Why two sandwiches? YOU’LL SEE!
The sandwiches: Pimento Cheeseburger from Untitled, inside the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue and 75th St. in Manhattan and the Cheddar Brat Burger, a limited-run menu item from Shake Shack. I got mine at the Upper East Side location on 86th and Lexington.
The construction: The Pimento Cheeseburger is a burger with pimento cheese spread on toasted pumpernickel bread. The Cheddar Brat Burger is a burger topped with a split, grilled cheddar bratwurst, crispy shallots and Shack Sauce.
Important background information: The burgers are linked here because Untitled, like Shake Shack, falls under the increasingly vast umbrella of restauranteur Danny Meyer’s empire.
Typically I see sandwiches as the product of a collective rather than an individual: Though we tend to credit the chef, it seems exceedingly unlikely that any sandwich I’ve eaten has ever been created from start to finish by any one human. Maybe in some cases it was constructed by the same guy that conceived it, but how often did he also bake the bread, cure the meat, cheddar the cheese and bacon the aioli?
Still, the original Shackburger is so good that if Meyer, upon its completion, took one bite, stepped away, threw his hands up in the air and bowed out of the burger game forever as he watched the lines mounting, I might very well found a cult in his honor. Due to their profusion you can now occasionally be saddled with a subpar Shackburger, but they are, in general, the perfect fast-food cheeseburger: juicy meat, soft bun, crispy lettuce, sweet tomato, creamy sauce. If Meyer left it there and asked that his name never be associated with another cheeseburger, he would at the very least take on the folk-hero status of a Harper Lee, that rare artist with the capacity to create something wonderful and remain content with its success.
What they look like (after Instagramming):
How they taste: Good, but inessential.
Let’s start with the Pimento Cheeseburger: I ordered mine rare, which was probably my mistake. Every place has its own definition of rare, so while I think I technically like my burgers toward the rare side of medium-rare, I usually order rare as code for “as rare as you’ll let me have it” — i.e. decidedly pink on the inside but still cooked through and firm. This felt more like truly rare meat, which has some certain Ron Swanson appeal but can be a little unnerving when you’re not prepared for it. That’s on me, though, so I can’t dock them points for it.
The meat wasn’t particularly notable, though. It seemed like good meat and so it was delicious, but it wasn’t especially juicy or flavorful by burger standards. The pimento cheese spread was by far the best innovation here — creamy and salty, it helped bind the burger to the bread and served a dual role as cheese and condiment. I don’t know why we needed to consolidate our toppings like that, but if you’re ever in some situation wherein someone limits you to either a cheese or a spread on a burger, consider spreadable cheese. I should note that I needed to do some redistributing here myself; as you might notice above, the bulk of the pimento cheese was on the part of the pumpernickel that contained no burger.
About that: I’m not clear on why this burger came on toasted pumpernickel. It seems like it might be for the same of Untitled’s classic coffee-shop motif, but this blog does not endorse sacrificing sandwich integrity on behalf of aesthetic uniformity. The bread was not only too large for the burger, but toasted crunchy enough to make the whole thing a bit of a chore to eat, a quality not quite mitigated by fine pumpernickel flavor. The New York Times called this “a new classic sandwich,” but to me it felt more like a forced conglomeration of discordant elements.
Still good, mind you, as it was still a cheeseburger.
The Cheddar Brat Burger was way more a sausage sandwich than it was a cheeseburger, which is to say that it was delicious but that the inclusion of the burger felt a little bit unnecessary — as much as that pains me to say. Split grilled, the sausage boasted no shortage of surface-area snap, and the crispy shallots were a revelation. They were crunchy enough to hold up under the grease of the burger and sausage and Shack sauce, plus the ketchup and mustard I added. And they added a pleasant but not overpowering flavor, to boot.
Still, I think the best bites of the Cheddar Brat Burger came not when all ingredients were consumed in conjunction but toward the end of the sandwich, when the brat had subsided and I finally got to taste that juicy, meaty Shackburger with a couple of the fried shallots left on top. That doesn’t speak well of the addition of the bratwurst. No disrespect to bratwurst.
Another Doritoed taco, that is to say.
What they’re worth: The Pimento Cheeseburger was $15. The Cheddar Brat Burger was $7.50.
How they rate: 65 for the Pimento Cheeseburger, 80 for the Cheddar Brat Burger. The O.G. Shackburger reigns supreme.