It's always a juicy story when a new burger chain hits Long Island. But these days, the crowds aren't just lined up for a patty with a secret sauce tucked inside a warm bun. Today, the beef may be grass-fed. Or the meat may be bison or boar. And the toppings can range from bacon, Cheddar and BBQ sauce to truffled mayo and mushrooms to avocado and a fried egg. Brioche bun or lettuce wrap? It's a world apart from the Golden Arches.
And it's a world Long Islanders are becoming increasingly familiar with, thanks to a new cadre of burger chains -- BurgerFi, Shake Shack, Bareburger and Smashburger -- recently arrived and expanding on the local scene.
They're here because people today are more willing than ever to spend a bit more for higher quality in their burgers, says Bret Thorn, senior editor at Nation's Restaurant News. Meeting that demand are restaurants such as the four Long Island newcomers, which Thorn defined as part of the "better burger" segment.
"Each of them has its own approach to what makes them special," Thorn said. "At Shake Shack, it's simply a good burger. At Bareburger, it's all about the hormone-free, grass-fed beef as well as premium proteins like bison and ostrich. With Smashburger, you have more creative preparations of hamburgers," he said.
Americans love hamburgers, Thorn said. "It's our quintessential comfort food." Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst for the NPD Group in Port Washington, said Americans consume more burgers than any other main dish in the restaurant industry -- in the year ended in March, Americans scarfed down 8.6 billion of them, she said.
It's up to each burger chain to grab its share of those billions. Doing well in the popularity game is Shake Shack, restaurateur Danny Meyer's Manhattan-born burger and shake chain, which has its first Long Island branch in Westbury. Here, long lines that average -- and often exceed -- 20 minutes attest to a sizable following.
"There are countless styles of burgers, and no one of them will ever be everyone's favorite," said Meyer, "but when large numbers of people gravitate to any one of them -- cult happens."
Here are the four new burger chains trying to attain status for their creations:
860 Old Country Rd., Westbury, 516-620-2880
Shake Shack, owned by Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, is an updated take on a classic Midwestern roadside burger stand. Since the first one opened in 2004 in Manhattan's Madison Square Park, it has become almost as renowned for its long lines as for its menu of Angus beef burgers, split and griddled hot dogs. A big draw is also its frozen custard, made fresh daily, and the signature dessert: the concrete, blending frozen custard with various mix-ins. Order at the counter, you're given a number, and your food is brought to you.
INSIDE THE BUN A Shack Burger, ordered rare, comes out juicy with a fresh, beefy flavor. Topped with cheese and cradled inside a toasted and buttered bun with lettuce, tomato and a pink mayonnaise "Shack" sauce, it delivers on gratification.
Burger price $4.50-$5.70; add-ons extra
8063 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury, 516-692-2600; 3115 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside, 516-415-7900; 94 Deer Park Ave., Babylon (coming soon)
Sustainability is at the core of both menu and decor at this franchise chain, where you order at the counter and get your food when your number is called. On the menu: grass-fed beef burgers, quinoa-based veggie burgers and, for dessert, frozen custard. For cultists, there's also a "secret" menu with such choices as an "alternative" burger -- smother any burger with grilled diced onions, American cheese, mustard and BurgerFi sauce -- and "urban" Parmesan herb fries with garlic aioli.
INSIDE THE BUN While the simple BurgerFi burger is hormone- and antibiotic-free, you can only get it cooked medium-well or very-well done. True, these may not be the world's juiciest burgers, but they're rescued somewhat by bright, fresh lettuce, tomato and the mayo-based BurgerFi sauce. Very good bun, too.
Burger prices $5.57-$9.97; add-ons extra
32 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-441-5711
Beef, bison or boar? That's only one of the choices you'll have to make after a server takes you through the ambitious, complicated menu. Along with "free-range, pasture- raised, humanely raised, antibiotic-, gluten- and hormone-free" meats, you get table service as well as beer and wine. You can build your own burger from a dizzying array of proteins, buns, veggies and sauces. A compelling roster of salads and sandwiches, too. Note: arched ceilings are made from recycled barns; tables fashioned of wood from storm-downed trees, floors of bamboo.
INSIDE THE BUN The good news is that you can get your burgers cooked any way you like. They may not be all that flavorful, though, given the low fat content of grass-fed beef. Toppings, such as the bright "California" combo of Cheddar, avocado, watercress, tomatoes and red onions, ramp things up a bit.
Burger prices: $8.45-$18.80 (for an ostrich brisket burger); add-ons extra
180 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville, 516-605-2235; 1223 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh, 516-308-4772; 973-975 Port Washington Blvd., Port Washington, 516-439-4736
One of the first of the new burger spots to arrive, Smashburger features attractive, industrial-contemporary digs where you order at the counter and get a number; your food will be brought to you. While there are set options, you also can build your own burger. The classic is a beef burger topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, onion and "smash sauce" on an egg bun, but there are creative combinations (the regional New Yorker burger with New York Cheddar, garlic-grilled onions, spinach, tomato and peppercorn garlic aioli on a brioche bun). Also, shoestring smash fries tossed with rosemary and garlic, salads, shakes and malts made with Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
INSIDE THE BUN Although the burgers here are only available medium or very well done, they're smashed and seasoned on the grill and are surprisingly satisfying.
Burger prices $5.29-$7.29; add-ons extra