Like the Peach Pit, The Max, and Cheers, the perfect hangout spot with good friends, the right soundtrack, and decent chow may be as fictional as the places we’ve created in our collective cultural imagination. Rippers, a burger shack on the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach, aspires to be that kind of chimerical destination: a spot whose vibe is all hoots, high-fives, and the occasional beer bong.
Rippers—named after the Jersey-style deep-fried hot dog, the ripper—is a joint venture between Bushwick pizzeria Roberta’s and Williamsburg butcher shop the Meat Hook. It is not a restaurant in the standard conception of the word but a beachfront concession stand with a juice counter, a fast-food-format menu, a bare-bones bar, and picnic tables. The space has a surfer’s swagger and a wild and frenetic aesthetic, as if Lisa Frank might pop out from dry storage in a Day-Glo bikini to pound tallboys while The Ramones hammer away on the soundsystem overhead. Behind the counter, there is Rippers swag for purchase: beach towels printed with “Titties and Beer,” stickers, garish T-shirts—everything says, “Life’s a party, you’re at the beach, brah!”
Rippers, like most of the surrounding homes and businesses, was decimated by Hurricane Sandy. A month after their first summer, the storm tore away the boardwalk that anchored the restaurant, dropped the floor out from under the kitchen, and buried appliances in sand. The walk-in refrigerator was looted, and a dead cat was found lodged between the floorboards. Ripper’s future looked grim. General manager Dominic Boero says he thought, “There’s no way we are going to be able to repair by next season.” But in the race to rebuild, the city came through. “They were still pouring concrete the morning of our opening day,” Boero says. With a fresh coat of neon paint and wooden slats erected to filter out the sun, Rippers is one of the few stands in operation amid blocks of eroded beach. On a sunny day, expect a line halfway to the moon.
The food, parties, and live music ensure a rotating cast of hotties, weirdos, and hangers-on. There are local teenagers sweeping the floors, cooks from the city looking for a seasonal break from demanding restaurant jobs, and Brooklyn hipsters heading to the beach. Old-timers from the public housing across the street sit on benches and compare tattoos with youngsters. Dominican families relax and share fries. And what could be a perfunctory concession stand serving dry pucks on bad buns that taste passable because you’re 50 feet from the beach actually offers great food.
Using a nimble mix of chefly technique and cutting the right corners, the kitchen hits the mark quickly enough that the masses don’t get sunstroke waiting for their food. The ketchup is Heinz and the crinkle-cut pickles come in plastic tubs, but the hot sauce is homemade, and the veggie burger ($7.50)—a deep-fried falafel-esque patty of black beans, red quinoa, parsley, and onion—is actually something you want to eat. Hot dogs ($4) are made by the Meat Hook and have a hot, garlicky snap. Instead of twice-frying potatoes to achieve crunch (or using pre-cut frozen industrial fries), the cooks dredge freshly cut, skin-on spuds in flour, heavily seasoned with black pepper, paprika, and salt, drop them into hot oil, and fry to firm. The fries ($4) are stippled and salty, even better cloaked in cheese sauce, and, when it’s available, a chunky orange chili, burning with warm spice.
The Rippers flattop—dented, slanted, and seasoned with the melting grease of a million hamburgers—sears the beef. The patties sizzle and spurt; they’re flipped once to solidify a browned crust, then topped with American cheese that wilts over the burger, covering it like a yellow shawl. Slipped on a Martin’s potato bun with pickles, shredded iceberg lettuce, and special sauce, the cheeseburger ($7.50) is compact but juicy, a five-bite wonder. The hard body ($10)—double meat, double cheese—is double pleasure.
There are fitting specials: chili cheese nachos, breakfast burritos, and whole porgies deep-fried to order and served with cabbage slaw. There is no liquor license, just beer, tall cans of Budweiser, Bud Light, and Narragansett, with Six Point on tap and boxed wine served in plastic cups. It’s-It ice cream sandwiches and a tart frozen yogurt satisfy any sweet tooth. The sun beats down, Danzig blasts from the speakers, the beer is very cold. Have another burger; you can wash the drippings off in the surf.