Let me tell you a story about how one awful waitress nearly ruined a great restaurant for me. On a random, spur of the moment Saturday evening, Amy and I decided we wanted to go out for date night dinner and drinks.
We had each heard nice things about Burger & Barrel and were particularly excited to try Josh Capon’s food because we frequently watch him on TV fixing awful kitchens on Bar Rescue. I also had heard that a few months back at this year’s NYCWFF Burger Bash, Josh’s burger was voted the best in the city. For all of these reasons, Amy and I were excited to experience Burger & Barrel for ourselves.
We hopped on Open Table and snagged a reservation then immediately walked over to the restaurant to be seated. My first impression upon entering the space: this was a very sexy restaurant. The room was dark with a slight glow coming from candles and the backlit bar. It’s definitely got that date night vibe.
The hostess immediately seated us at a two-top near the bar right in the middle of the space and our with menus and we quickly decided to begin with some cocktails and three small plates. We placed our order as soon as the waitress came by our table. Our cocktails arrived lightning fast and all three small plates came moments later. We wanted to get some salt and pepper for one of our small plates, but our waitress was nowhere to be found. It was at this point we realized that we were going to have an issue.
Even though we were right in the middle of the restaurant in a highly trafficked location, it took us over 20 minutes to grab our waitress’ attention to get some salt and pepper. We watched as she dashed around the room serving all of the other tables, blatantly ignoring us. We watched the clock as we wondered if she would be ever even check on us to see if everything was alright. She didn’t. It took her another 15 minutes to return to us after the salt request.
This neglect did not make us feel very welcomed and honestly I think it might have to do with our age. We are a couple in our mid-twenties and I bet the fact that we ordered small plates caused her to write us off as a small check with a small tip. This is a rude thing to assume and is really unacceptable. She assumed that’s all we were going to order and she was dead wrong. We were planning to have the famed Bash Burger after our small plates and were probably going to have some more cocktails, but she never asked. We finished our small plates, the busboy cleared our table, then ten minutes later the waitress returned with our check. She never asked if we wanted anything else, just moved us along so she could fill the table with new customers. Not nice.
Anyway, I should tell you about the food and drinks we did have on this visit. I began with a cocktail called the B&B Que which was made with Makers Mark bourbon, Laphroig scotch, Cherry Heering, and Nonino Amaro. I was fairly certain before selecting this drink that I would enjoy it since it has all of the elements I look for in a nice cocktail. It was sweet, smokey, boozy, bitter, and complex, just the way I like it.
The first small plate to arrive was the White Bean Dip. I definitely have to advise against this dish. The dip was dry and pastey and needed olive oil or something to thin out the texture. It was also really lacking any sort of seasoning to give a flavor other than white bean. Pass on this one.
Next, we had the Rock Shrimp Hush Puppies which were tasty, but pretty dense and bready with just a bit of seafood flavor. I enjoyed the citrusy yogurt dipping sauce, but don’t really have a strong opinion on this dish otherwise.
Finally, we get to the Classic Steak Tartare. This was perfection. It was absolutely one of the best renditions of the dish I’d ever had. The large pieces of tender, raw beef were extraordinarily fresh and flavorful and went really well with the crispy toast points, crispy fried capers, spicy Dijon mustard, and crisp frisée. It was a simple dish, done just right. I’d love to have this tartare again, but this waitress made us really miserable.
At this point, Amy and I gave up on the meal due to our waitress’ neglect. We paid our tab and moved on with our night without sampling the burger or ordering any more cocktails. She didn’t deserve a larger bill from us and we didn’t want to put ourselves through any more discomfort.
Well, I wasn’t actually willing to give up on Burger & Barrel that easily, especially without trying the famed Bash Burger. A few weeks later I decided to return on my own to tackle the beast of a burger by myself.
I had an evening on my own and had intended to sit and the bar where dining solo is less awkward. But the bar was full, so I ended up at a two-top by myself and that was fine with me. I actually ended up getting seated in the exact location as the first fateful visit so I wondered if I might end up with the same server. I didn’t, thankfully.
Very quickly I was greeted by my friendly and helpful waiter who took my beer and burger order as soon as I was seated. The draft beer I chose, the Riverhorse Tripel, came out lightning fast and kept me nice and happy while I waited for my burger to arrive. My waiter indicated that the beer I selected was brand new on tap that night and was a great selection. I totally agreed. This Belgian style tripel was awesome and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for this New Jersey brew.
Soon, my anxious waiting concluded as the towering burger behemoth approached my table. This thing was piled high with a bright pink, medium-rare, juicy, meaty burger patty served on a thick brioche bun topped with long, thin pickles and an insane concoction called Bacon Jam. Let me say that again, Bacon Jam.
Holy cow this was delicious. It was an extraordinarily messy, but sincerely outstanding burger. The savory, sweet mixture of caramelized onion jam combined with the crispy, salty, greasy bacon crumbles made for such a dreamy, want-to-bathe-in-it, incredible topping. The slightly charred, but insanely moist burger patty was cooked really well, but the lustworthy bacon jam stole the show.
As I was swiping up every last bit of bacon jam from my plate, the general manager came over and said “sorry that sucked so much” with a laughing smile. On this visit, there was really friendly, attentive service and it was much appreciated.
If you’ve been following me here on WinstonWanders for a while, you may have noticed that I don’t eat dessert very often. I’m usually inclined to just save my belly’s room for more savory items, but after polishing off this burger, I had a feeling this place would do dessert right. I selected the Warm Chocolate Toffee Cake and am confident I chose well. The cake was deep, dark, sticky, rich, and moist and came serve with a plate of candied pecans and caramel-flavored ice cream. The mixture of hot & cold, crunchy & soft, and salty & sweet made for quite a satisfying end to this journey.
So, although Amy and I didn’t have a very good experience on our first visit, I found myself blown away by the attentive service and excellent food on my second. Unfortunately, I think I had a lame waitress the first time around and have learned that if you stick to the beef options on the menu, you’ll be in good shape. B&B, you’ve redeemed yourself.
Know another epic burger in NYC? Let me know in the comments below.
Burger & Barrel
25 W. Houston St. New York, NY 10012