The Next Great Cheeseburger Is Sold From a Midtown Office Building for $27. It's Vegetarian.
Also, a few words on why it’s fun to splurge on very good sandwiches, followed by a review of a really good French dip
The big brisket hot dog has received no shortage of attention at Mischa, chef Alex Stupak’s chic new restaurant in Midtown. This is understandable. The plebeian foodstuff — it normally costs a few bucks from a street vendor — runs $29 here, a price that feels about right for a frankfurter sold from the bottom floor of one of the world’s largest investment banks.
But while so many folks focus on the lush sausage — served to patrons who seem like they’d pay $53 for pizza — it’s worth spending a bit of time on dishes that haven’t benefited from as much fanfare, like a burger that’s easily one of the city’s finest.
Stupak, a famously creative chef (check out Empellon’s faux avocado dessert), forges his five-ounce patty from a blend of shiitakes, creminis, and maitakes, which he seasons with paprika and white soy. He griddles it for a handsome Maillard char, then places it on a buttered marble rye bun — with each half decked out in American cheese, Joe Junior-style. On the side is lettuce (unnecessary), sliced pickles (good), raw onion (vital), and instead of fries, two foot-long tater tots (fantastic).
The burger costs $27 and it’s as rich and meaty as anything cut from ribeye or chuck. The patty itself almost looks like a Shack Burger. Yet it contains no meat.
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The mere presence of a veggie burger — Mischa calls it a patty melt — isn’t a huge deal in 2023. This is an era when you can freely stroll into any Burger King across our fruited plain and enjoy the industrial bounty of a fake-meat Impossible patty.
But what’s curious about Mischa is that it’s a rare non-vegetarian restaurant whose only burger is vegetarian. A hungry carnivore will find no Whopper here. I suppose this isn’t the same thing as a fictional Smith & Wollensky waiter telling you that the only steaks are cauliflower steaks, but it’s not too far off from that scenario.
It’s a situation that highlights the cultural capital that meat-free patties and other leafy sandwiches wield today. These burgers enjoy their voguishness for a variety of environmental and ethical reasons, but more importantly they frequently have their defenders because they taste really, really good.
In fact, there’s not another burger in the city I crave as much as Mischa’s patty melt. I ordered it around 8:30 p.m. on a recent Friday, when the dining room was populated by folks who look like they just dropped by from the closest hedge fund or driving range.