Milk Burger | 2051 2nd Ave. (Bet. 105th & 106th Sts.) | 212.360.1988 | | | | |
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YES, I'M OFFICIALLY honoring National Burger Month by paying tribute to and ranking burgers past, and broadening my burger knowledge by trying burgers new. One such place that came highly recommended by a few friends whose opinions I highly value and also received surprisingly high marks from usually bitter hate forums such as Google or Yelp, as well as accolades and praise from Anthony Bourdain (says Tony: "It's a damn good burger."). That place is an innocuous little boîte called Milk Burger, a place I had passed on several M15 bus trips back from East Harlem.

Having just relocated from being on the East side of 2nd Avenue, Milk Burger surprised me by being the only shop between 105th and 106th Streets covered by construction scaffolding, hiding a modest, clinically white space with tables against a not so long banquet, and a feverishly active kitchen prepping for and churning out orders for both the first few early lunch in-house and more numerous delivery customers.

Milk Burger

Milk Burger

Milk Burger Kitchen

Milk Burger, and owner Erik Mayor, had previous suffered accusations of ripping of Shake Shack's business model and menu—exacerbated by a former intern's unfortunate decision to use a picture of a Shake Shack burger on the Milk Burger website. I deflect those detractors by reminding them that Shake Shack's nine-year old ideology seems itself a carbon copy of Steak 'n' Shake, founded in Normal, Illinois in 1934. Point being, any argument of who did what burger first is completely rendered moot; fine by me, since, bottom line, it's still just and all about how good the burger is.

Yes, comparisons can be made. Milk Burger has a signature burger sauce, as does Shake Shack and, now, over a third of new burger joints (and myself). Milk also offers a cheeseburger topped with (grilled, not deep-fried and stuffed) portobello mushroom. Menu-wise, that's where the similarities end, though. The menu sports other appetizing novelty burgers, such as a Hawaiian burger with pineapple, ham, and Oaxaca cheese, an El Barrio burger with sunny-side egg, bacon, cheddar, and jalapeño sauce, and a Guacburger, with cheese and guacamole. The guac and sauces are all made fresh in-house, and the burgers themselves are made from fresh Black Angus beef, cooked to temperature, and served on a potato bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions. They also boast a popular selection of salads, and even offer cheese fries, sweet potato fries, and plaintain chips as sides.

As I'm trying to add to and amend my list of my Top Ten Favorite NYC Burgers (So Far), I'm trying to maintain a collective unilateralism to the criteria. Yet sometimes I want a burger how I like a burger. I choose to double down; I order a single cheeseburger—many new burger restaurants are now offering singles and doubles as standard menu options—and a single Milkburger, both medium rare. I chose to adorn them with an order of fries and a black & white milkshake.

Milk Burger, Cheeseburger, and Fries

Milk Burger, Cheeseburger, and Fries

Milk Burger, Cheeseburger, Fries, and Shake

Milk Burger, Cheeseburger, Fries, and Shake

Milk Burger Fries

Milk Burger Black & White Shake

Wow! The first positive sign of how good these burgers were is that, even after several minutes of photo taking, the burgers were still plenty juicy. (With a steak, you want to let it sit after it comes off the heat so that the juices run back into the meat and don't run straight out all over the plate). With a burger, you want to bite into as quickly as possible to have as much of those juices wind up in your mouth.) Tasty, crumbly, beefy with just the right amount of salt, a truly authentic CLASSIC DINER-STYLE BURGER, heightened by crisp, fresh produce, and that aromatic, light-yet-sturdy potato bun. The signature milksauce had a little bit of a spice kick to it, and maybe a feint of acid, but I was enjoying the Milkburger so much that I quit trying to discern the secret recipe and just devoured it.

Then there are the added pluses; the stellar fries—superior to any other I can remember and retaining their perfect integrity far longer than most—and the usually ignored milkshake, here having the ideal consistency, ample flavor (individual chocolate and vanilla tastes easily discernible), and staying properly chilly without needing to be re-stirred to soften.

Owner David Mayor was on premise, overseeing all manner of operations and easily noticing me taking my pictures. He is proud to bring and offer great food at great prices to people who live above the natty Upper East Side, where I—and Bourdain—live. And we both agree that it is near tragic that the UES, one of the three most affluent of New York City neighborhoods, is also one that suffers great from a dire paucity of quality and (almost more egregiously) variety of restaurants. (I myself would love to open an even halfway decent Caribbean/Jamaican resto; I would rake it the duckets just on nannies alone!) Ironically, East Harlem has been making greater strides, with excellent and popular joints such as ABV, Earl's Beer and Cheese, La Galette, Joy Burger Bar, and now Milk Burger (I'll see you soon, Red Rooster).

David is also very proud of his self-proclaimed favorite burger on the menu. the Guacburger, topped with, of course, guacamole, which I actually watched being made fresh and from scratch just minutes earlier. I usually don't accept charity once a restaurant realizes that I have a food photo blog, but when they give me no warning, as Erik did when he presented me with a hot of the grilled Guacburger, I find it rude not to oblige.

Milk Burger GuacBurger

Erik definitely knows what he's doing when putting these handy mouthfuls together. Cool, fresh, chunky guacamole provides added texture and temperature dichotomies that greater reward the palate. I was most concerned about the combination of guacamole and cheese, but the avocado's inherent richness nicely balances the American cheese slice's noticeable sharpness. Again, another winner.

According the a vast majority of the reviews I read on Urbanspoon, Yelp, Google, and MenuPages, East Harlemites are proud to have Milk Burger added to the growing number of two few local restaurants that are part of the New York City food scene discussion. (Ten years ago, the only restaurant above 96th Street that anyone below 96th Street was ever aware of was Sylvia's, and even then, barely any of them could tell you exactly where it was, or still is.) Even I am proud to help bring attention to an underserved but deserving neighborhood—especially when these two excellent burgers, fries, and shake only cost me 15 bucks! (And am also proud to now add it to my list of Top Ten Favorite NYC Burgers).

Erik himself should be proud of his efforts make East Harlem a major player in the NYC foodie universe. But I don't think anyone is as proud as his mother is, who was not only there during my entire visit, but swings by and hangs out at Milk Burger often to support her son. Maybe East Harlem will represent the next generation of food hotspots; let's hope so.

Milk Burger's Eric Mayor and Mother

Bun Apple Tea!


Milk Burger on Urbanspoon

Milk Burger | 2051 2nd Ave. (Bet. 105th & 106th Sts.) | 212.360.1988 | | | | |