The Tallgrass Burger at Tallgrass Burger in the East Village
The Tallgrass Burger incorporates avocado, fried onion rings, and yellow cheddar cheese to make a real gutbomb.
It was a sign of the times: Long-running Filipino eatery Elvie's Touro-Touro on First Avenue in the East Village closed recently, to be replaced almost immediately by an upmarket hamburger joint intended to push all the right foodie buttons.
You can get a very nice view of the street from inside Tallgrass Burger.
Sadly, Elvie's was the last vestige of a Philippine micro-neighborhood that formed around the corner of West 14th Street and First Avenue in the 1970s, when vast numbers of Southeast Asian hospital workers -- including nurses, doctors, physical therapists, etc. -- were imported to work at nearby Beth Israel Hospital. This community once boasted three convenience stores and four restaurants.
The replacement is Tallgrass Burger, a name intended to suggest a special origin of the beef used in the 1/3 pound patties, though no sign or certificate says exactly where the beef comes from. Indeed, all over the newly renovated premises -- which feature big picture windows, and comfortable tables and counter seating -- are slogans suggesting the ground beef is local, grass-fed, and organic. And who are we to wonder about documentation?
Heavily paved with cheese and garlic, the fries merit a rating of "Not bad."
The signature Tallgrass Burger ($8.50) features very fresh slices of avocado, nicely fried onion rings, plus the usual roughage, on a seeded roll piled so high that you may despair of eating it in the normal way and begin deconstruction immediately. The opulence of the presentation is impressive, but I have three fundamental doubts:
1. While the Tallgrass Burger arrives with a dribbly yellow condiment described as mustard-horseradish sauce, it had little effect on the flavor of the entire assemblage. Other burgers are served dry, and the only condiments provided include ketchup and mustard; the place seems oblivious of the need for mayo on a burger.
2. The avocado-onion ring-cheddar-meat patty idea doesn't seem like a very good one. The flavor of onions is blunted by the breading, and the avocado just looks pretty and provides lube without contributing any flavor.
3. I didn't find the beef itself to be as fresh-tasting as I might have hoped. In a semi-luxury burger (which is what I consider this to be, given that, with tax, the cost tops out over $9), you expect the meat flavor and juiciness to dominate, and in this case they didn't.
So, thinking it was a fluke, I went back a few days later just to be sure. On this occasion I ordered the pared-down Classic Burger, which is basically just meat, roughage, and seeded bun. No condiments on the burger, and only ketchup and mustard provided.
And, once again, the flavor of the meat itself was a little flat and off. I'll check again in a month or so, but so far, this place isn't even close to being numbered among downtown's best burgers. 214 First Avenue, 212-253-2990
The plain "Classic" burger proves a little low on flavor and condiments, but the pickle slices are great.
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