We live in an age where high end burgers are now the new normal, and nobody bats an eye at spending more than $15 for one. We’ve been sold by the clever marketing that justifies the price tag because the meat patty is extra special due to its high-grade, dry-aged, grass-fed nature and because it comes with foie gras or truffles on top. The market for premium patties in New York is pretty frothy, which explains why Au Cheval, a restaurant in Chicago long touted as being home to the best burger in America, is now bringing its $17.95 cheeseburger out East, in a somewhat seedy alley in Cortlandt Alley in Tribeca that is dark and smells like piss. It looks like they were going for that secret speakeasy vibe, normally frequented by the members of the city’s underbelly, but its burger is so good that regular people should be willing to risk their lives to try it.
Inside, the restaurant is massive and feels like some sort of cavernous steakhouse in the midwest. There’s no doubt about its roots in Chicago. Likewise, the famous burger is also enormous and is laughably described as a “single”, when in fact it comes with two juicy patties, and the “double’ actually comes with three. I suppose you should feel good knowing that your dollars are definitely going towards extra meat, almost too much for one person to consumer on her own.
I figured that showcasing so much meat meant a certain degree of confidence in its flavor, which was why I was surprised by how tepid and bland the patty was on its own. Without all the sauce, pickles and cheese, the burger was pretty much a plain Jane. Those who harbor nostalgia for a McDonald’s style of burger that is basic and comes simply adorned with just cheese and pickles may be a fan of the Au Cheval one, but if you’re looking to extract something more meaningful from the patty itself, you’ll be disappointed.
Frankly, I found the fried bologna sandwich more memorable than the burger. The salty and rich flavors of the layers of bologna meat hit you like a ton of bricks in the best way. But it’s best in moderation, because after eating half, I couldn’t really handle all the excess on my own.
So in short, this is not home to the best burger in the city. This may be obvious to some, because how could something from Chicago ever be the best? In all seriousness, though, it’s a pretty good burger and you won’t feel mad having paid a lot for it, but you could get something similar at Pizza Loves Emily, Minetta Tavern, etc., without the potentially ridiculous waits. The one at sister restaurant 4 Charles Prime Rib in the West Village, however, is better, and much harder to get.
33 Cortlandt Alley (between White and Walker St)
New York, NY 10013