Prime Burger [CLOSED] | 5 E. 51st St. (Bet. Madison & 5th Aves.) | 212.759.4730 | primeburger.com | |
TO BE A NATIVE NEW YORKER, and of some years, is to continually lament the disappearance of what we nostalgically refer to as “Old New York”. And no matter how mindful and proud we are to be one of the most modern and progressive cities in the world, generations of city denizens have had the good fortune of being able to enjoy both the old and new ideologies that helped verily define this city for the last 100 years.
Unfortunately, New York City—especially, of course, Manhattan—is constricted by the the tangible physics of its geography, and as the number of “new” things in Gotham exponentially increases, it has become apparent to us locals that much of the “old” have to be removed to make room.
I cannot begin to list the amount of places, restaurants, bars, stores—all that not even half a life ago I thought would be around forever—that have bit the dust, aged and/or priced out of newly gentrified neighborhoods. The age of the family-owned business is being phased out as awnings on new storefronts sport charming family sir names, not connected to an actual family, but testing well in a focus group.
And so as I continue to wrap myself in the pageantry of National Burger Month—as well as updating my list of top ten favorite NYC burgers—I found it most disheartening that Prime Burger a restaurant/coffee shop (read, diner) had successfully fed both blue collar and white collar breakfast, lunch and dinner, to grateful neighbors for over seventy years. I found the news out on a Midtown Lunch post, so I just had to make a trip to pay one last visit to a humble and proud not-so-little greasy spoon that fed me many satisfying lunches in 80s when I worked in 30 Rock at NBC, and in the 00s when worked in the Time/Life Building. I was saddened to see the closing confirmation sign on the window, but happy to see the place packed with people likewise paying their last respects, as well as the staff, as professional and congenial as ever, in bow ties and in good humor.
The place still smelled wonderful, like they had already grilled hundreds of burgers and deep-fried tens of thousands of french fries. My order, of what would be my last meal in this space’s incarnation, would be very simple: cheeseburger, medium; side of fries….
As I reveled in this nostalgic goodness, I realized that—as I’ve been categorizing all the types of burgers I’ve consumed and written about—that I couldn’t even list this under CLASSIC DINER-STYLE BURGER (my favorite type); it’s not styled as a classic diner burger, it is a classic diner burger! And a glowing example of one at that. Not minding at all that it came out more medium rare (I always assume that a thinner burger is harder to get medium rare while being properly cooked on the outside, so this was actually ideal for me, since I prefer medium rare), the patty had great flavor and moisture (not just from the meat’s rendered juices, but from a little extra grease as well), was properly salted, and was also packed loosely for a nice crumble.
The American cheese like the kind I grew up on, a little sharp, a little creamy when melted, and an excellent bun adhesive. The bun itself was soft and semi-sturdy, and nicely absorbed the aromas from the burger juices as well. The fries were very good, thick, crunchy, airy, hot for a long time, with proper potato flavor (an attribute lacking more and more in the yet ever-increasing number of burger joints).
The couple to my right, eating at the same counter as me, had not known about Prime Burger’s impending closing, and felt lucky to have taken up a friend’s suggestion to try the place out. They seemed to enjoy their food as well, and as they left, I reminded them to, yes, be lucky that they got to try the place out, that they got to experience some of old New York—built by people, families, communities, and neighborhoods—before all that is left is New New York, built by venture capitalist, focus groups, PR firms, and multimedia crossover potential. Another small, sad sign to us lifelong New Yorkers, who knew and remember a city of generations of lived-in personality, that the New York that got us all here may very well become past its prime itself, as another institution is relegated to (forced into) the history books.
Bun Apple Tea!
Prime Burger [CLOSING] | 5 E. 51st St. (Bet. Madison & 5th Aves.) | 212.759.4730 | primeburger.com | |