Burger Zaken – Okay Burgers, Awesome Fries

I broke the cardinal rule on this vacation.

I ate an all American food in a foreign country and expected to be impressed.

Americans don’t do everything well. We don’t have the greatest mass transit in the world. We are totally prudish on some things at which other countries barely bat an eye. But, we do a few things perfectly:

Baseball. Movies. Burgers.

So when I went to Burger Zaken in Amsterdam, I was just setting myself up for disappointment. To start off,the place is very nice – casual and bustling with both counter and waiter service and a straightforward menu filled with different burger options like Dutch beef, Kobe beef, chicken, and veggie. There are also a few salads and freshly made fries. come here looking for a casual meal – think jeans and sneakers.

amsterdam day 2 027 A burger calls for an ice cold Coke light.
amsterdam day 2 028 Dutch beef burger with fries

It’s kind of awesome that the burgers here come dressed similarly to In-n-Out. Some things are universal, and special sauce is one of them. The burger is well sized but not overwhelming and the fries are also well portioned. The burger is…

amsterdam day 2 030 Okay, at best. Mostly because the meat has to be cooked to medium. It is excellent beef – robust and really earthy. It tastes like it might be grass fed. However, that also means that it is less fatty and results in a slightly dry, bouncy burger. It’s too bad that it is packed so tightly, because the flavor really is excellent. The special sauce is tart, tangy, and creamy, but it isn’t enough to save the burger or the worst bun in the history of mankind. The bun is dry, leaned, and so hard that I almost chipped a tooth whilst trying to eat it. It was an okay burger but a better bun would have really improved it. Luckily, the veggies were all fresh and vibrant. It still isn’t something for which I would return.

amsterdam day 2 031 The fries – now, there is a special order. These are wonderful, as are most fries in Amsterdam. Crunchy, buttery, fluffy, and ideal iwth rich mayonnaise.

Fries with mayonnaise is perhaps the greatest invention since the wheel. 

Sadly, this burger place is not where it’s at. It’s cheap and serviceable, but it can’t hold a candle to most burgers I am used to.

But that’s okay. Because the fries here often taste like soggy salt licks, and I would currently crawl over broken glass for just one of Burger Zaken’s frites.

Febo – Amsterdam’s Automat

Amsterdam isn’t all hoity toity sausage and world class fries.

Some of the stuff there is just quick grub that the locals eat. It’s as familiar as McDonald’s but to me, it’s like a gastronomic sociological study.

Yeah, I use big words when I discuss fast food. 

amsterdam day 3 017 Febo is an automat – you know, an inexpensive eatery filled with those automated windows that dispense food when you drop a coin in the slot.

amsterdam day 3 018 It’s a very casual affair – we saw kids coming in after school, adults looking for a late night drunk snack, and then a couple of tourists, like us. Don’t expect to be able to sit down to eat – it’s strictly stand and scarf.

amsterdam day 3 020 There is a plethora of items including many different kinds of croquettes, a hamburger, and French fries (at the cash register, not the automat windows), but if you are smart, you will go for the specialburger.

amsterdam day 3 021 This specialburger is one of a kind. A loosely packed meat patty with beef and pork, fried in a thick crust and served on a standard bun with zesty sauce. It’s fried and crunchy and soft and greasy – the way that all fast food burgers are. The main difference here, besides its croquette form, is that really zesty sauce. It’s peppery, garlicky, and tangy – almost like something you would pay good money for on the side of poached salmon in a sit down restaurant.

amsterdam day 3 022 Fried satee, anyone?

amsterdam day 3 023 A big ole log of fried Thai style bbq beef and peanut sauce.
amsterdam day 3 024 Not the most nuanced Asian food I have ever eaten, but nicely spiced with ginger and coriander and served at a perfect temperature.

Febo locations are all over Amsterdam and I highly recommend you go. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, and its really where the locals go!

Because after all the canals and the Van Gogh museum and the tulips…

You really need to trash it up with some fast food. 

Steak and Shake

My love for Midwestern fast food chains  knows no bounds, so when Steak and Shake made its first Manhattan appearance, I was pretty sure it would be love at first bite.

Sometimes it almost HURTS to be so right all the time about everything.

This restaurant, purportedly the inspiration for Danny Meyer’s popular Shake Shack chain, specializes in steakburgers, hand spun shakes, and shoestring fries. The Manhattan location is small but very clean – more like a diner than a standard fast food restaurant. There are only a few booths and counter seats, and you may find yourself sharing your two top table with a stranger, so be prepared. Though this is a fast food restaurant, the food is all made to order, so it won’t come as fast as other fast food restaurants with food sitting under heat lamps. Just place your order, snag a seat, and listen for your number to be called.

Single Steakburger with All Condiments

This is the quintessential fast food burger. A thin patty served on a buttery, toasted roll piled high with mayo, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and a whole garden of vegetables. Most burgers come with 2 patties but this is perfect for a substantial snack. Though two patties would change the taste of the burger, this burger would still be about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The thin but juicy patty, the crisp veggies, the piquant mixture of sauces, and that warm griddled bun. The blend of meat is excellent, so it manages to retain some integrity, unlike many other burgers in this category. At just about 300 calories, this burger is practically guilt free.

Fries

The way McDonald’s fries used to be, so I hear. Crispy, salty, potatoes and greasy without being soggy. So fantastic they don’t even need any dipping sauce.

Steak Frank

For those of you who like wieners.

That’s what she said.

Steak and Shake is quite cheap, very efficient, and totally tasty. The fact that you can get a small burger there for 300 calories is just great for people on a diet or watching their sodium intake. And its great for anyone who loves a good Midwestern chain.

Steak 'n Shake Signature on Urbanspoon

Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen – Awesome Milkshakes Near Port Authority

Port Authority can be a hard place to grab a bite. If you only have an hour, you don’t have enough time to run to 9th Avenue, and maybe you don’t feel like ramen that day. That’s when you need to know about Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen.

Schnipper’s is a casual restaurant with 2 locations run by the brothers who started Hale and Hearty. It is a joint where you order at the counter, take a buzzer, and are paged when your food is ready. Then you go get your food and eat it in either the large, serviceable dining room or the outside patio area. The patio area overlooks Port Authority, so it isn’t exactly scenic, but it can make for some great people watching. The food here is classic diner-meets-burger joint, and there is something for everyone, from gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to fish tacos to the best milkshakes in the city.

Fresh Market Salad with beets, corn, avocado, radish sprouts, toasted almonds, croutons,
tomatoes, chick peas, parmesan, and vinaigrette

For a casual burger-oriented spot, this salad was surprisingly tasty. Fresh, crisp vegetables with special items like peppery radish sprouts and buttery hunks of avocado. The vinaigrette is creamy and mild, a perfect addition to the salty parmesan on the salad. This isn’t enough for a meal, but it is a good way to get in your vegetables. Especially if you also get an order of…

Chicken Fingers and Fries

This isn’t fancy, but it is fantastic. Crispy, light breading that breaks apart with an audible crunch to reveal moist meat. The chicken fingers taste  indulgent, but not at all greasy or heavy. Seasoned well, with a slight kick from just enough pepper, these are dynamite when dipped in the restaurant’s homemade honey mustard sauce that is sweet, thick, and tangy. The fries are also excellent – universally crispy and well salted, the only suitable accompaniment for chicken fingers. The fires are also delicious when ordered “Sloppy” style, topped with a loose, hearty chili that is similar to Cincinnati style chili.

Vanilla Malt Milkshake

*photo is of a different milkshake, but you get the idea*

This alone is worth the trip to midtown. The perfect consistency – thick enough to scoop with a spoon but not so thick that it stalls in the straw. Creamy, not icy. Sweet and aromatic with real vanilla flavor. Ask to add a scoop of malt powder for an additional layer of nutty, almost umami flavor. The other flavors are good, especially the coffee, but the vanilla milkshake is by far the best. The malt really brings this milkshake over the top, and is the best that I have had in Manhattan.

Schnipper’s has its pros and cons. Unfortunately, it can be insanely busy at lunchtime, it is a little pricey, and though the chicken fingers are great, I can’t say it’s worth a trip from another part of town. But, if you are in midtown and want a meal that is tasty but isn’t fast food, I would absolutely say head to Schnipper’s.

And, if you are a milkshake fiend, ignore any of the cons. It is worth the money, it is worth the subway or cab fare. Just go there.

Port Authority never had it so good.

Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen (41st/8th) on Urbanspoon

Merritt’s Burger House

I have had hamburgers. I have had fries. I have even sat at a drive-in at Sonic. 
But never have I had a hit of nostalgia like I did at Merritt’s Burger House
 This drive-in in Wilmington, NC is the real deal, offering southern fast food since 1958. It’s the type of place where you pull up outside the restaurant and wait for someone to come take your order. Then you relax in your car before she comes back and clips a tray with your food onto the car window. The person who takes your order is likely a Merrick – it is still family run. Be prepared to wait awhile folks – yes, waiting is the theme of this Southern sojourn. 
But when the food comes, it is just exactly what you want.
 Diet Sun Drop
My dad became obsessed with this drink, which neither of us have ever seen up North. A very sweet citrusy drink, it was like a cross between Sprite and Fresca. Too sweet for me, but my dad wanted to buy a case before we flew home. 
Fries
Crinkle cut, frozen, slightly greasy. Salted and also brought with a shaker of salt on the side.  
 Merritt’s Cheeseburger
American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. I should have asked for ketchup, but I enjoyed it with some Texas Pete’s hot sauce just as much. Flattened, bun and all, on the grill so the burger was smashed together, a homogeneous brick of meat, bun, cheese, and toppings. 
 Hot Dog All the Way
Even better than Allen and Sons, due no doubt to the electric red hot dog – a flavor delivery system for salt, spice, and rich meat. 
Hush Puppies
Sweeter and markedly lighter than other ones we tried. These were almost glazed they were so sweet, and totally delicious. My favorites of the trip.
I know I haven’t said a lot about the food here. That’s because…you know how it is. You know that the burgers are warm and soft, not too salty or heavily spiced. You know that the fries are oily and fluffy on the inside, delicious when dunked in Heinz ketchup and stuffed into the burger. You know that drinking soda while lazily dangling your hand outside the car, soaking up the sunshine and relaxation is almost as tasty as the meal itself. 
You know this because you have experienced this. Probably not since you were a kid, but you have. You know all about it.
And you know you have to go here when you are in North Carolina. 
Merritt's Burger House on Urbanspoon

Skyline Chili – A Love Story

Some stories are best told with no words at all.
Such is the tale of my first visit to the fabled Skyline Chili:
If you don’t like feeling happy, don’t eat here.
Just more chili dogs and chili on spaghetti (4 way – with cheese and onions) for the rest of us.

Bon Chon on John

Say THAT five times fast!

 

Bon Chon is a Korean restaurant chain that has recently opened outposts in NYC.  It specializes in fried chicken.  Korean Fried Chicken-gives KFC a whole new meaning, hey?

I crack myself up.

 

ANYWAY…Korean Fried Chicken is not like traditional American fried chicken in the south.  It is coated in a thick batter and served with waffles, but rather fried twice and dipped in a soy-garlic, slightly spicy sauce.

This Bon Chon location is casual but very nicely appointed, with dark wooden chairs and tables…

And a bar with shochu and beer along the side of the restaurant. There is a 4-8 pm happy hour deal every day of the week.  Booze AND spicy fried chicken?  Be still my HEART!

And acclaims from Esquire and the New York Times line the wall.  What more could you want?

Except the return of the tv series Avonlea.  You might want that.

Lunch specials come in small, medium, and large sizes, and you can get spicy or mild wings, drumsticks, all white meat, or chicken strips.

Once we ordered from the counter at the back, and got our cans of Diet Coke, we waited for about 10 minutes until we recieved…

Our chicken!! Don’t they look like Korean happy meals?

Once we opened the cartons, the smell of soy, chilis, and garlic wafted up towards us.

And then I took a bite.

Sticky. Sweet. Spicy.  Succulent.  Any other delicious “S” words you can think of probably apply here.  The skin was LITERALLY the most delicious chicken skin I had ever tried.  It was so crispy and well fried that there was an air pocket in between the skin and the meat. As a result from the high frying temperature, the chicken was (shockingly!) utterly greaseless!  The sauce was sweet and spicy, like the most delicious chili sauce in the world.  It was not mouth searing, just gently tingling on the lips.  The strips were coated in the same sauce minus the heat-the sauce tasted of  herbaceous ginger, salty soy, caramelized sugar, and pungent garlic.  Can they make me a perfume like that, please? The chicken itself was moist and fell easily away from the bone.

For my side I got the kimchi coleslaw.  It was basically your everyday, mayonnaise based coleslaw with a little kimchi marinade poured in.  I was disappointed with it-I was looking forward to a super garlicky, vinegar based slaw.  But I still ate it.  Because-need I remind you?  I am a pig

Fries.  Medium thickness, freshly fried, salty and crispy, these babies were a NATURAL match for the chicken.  Fried and Fried…it sounds like the beginning of a love sonnet…

This is what our tray looked like at the end of the meal.

Gee, ya think we liked it?

Well, we LOVED it!  We both got the small meals, and with one side each and 3 drumsticks or 6 chicken tenders, plus a soda each, the total was under $18.  The restaurant was nice enough to go to with friends, and casual enough that we could sit there sopping wet and not feel out of place!  The staff was quick and courteous, the price was right, and the food was SENSATIONAL. I can’t WAIT to go back for the happy hour special, and this time…I’m getting the large!

Bonchon Chicken on Urbanspoon