Nick Solares of A Hamburger Today expressed disappointment in the sliders at Mark today, and you knew someone was also going to swim against the tide of adoration being washed upon Bills Burger and Bar. Unsurprisingly, its noted crank Alan Richman, who usually waits a while before turning on a restaurant (witness his review of Peter Luger), but wastes no time here. Not only does he take Bills down several notches in his GQ review, he uses it as an excuse to scold bloggers for going berserk about the burger.
Richman basically says that the burger beasts who initially set the laudatory tone were influenced by pre-opening press previews, and that judging a restaurant by the food served at press events is like judging a baseball team by the home runs hit during batting practice. Richmans opinion: The burger is flat, dry, and overcooked, as well as served on a second-rate bun The cheese was innocuous American. The bun was innocuous seeded Arnolds. The onions were finely diced and no surprise innocuous. This was not perfection. This was not the best burger in New York. This was not even a good burger. It goes on from there, until Richman kisses off the whole operation: I feel sorry for Bills Burger & Bar. Its a mediocre spot in the Meatpacking District, where restaurants with low expectations can endure. Ouch.
For all of his dismissiveness about bloggers (he goes so far as to question departed Feedbag editor Josh Mr. Cutlets Ozerskys critical acumen about hamburgers, of all things), Richman doesnt mention anything about the Underground Gourmets assessment. Perhaps calling out those easy-target bloggers is kosher, but doing the same with fellow critics would be too much of a break from form? Youll recall that Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld praised the patty (they found it almost as crisp on the outside as a falafel ball and cooked through but still fairly juicy thanks to its loose and crumbly construction), but werent crazy about the construction: While decidedly a great burger, and already one of New Yorks best, its not as juicy and cohesive as its Shake Shack rival, and its construction can err, depending on the night and the cook, on the wrong side of floppy. Apparently the construction really erred on the nights Richman visited. Or maybe the burger wasnt the bad taste in his mouth it was the fact that the bloggers got to the party first and were controlling the conversation.
Whatever you believe about this burger, its clear that its the current foodie barometer just like David Changs ramen before it. The genius of the Bills Burger, like that ramen, is that anyone can try it for cheap, without much of a time commitment (ignoring the waits at Bills), and have an opinion about it. And if you dont think that opinion goes a long way in foodie conversations, consider the fact that Ozersky has revived the Feedbag (previously in a "fugue state" after his departure as Citysearch editor), just to heap still more paragraphs of praise on the Bills Burger. (The post seems to have been written before Richmans review, which isnt mentioned so you can probably expect yet another follow-up before the bag is kaput.)
Long and short of it: The burger is officially a conversation piece (even more so now), and Alan Richmans calculated takedown wont succeed in taking it down at all. All the opposite: Steven Hansons recession-minded philosophy of hugging the customer (and the bloggers first and foremost) is poised to pay off big time. It remains to be seen whether the Bills Burger achieves the immortality of the Shack Burger in foodie circles, but if nothing else, it's a coup of burgvertising that deserves to be studied in Marketing 101 for a long time to come.