Visiting The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien Hotel feels like walking into a restaurant conceived by David Lynch. But, don't be afraid. I've been there twice, and I haven't witnessed any log ladies. Moreover, any first flush of confusion at the surroundings dissipates once you order and eat the food.
The Burger Joint is hidden within Le Parker Meridien's soaring lobby, which is all sleek marble and mirrors. There is no sign of the restaurant, which is cloaked by a floor-to-ceiling velvet curtain adjacent to the reception desk. Travelers come and go, checking in, checking out while a restaurant is lurking . . . somewhere. Where's the beef? Finally, at the end of a dark passageway is the giveaway, a neon sign of a burger with an arrow pointing to the right.
Follow the sign, turn right, and here is the David Lynch moment. You have instantly crossed a threshold from a space with very high-brow aesthetics into another, much lower-brow world: Bad lighting, music blaring, wood paneling, vinyl booths, television on the wall, and the smells and sounds of burgers grilling and potatoes frying. The space, designed by MCCARTEN, is so completely unpretentious that it risks being absurdly pretentious in its artificiality (not to mention the celebrity signings on the brick wall in the back, including a huge "Ashton Kutcher Rules").
Is putting a burger place smack in the middle of an upscale midtown hotel the last gasp of trucker hat chic? Perhaps, but that's where the "irony" ends. For every Ashton signature there is also a Jerry Stiller autograph, and, thankfully, the "joint" stays true to its simple handwritten menu of burgers, fries, beer, and milkshakes without the high prices and wannabe hip vibe you would expect to find in a concept restaurant like this. You won't find any ironic "takes" on greasy spoon cuisine. No, the burger's the thing here.
For $4.50, you get a very tasty burger ($5.50 with cheddar) and "the works" wrapped up in butcher paper. The burger is not huge, but a size you can actually take a bite out of without making a total mess. Tightly wrapped in paper, the burger reminded me of those delicious patties served at the West coast chain In-N-Out. The crunchy fries, skinny and freshly cooked to order, are served in a brown paper bag, and draught beer is served in plastic cups. If you are not satiated after the burger, be sure to top off the meal with with a black and white milkshake made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.
The Burger Joint, 118 West 57th Street (in Le Parker Meridien Hotel), 212.245.5000.