A Tale of Two Burgers, Part 2: 500 Degrees
After spending $20 on the kid's meal at Barclay Prime, we'd had our fill of atmosphere but not of beef. Laurence and I decided to go for the gusto and grab another burger, this time seeking out the opposite experience (no, not that opposite). Rouge owners Rob and Maggie Wasserman opened the spartan 500° in late March, and it seemed like the perfect counterpoint to the Steven Starr experience.
Where Barclay Prime offered modern leather furniture and posh steakhouse styling, 500° has backless wooden stools and industrial chic. Barclay's menu features their sliders as an afterthought, while 500° functions as a house of worship dedicated to the burger ideal. And while we were the only two people in the lounge at Barclay Prime, at 500° we were lucky to grab seats against the wall.
We both ordered The 500, which includes lettuce, tomato, cheddar, bacon and special sauce, with pickles on the side. The fries, which aren't included, come in plain, spicy and truffle varieties, and while charging for fries is unconstitutional and un-American, you're still getting a meal in the $9.00 area. High for fast food, but on par with most bars in the city. The 5 oz. burger is smaller than average, but stacked with toppings and on a fresh-baked challah roll, you're not going to mistake it for something from White Castle. The burger is given to you in a to-go bag, and is wrapped in paper and sealed with a 500° sticker, very similar to the presentation of the Dry Aged Burger at Barclay Prime. The two seem to take two different approaches to the same angle: high-end fast food. So how do they stack up?
Kyle: This is like the a priori concept of a burger. Socrates wrote discourses on the perfect burgerness of this burger. Little cows think they'll be this burger when they grow up, before they realize they'll probably end up in a menial white-collar middle-management job. You've seen this burger in every '50s malt shop and '60s surf movie. It is the metaburger.
That's not to say it's the best burger, or the perfect burger. It isn't an insult to say there is nothing special about this meal; no bizarre ingredients, no unique preparation, no ostentatious presentation. What you get here is just a plain burger, but possibly the mostly flawlessly executive plain burger you'll ever have. Every ingredient is quality, from the crisp lettuce, to the juicy tomato, to the lean beef, which has a rich flavor and fine texture, not tough and with a perfect yield. Considering the patties are just sitting on the grill for an indefinite amount of time, they came out cooked just right, with a healthy pink throughout. The special sauce has a sweet honey dijon mustard and mayo flavor, with a bit of horseradish bite, but not to a sinus-clearing degree. The truffle fries are thin cut, a little dry, but with a huge truffle flavor; if the french fries have any kind of normal potato flavor, you'd never know. They are excellent, and worth stopping by to get on their own.
Everything on this sandwich comes together well, and given the price point I'll certainly eat it again. It is less ambitious than Barclay Prime, but that being said, I'll be returning here much more often. A solid, above-average burger worth eating. Rating: 7/10
Laurence: I'm not a huge fan of tomatoes. In general, I avoid them. But when it comes to a great tomato on a great burger, the tomato is where it's at. I'm skeptical of fast food, which just means I haven't traveled enough. So, when a friend told me that the burger at 500° was a knockout, I avoided putting it on the secret Burgerdelphia burger queue. I am going to admit that I was a fool: the burger at 500° is a knockout. It's by far the best fast food burger I've ever had.
Back to the tomato... tomato is a delicate fruit. Normally at fast food places (and even some slow food places) they have the texture of a dead fish and the taste of air. The tomato at 500° was bright red, juicy and loaded with flavor I'd expect from something fresh from the garden. It may seem a strange detail but I think it's representative of the thought that goes into the burger here. The secret sauce on The 500 (the signature burger) had hints, dare I say, of wasabi. It was subtle but wonderful. The cheese was gooey and blended oh so well with the other flavors. The meat was tender, and had a fresh-from-the-grill outer char. The bacon too, was great. And for the price tag ($5.75), it's hard to beat. All in all I'd say this is as good as a burger can be without going above and beyond. Oh, and the truffle fries are badass! Score: 7/10
You won't find a better fast food burger. Excellent ingredients, no-fuss service, and the best fast-food fries you've ever had. And come on, you've spent $5 on worse things. Eat this burger.