Burger Battle: Steak ’n Shake Style at Bill’s Versus White Manna Style at Mark

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Mark Burger Photo: Daniel Maurer

Theres no doubt that the La Frieda burger at Bills is the current foodie fetish. When we dropped in the other night we spotted Carla Spartos of the New York Post, as well as a few solo diners clearly there to sample the goods. Adam Kuban of A Hamburger Today believes the burger is poised to challenge Shake Shack, and George Motz of Hamburger America calls it a new classic. The hype is such that Bret Thorn of Nations Restaurant News even spotted Mayor Bloomberg there. But while Bills is racking up accolades by emulating a Steak 'n Shakestyle smashburger, another joint has opened across town mimicking a more local totem: the White Manna burger.

Photo: Daniel Maurer

Its arguable that Mark Burger is operating at a more favorable taste-to-cost ratio than Bills is their sliders are $2 a pop, and theyre worth every penny. The chef, Erik Ruben, is a Bergen county boy who most recently worked as a line cook at Bar Americain. Owners Sam Erlich (Thalia) and Amnon Kehati (Sidewalk Café) charged him to make a burger in the style of White Manna, the Hackensack favorite that has long been the holy grail for A Hamburger Today types, and this is how Rubin does it: He gets his chuck, porterhouse, and short rib from New England Meat in the meatpacking district, grinds it in house, shapes it into a two-ounce ball, presses the patty onto the grill, presses some thinly sliced Spanish onions into the burger, flips it after its cooked to a hard sear, and then immediately tops it with American cheese. The burger is served on a Martins potato-bread bun, with fries made from fresh-cut Idaho potatoes that have been soaked overnight in malt vinegar, blanched, cooled, and fried in peanut oil. The bacon burger is a funny one: Rubin dices and roasts Hatfield Farms smoked bacon and mixes it in with the beef, so the bacons taste and texture doesnt overpower the burger.

Like Bills, Mark is hopping on the alcoholic milkshake bandwagon though since the narrow space is only licensed to serve wine along with tap beers such as Sixpoint Rye and Abita, the shake is spiked with Guinness syrup rather than hard alcohol. It remains to be seen whether Mark gets the sort of love that Bills already has, but AlwaysHungry, for one, has wasted no time dubbing these the best sliders in New York. (You can see a good photo of the burger there; our iPhone wasnt able to do it justice.)

Despite nice touches, like the fact that the bar was made from the recycled floorboards of the dress shop that used to occupy the space, the generically loungey décor (and weakness for cheesy dance music) may keep it from being a true destination. But the burgers are excellent enough, given the price, that theyre likely to lure plenty of drunks away from 2 Bros. across the street. Heres the short and sweet menu.

Regular slider (cheese and onions) - $2
Bacon slider (cheese and onions) - $2.75
French fries - $3
Pecan pie - $4
Vanilla milk shake - $5
Black and white milk shake - $5
Guinness Shake - $6.50
Beer - $4
Wine - $5
Soda - $2
Coffee - $2
Espresso - $2

Mark Burger, 33 St. Marks Pl.; nr. Second Ave.; 212-677-3132