the burger: Schnipper Old Fashioned: a flat top classic 5 oz griddled patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, house sauce, double cheese(American) and griddled onion
the bucks: $6.99
the coordinates: New York, NY
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
I supposed that could best describe how Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen fits into the burger narrative of New York City. One bite, Hell, one glance at their burger will have you thinking Shake Shack faster than a line can form at the Madison Square Park location with David Chang thrown into the mix. The building blocks of burger cookery at Schnipper’s and Shake Shack are certainly similar enough to call the two restaurants rivals. Though I believe much thought went into the creation of the burger at Schnipper’s; namely the epic food road trip that brothers Andrew and Jonathan Schnipper embarked upon prior to conception and opening, it’s not hard for many to simply call Schnipper’s a Shake Shack clone. Unlike that lingering issue with the chicken and the egg, there is no debate on who came first. Shake Shack captured the hearts of burger lovers in New York City back in 2004 and no one has looked back since. But in a city as big as New York, there has always been room for a little competition. By the way, Shake Shack ain’t hurting for business, cue those infamous lines of people waiting up to an hour, locations opening up nationwide and the company going freaking public. And really what’s wrong with making a clone of something awesome? I suppose the aversion we have to clones comes down to all those sci fi movies coming out of Hollywood where clones, especially of ourselves, turn out to be really evil and cause wanton destruction and mayhem. And since real life seldom serves up a Will Smith or Bruce Willis to handle these evil clones, we remain generally weary of them. Well I say don’t think of Schnipper’s as a clone. Think of it a necessary intervention by the powers that be to make awesome burgers more accessible, like how the New Deal provided jobs for an out of work populace. Only this time instead of jobs it’s quality burgers for John Q Public who are on the clock with an hour to spare. Whatever you call it, you will be paying $7 for a near perfect cheeseburger. Cloning might be an evil thing in Hollywood, but when it comes to cloning an iconic cheeseburger style at Bang for your Burger Buck – clone on.There are a number elements that make Schnipper’s such a damn successful burger, but none are more important than a uniformly well browned exterior that comes from a masterful charring at the griddle. This is a staple of the flat stack burger experience, one that the burger world has actually gotten better at over time. It’s not an easy feat to master. Some flat stacks fail because their patties are too small, and would dry out by the time they reached that gorgeous hue(I’m looking at you In-N-Out). In comparison, Steak N Shake does a slightly better job thanks to larger patties. But Shake Shack took the game to a whole new level with nailing the perfect size(not too thick, not too thin) and upping the overall quality of the beef. The result is a burger that benefits from the texture and subsequent Maillard flavors from deep browning, yet the burger emits plenty of savory juices from first bite till last. This is the only burger style at Bang for your Burger Buck where a cooked through patty is a welcomed sight to see. Now here comes Schnipper’s, taking a page from Shake Shack’s winning playbook. They chose to griddle a burger of a similar enough size and quality type yielding the same successful result: a solid burger patty foundation for a flat stack burger lover’s version of a perfect cheeseburger experience. Seldom does flattery look this delicious:Recently David Chang went off on a bit of a burger rant where he lambasted lettuce and tomato. I wholly welcome burgers, and sandwiches for that matter, that recreate a ubiquitous burger/sandwich experience without these oft overused toppings. But when it comes to putting together a classic burger experience, you would be a fool to dismiss the power of the all mighty roughage. Familiarity carries weight, and perhaps I am simply tipping my cap to my childhood burger memories, but memory is a powerful thing when it comes to comfort food. At Schnipper’s, the Holy burger cold topping trinity of lettuce, tomato and pickle is alive and well and the quality is up to the same standards of the beef. Many a Bang for your Burger Buck have delivered standard to subpar lettuce, or a mealy tomato that was made passable thanks to a heavy dousing of burger sauce a la Thousand island. No need to dunk the greens in pink stuff at Schnipper’s. This lettuce is good enough to stand tall in salad form. And considering they have salads on the menu, that’s big talk that can be backed up. Not that I would know, as I skipped the salad at Schnipper’s, and for obvious reasons: I had my hands full with a near perfect cheeseburger. The more I revisit the pics the more I am confounded by the magical act that was Schnipper’s melting the cheese underneath the burger. Perhaps enough heat was carried from the griddle with a well timed scoop and layering of the burger patty to ensure a good melt on the lower decks of this burger ship. But you know what? Screw logic and the sea vessel analogy. No matter the reason, this burger had the ooey gooey going. Then there are those griddled onions, which truth be told I almost forgot about until I revisited the cross section pics where the little minced white jewels revealed themselves. Much like onion in meatloaf, these white morsels combine with beef to create a hearty savoriness. It beefs up the beef when faced with a sea of salt and cream coming from the double layer of cheese. Depending on my mood, I will choose a slab of raw onion but for the onion averse or for those who enjoy subtlety, griddled onion on burgers is a God send and always a cheap option. Lest we forget that the onion is the poor man’s truffle, the Old Fashioned at Schnipper’s surely will serve as a good reminder. The pickle was nothing to sneeze at either, thick and sweet, the kind that comes from an expensive jar at Whole Foods. The sauce was applied with restraint, a technique to ensure that the all the flavors of the burger come out. These toppings are familiar territory of course but they were measured and layered with precision and were of quality. Many burgers have gotten away with less at this price point, so tip your cap. While I love a shack that gets generous with the beef, or a chef driven burger that is surprising you with a high end concept at a below market cost, the Schnipper’s/Shake Shack style burger delivers a perfect storm of burger experience: nostalgic elements triggering memories from the burgers of your youth, mixed with a 50/50 split of quality and quantity that appeals to your grown up appetite of today, and priced in the Bang for your Burger Buck range. Simple, classic and worth the calories. For the In-N-Out, Steak N Shake and yes even Shake Shack fans, this burger is certainly for you. And special shout out to In-N-Out nation, this burger delivers all the elements you love plus this: A satisfying single patty juicy burger experience. You won’t need fries. They offer up a double but that’s just silly talk. Just spend the $7 and let Schnipper’s Old Fashioned take care of your nostalgic cheeseburger fix. And come hungry because that price includes a short wait. This is where Schnipper’s succeeds Shake Shack – it’s a more convenient experience. Clone’s seldom get the glory that their orginal’s get. And maybe that’s a good thing. I’ll take a shorter line to a non cloned burger any day.
Just as long as that clone isn’t trying to blow up the world or something. But I’ll leave that for Hollywood to address next summer.
Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen
570 Lexington ave (at 51st)
New York, NY 10022