish, but there was none present and I was a little reluctant to ask for a third attempt.

The evening took a significantly positive turn when burgers were ordered and delivered. Bareburger offers fourteen pre-determined combinations, plus the option to build your own, and my host was persistent that I sample a diverse array of meats since the menu contains beef, bison, wild boar, duck, elk, turkey, as well as vegetarian options.

The first was the “SoCal,” (seen above) which included a turkey patty, aged Cheddar cheese, pickled red onions, alfalfa sprouts, guacamole, on a griddled sprout bun. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor and moistness of the turkey patty as well as how the various toppings complemented each other. The guacamole made its third appearance of the evening and this time it was a welcome addition. Since it is more a spread than a true guacamole it worked well to bring a creamy pungency and its heavy onion accents, and the pickled onions added crunch and sour notes. The bun was a good choice and the SoCal was my favorite burger of the evening.

The “Blue Elk” was the polar opposite side of the flavor spectrum, and if you are looking for bold flavors, this is a great choice. The elk was less gamey than I assumed, more a clean, rich flavor similar to a grass-fed beef patty, with a richness you would expect. The key to this combination was the inclusion of two strong, sweet components, the stout onions and the tomato fig jam, each was a fantastic complement to the elk. The country bacon added just a touch of saltiness, and the Amish Blue cheese kicked in a completely different profile, some would love the addition, while others would feel it fought with the other ingredients.

Since Bareburger does not offer a bacon-cheeseburger as one of its pre-determined combinations, I decided to “Be My Burger.” I started with an 8-ounce beef patty, and added country bacon, Colby cheese and Stout Onions. The meat presented a medium richness, and the sweet onions added a wonderful complex profile from the stout. I was not as fond of my cheese choice, the scant amount of crumbled Colby did not work well in the balance of flavors, and the Colby would have benefitted from a better melt. Likewise, the onions were diced and I would have preferred that they were served in larger pieces. The country bacon was soggy and offered little to the dish, I wish strip bacon was an option.

To accompany the burgers, I ordered a side of “Fries and Rings.” The fries were excellent, perfectly prepared with moist interiors surrounded by a thin crisp crust. The rings were coated in a very think, wheat flour based coating. The amount of coating and the boldness of the wheat overwhelmed the moist onions, like biting into fried wheat bread. Stick with the fries.

For dessert I ordered the “Flourless Chocolate Cake.” It was a cross between a chocolate lava cake and pudding. It was accompanied by a few marinated cherries. It was a very sweet way to end the meal.

Bareburger’s business model is to offer organic, healthier products, with unique and creative combinations. This is a not an inexpensive burger joint, more in line with restaurant prices than Shake Shack and Five Guys. A bacon-cheeseburger, fries and a soda will total more than $20 before tax and tip, probably $100 for a family of four. Look carefully at the pre-determined options as each could save $2-3 compared to a build your own. Overall, the burgers were very good, but numerous miscues on both visits need to be addressed, especially with these prices.

Really Liked

  • SoCal ($10.85)
  • Blue Elk ($12.95)
  • French Fries (3.50)

Liked

  • Bacon Cheeseburger ($12.95)
  • Flourless Chocolate Cake ($7.50)

Needs Improvement

  • Macho Fries ($11.95)
  • Guapo Chop ($10.95 / $16.95)
  • Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($6.85)
  • Onion Rings ($4.50)

21 Harbor Point Road – Stamford, CT 06902

203-890-9686

This was a private event. The author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Hapa Burger – Food Truck Killin’ It

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Almost a year ago I visited Hapa Food truck and ordered three tacos. Little did I know that the smiling face of owner Chris Gonzales, who prepared those delicious tacos was hiding an incredible talent of delivering bold, balanced and creative cuisine. After I finished the tacos he told me I needed to try the burger. I was too full at the time and told him I would come back. Shame on me for waiting a year. Since that time Hapa has developed quite a following and Chris recently opened Miro in Fairfield, and a colleague who visited Miro told me it was fantastic,

Well…fast forward and I recently returned to Hapa for the burger. The smiling face of Chris was replaced by an equally smiling and friendly face of his wife. I ordered the HAPA burger with fries and she asked if I liked Brussels sprouts, of course I do.

The HAPA burger consists of grass-fed beef topped with pork belly, Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, house aioli, encased in HAPA’s signature ube bun.

Let’s start with the bun. Ube is a purple yam. The HAPA bun was a sweet potato bun (made with pureed ube) which gave it the distinctive purple-blue hue and a high level of sweetness, a brioche on steroids. Inside the bun was a large beef patty, which was prepared exactly to medium rare. The meat was delicious, with a loose, medium grind and slightly seared. A delightful and creamy melted slice of Cheddar cheese was melted on the patty., and then the culinary boldness appeared with the accompanying ingredients. There was a slice of pork belly atop the burger that contributed a wonderful layer of smokiness and juiciness from the fat. Now the HAPA burger offered another level of flavor…the caramelized onions. These were cooked low and slow to create a soft and delicate texture, with the inherent sweetness elevated with the addition of brown sugar. The aioli intensified an already bold combination with another level of sweet and spicy, with a touch of wasabi to kick up the heat. A thick slice of tomato and lettuce rounded out the outrageous combination.

The fries were equally creative and delicious. Topped with a cheese sauce and sweet and spicy seasonings, they were the perfect accompaniment to the burger. There was tremendous flavor in both.

Let’s not forget the Brussels sprout. They were equally outstanding. Deep fried and then finished with pico de gallo, papaya seed dressing they are some of the best sprouts I have eaten.

Overall the HAPA burger can challenge any from restaurants in the area and is a contender for best burger in Fairfield County…it is that good.

 

 

 

The Trident (Sausalito)

rsz_1dsc_1474

After a wonderful trip to Muir Woods and a hair-raising drive up/down a windy road we decided to have lunch in a relaxing environment of Sausalito and chose The Trident. It offers both inside seating plus tables on a large deck with a million-dollar panoramic view of San Francisco. It was a no-brainer grabbing a table outside.

The menu offers salads, sandwiches, burgers and plated food. One of the items, the “Golden Gate Double Crab” sandwich caught my eye. It was described as Dungeness Crab Meat, Soft Shell Crab, Arugula, Pepperoncini, House Aioli, French Roll. This had the makings of a great sandwich. I ordered it plus a side of fries. With a hefty $28 price tag, it was a major splurge.

The sandwich did not skimp on the ingredients. The roll was first slathered with a little aioli, topped with arugula and roasted pepperoncini. A large mound of Dungeness crab was next added, which was topped with a whole fried soft shell crab. The highlight of the sandwich was the sweet Dungeness, which was delicious the crispy soft shell added a great textural contrast and the arugula added the needed peppery notes. If I had one nit to the combination it was the pepperoncini, it was just a touch too spicy and detracted from the other wonderful sweet nd bright flavors.

 

The fries were pretty basic, perfectly prepared with a crispy exterior and moist interior. Service was very laid back. They prepared my wife’s salad incorrectly which was removed for a re-do and the server was told, she was “Oh OK,” with not an apology, just a little SF’ish for us east coasters. Salad #2 was delicious.

 

Overall, I would very much recommend The Trident for its view, the food and a very laid back atmosphere.

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

Parker Mansion (Westport) – Burger Review

ctb_parker_16_burgerParker Mansion opened recently in the Saugatuck section of Westport and I received several emails telling me I needed to visit and try their burger. With the weather more aligned with a good burger versus a hot bowl of soup I decided to see if the buzz was justified.

Located amongst Fleischer’s, Kawa Ni, Rainbow Thai, Rizzuto’s, and The Whelk, Parker Mansion is the latest opening in the burgeoning Saugatuck restaurant scene. The free-standing building has a few parking spots in the rear (careful in the rain as it is unpaved) and the entrance is along the right side of the building. When you enter, the bar is located to the left and if you continue down the hallway there are stairs leading to the second floor dining room. The bar has eight stools with three TVs broadcasting CNN, ESPN and MSNBC. In the middle of the room is a high-top table for six, plus additional seating for fourteen at traditional tables. The upstairs dining room seats approximately 30 guests, with a balcony overlooking the Saugatuck River. The atmosphere is open with clean lines to the décor. I chose a table in the bar area and was promptly greeted by the server, who was excellent throughout my visit.

The lunch menu offers Entrée Salads, Daily Features (entrées), and Burgers & Sandwiches.

I ordered “The Parker…chuck, short rib, porterhouse blend, cheddar, the works” and asked it prepared medium rare. The server asked if I would like fries, onion rings or sweet potato fries and I chose the fries. I inquired about “the works” and the server told me it included lettuce, tomato, frizzled onions, pickle slices, and special sauce.

When the burger arrived the first item I noticed was the size, Parker Mansion gives its guests a nice-sized burger, the patty probably weighs 6-8-ounces. The frizzled onions sat under the patty, the single slice of cheddar was melted on top and was further topped with the shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and pickles. These ingredients were all encased in a griddled Kaiser roll. It was priced at $11, including fries, which is a very good deal.

ctb_parker_cut_burger
I cut the burger in half and it was prepared just a tinge beyond my requested medium-rare. I tasted the meat and it was fantastic, some of the best meat I have eaten, this could be a major burger find. The meat was a small grind and was delicately handled for a loose texture…kudos to the meat and the preparation. There was just a touch of sear on the exterior of the patty, more would have been preferred.

Now for the test. I bit…the taste was the great meat plus the intense tang from the pickle. The rest of the ingredients were lost. How could this be? It looked so good. I decided to taste each ingredient individually. The cheddar was very bland, not a rich cheddar, the tomato slice was also less than flavorful (it was still mid-February), the lettuce was, well, shredded lettuce and the bun did not add anything. Several bites and each was the same burger-pickle combo. Such potential from the meat, lost. I tried a few of the shoestring fries. They were good and were cooked and seasoned well.

Overall, I was incredibly excited when I saw the plate and tasted the patty, the meat was fantastic. I thought this was going to contend for a top spot. Unfortunately, the other ingredients were not in the same league, and did not add to the overall combination. I hope Parker Mansion changes the accompaniments. With the quality of the meat, Parker Mansion has the potential to create one of the best burgers in the area.

541 Riverside Ave., Westport, CT 06880

203.557.9325