Last week, Umami Burger (432 Sixth Avenue) unveiled one of the most vile-sounding seasonal specials we’ve encountered in this business. That would be the “Pumpkin Spice Latte Burger”: a beef patty topped with pumpkin pie-spiced mascarpone cheese, tempura-battered kabocha squash, a coffee-molasses drizzle — and a little garlic aioli. “Umami Burger decided to have a little fun with their fall-themed creations this year, and the end result is a burger-fied version of everyone’s favorite flavor obsession — the Pumpkin Spice Latte,” a spokeswoman told us in an email.
As if it weren’t bad enough to have missed the memo that everyone’s hating on the pumpkin spice this year, Umami Burger has managed to come up with what may well be the lamest marketing tagline of 2014: “Nothing #basic about it.”
That said, we’re equal-opportunity eaters — willing to sample all manner of insect or innard, still harboring fond memories of the mystery casseroles of our youth (you know: whatever leftovers were in the fridge + Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup + breadcrumbs), open to junk- or fast-food novelty of any stripe. Heck, we don’t even share the pumpkin-spice vitriol that’s going around. (Not that we’re jonesing for a Starbucks venti, but we’re not saying no when someone offers a pumpkin beer or cocktail or pastry or, hell, latte.)
We were pretty sure we’d draw the line at a burger. How could this possibly be a good idea?
But we tried it.
And…it’s not bad.
Ordering it was an obstacle, because we found we couldn’t make our mouth form the words, ” ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte Burger,’ please,” and so we were reduced to gesturing at the marketing material for the sandwich, which our server had conveniently dropped off with the menu.
But when we sank our teeth into what we were certain was going to be the restaurant version of a Pinterest fail, we were let down: Gimmick or no, this is a viable burger!
Mostly because it tastes absolutely nothing like a pumpkin spice latte. The mascarpone oozes pleasantly over the juicy patty, but we detected nothing pumpkin pie-like about the cheese (perhaps a faint hint of something citrusy, though). We couldn’t taste the coffee glaze at all, and it turns out fried squash is a decent burger topping — the vegetable adds that sort of earthy-sweet (more earthy, in this case) flavor, which happens to pair nicely with the savoriness of fatty beef, and the tempura batter provides a crisp texture that’s different from a toasted bun. The pungent garlic aioli is really the overriding flavor here, and if you like that (we do), you’ll be pleased to know that the sauce mutes many of the other potentially potent ingredients.
Would we order it again? Probably not — mostly because we still can’t bring ourselves to utter the words without feeling shame. But we ate the whole thing. And we didn’t hate ourselves one bit for that.