The all-American burger is front and center on Long Island's burners.
You'll have to seek out Gourmet Burger Bistro, because it's tucked away in a Port Jeff alleyway teeming with touristy shops and touristy types. (Overheard at a neighboring table: Diner: "We're on vacation here." Waitress: "Oh, where are you from?" Diner: "Nassau County.")
Here, you'll find beef, chicken, seafood and vegetable patties, often with seasonings and cheese mixed right in. Choose from three kinds of buns (whole grain, sesame or potato) and have yours plain or fancy.
A "pizza Margherita" burger - crowned with grilled San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil - wears a squiggle of roasted garlic aioli. It surprises me with its juiciness, although it's cooked medium-well, at my companion's request. There's mucho gusto in a Cuban burger draped with Swiss, smoked ham, sliced pickles and roasted garlic mayo, and I find verve in the reggiano chicken burger, Italian spices mixed into a chicken patty topped with basil pesto. What really has me gobsmacked is a "crab cake" burger topped with a spicy tarragon aioli. True, it's fashioned of surimi (imitation crab), but it's so well seasoned and loose textured, I'm almost fooled.
Fries rule. They're hand-cut, seasoned with a spice blend and served Euro-style, in a cone. Crisp sweet-potato fries have smoky depth, although those at the bottom of the cone get soggy after a while.
A tomato mozzarella "insalata" is mostly arugula, choking in an acidic balsamic vinaigrette. And a Greek-inspired spinach-feta burger is a mushy flop.
The real problem, though, is communication. An otherwise fine "build-your-own" burger with Cheddar and bacon arrives ultra well done; it was ordered "rare as possible," but they won't purposely do burgers rare here. A flavorsome "Napa Valley" burger (ground beef marinated in cabernet and topped with basil, red onion, tomato, Monterey Jack and pesto mayo), is requested medium-well; it turns up fairly bloody.
Heck, this isn't McDonald's but rather an attractive little full-service cafe whose kitchen should nail the doneness factor.
Over time, practice should make perfect (or close to it, one hopes). As things stand, you'd be lucky to snag a table at this hot little grill house.
Added 9/22/09: Best Unusual burgers on Long Island
Burger scene: Seek out this classy little burger cafe, which is tucked away in a Port Jeff alleyway.
Burger bites: Here, you'll find beef, chicken, seafood and vegetable patties, sometimes with seasonings and cheese mixed right in. Choose from three types of buns (whole grain, sesame or potato) and either pick your own toppings or choose one of the house creations. Unlike when the restaurant opened, you can now get your burger as rare or as well done as you prefer. I like the Pizza Margherita burger with grilled San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and roasted garlic aioli. There's even a Blazing Buffalo chicken burger - ground poultry with blue cheese dressing and hot sauce. First-rate fries are hand-cut, spiced up and served Euro-style, in a cone.
Burger bill: $8.75 to $11.55