Mel's Burger Bar | 2850 Broadway (bet. 110th & 111th Sts.) | 212.865.7100 | | |

THE ONLY THING that I can think of that's better than opening a burger/fries/milkshake place in the middle of a highly residential area of Manhattan is to also have a highly populous school in the vicinity. The only thing, that I can think of, that would hurt a business with such geographical fortune is for the food to not be up to par.

The just opened Mel's Burger Bar has nothing to worry about, as I have discerned they will do banner business, having opened in the hub of Morningside Heights (the Upper Upper West Side), overrun with academics, a large percentage of native New Yorkers, scads of two-income, professional couples, and large families. Oh, yeah, and it happens to also be located right by Columbia University and its 23,000+ undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

The place long and large, and the atmosphere is constructed to seemingly evoke the nostalgia of the eateries/hangouts of a generation ago, represented for over a generation in the fictional representations of Milwaukee's Al's (then Arnold's) Drive-In, where Richie and the Fonz would deliberate over girls, and the diner that was the social headquarters for the classmates of Rydell High, where Rizzo would razz Danny Zuko. The finishes and flourishes of the decor, however, gives it a more modern sensibility.

Mel's even offers its own beer, available in growlers, a bottle of even older provenance that looks like it's pumped with steroids.

As my great waiter, Alex, educated me as to the nuances of its food menu, I decided to start being enjoy the "retro" familiarities of a can of PBR (if only for the great picture it would make).

I was tempted to start with a brisket chili off their appetizer menu, but chose to eat light and ordered their simply but very nicely prepared Buffalo wings.

And although there are some wonderful-sounding specialty sandwiches and entrées (such as enchiladas, a French dip, and baby back BBQ ribs), I couldn't really attend the opening of a burger joint without having a burger, and they have a list of burger options on their "burgerlicious" menu. Mel's get their exclusive Angus beef blend from Pat LaFrieda Meats (the purveyor of meats for places such as Shake Shack, 5 Napkins Burger, the Spotted Pig, and Minetta Tavern), so I knew the kitchen takes its burgers very seriously. Beyond their version of classic burgers, they offer as well a variety of unique and named burgers, Including a vegetarian Nurse Betty served on onion focaccia.

Since Mel's is located on Broadway—and since I grew in Morningside Heights (my mother herself a Columbia grad)—I ordered the Alex-recommended Broadway burger, which comes with swiss, onions, bacon, and jalapeños, served on sourdough rye toast and with a side of cole slaw. To complete the experience, I joined it with fries and housemade peanut butter & jelly milkshake (from PBR to PB&J!).

A perfect medium burger (all burgers are cooked medium unless otherwise requested), aromatic toasted rye, gooey swiss, and bright, hot, and flavorful jalapeños made for a pleasingly solid burger-eating experience. The meat was tasty and ran nicely clear with juices, without the toast's crispiness being impaired. The smoky bacon complimented—but didn't overwhelm—the pinkish beef's natural, sweet, earthiness. I know a burger's good when I forget to put my default mustard on it. (The cole slaw is phenomenal!)

As of late, you may have read, I haven't been able to finish my meals, but unlike previous recent dining out experiences, I chose to bring my leftover wings, burger, and fries home to enjoy in the near future, they were all that good.

Even though the place was started to fill up, I was able to briefly wax nostalgic with the cordially professional manager, Steven Kay, as we both grew up in the city and attended rival preparatory schools and commiserated and the same hangouts. He expressed his hope that Mel's would become a place for neighborhood denizens, too, "hangout". Grabbing my leftovers on my way out the door, I assured him that, despite the two bus commute, he should expect me to spend many happy days as a "Mel's diner".

Bun Apple Tea!


Mel's Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Mel's Burger Bar | 2850 Broadway (bet. 110th & 111th Sts.) | 212.865.7100 | | |