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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Lower Manhattan has some hamburger bragging rights. Sailors traveling between Germany and New York City and 19th century immigrants on the German Hamburg-America Line brought something called “hamburg steak” with them — shredded, salted, low-grade beef that would survive a sea voyage, said Liz Young, who leads food tours of Lower Manhattan for the Downtown Alliance. The introduction of meat grinders in the early 19th century made it easy to produce large quantities of ground beef, according to Young.
Delmonico’s restaurant, which opened in 1837 and is now at 56 Beaver St., claims to have been the first American eating establishment to list “hamburg steak” on a printed menu. Back then it cost a pricey 10 cents.
Outside of fast food joints such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s, today in Lower Manhattan the price of a hamburger can range from $3.50 at Danny Meyer’s Battery Park City Shake Shack, 215 Murray St., to $19 and up in a hotel restaurant. According to the Downtown Alliance, there are 447 restaurants south of Chambers Street, give or take a few because of openings and closings. How many of these serve hamburgers? The correct answer is, “A lot.”
Though there are some other things on the menu such as turkey burgers, veggie burgers and a few salads, Zaitzeff at 72 Nassau St. specializes in hamburgers. “We know exactly where our meat comes from,” said Amine Zaitzeff, who opened the restaurant with her son Zachary in 2003. “We get it from one supplier.” Sirloin and kobe burgers ($8.75 and up) are served on Portuguese buns baked in Fall River, Mass. An extra $5 brings a copious order of fries — Idaho or sweet potato — cooked in cast iron woks. There are now three Zaitzeff locations. The original restaurant is small, with just 19 seats, but Zaitzeff delivers and is open daily. For more information go to www.zaitzeffnyc.com.
Executive Chef Maximo Lopez May of the Wall & Water restaurant in the Andaz hotel, 75 Wall St., brings his superstar culinary skills and local ingredient sourcing to the restaurant’s hamburgers. They are served on brioche buns sturdy enough to take the weight of a plump sirloin patty accompanied by tartar sauce, thick-cut fries and locally grown lettuce, onions and tomatoes. The burgers are preceded by a mini-appetizer of the day and served in a chic dining room decorated by David Rockwell. The burgers are $19. Wall & Water is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kitchen closes at 11 p.m. Visit www.hyatt.com/gallery/wall&water for more info.
The hamburger platter at Jim Brady’s restaurant, 75 Maiden Lane, comes with a respectable sirloin patty and the usual accoutrements — slices of tomato and onions, some lettuce and a pickle, but what makes the Jim Brady’s burger extra special is the room in which it is served. It has dark wood paneling, 19th-century-style lighting fixtures and paintings of Belle Époque diners. The bar came from New York’s famous Stork Club. Jim Brady’s opened in 1976 and was named for that legendary epicurean, Diamond Jim Brady, who was born on Aug. 19, 1856 above his father’s saloon at Cedar and West Streets and went on to make a fortune in the railroad business. Paul Quinn, Jim Brady’s genial owner, hails from Galway, Ireland and has been with Jim Brady’s since it opened. He bought it from the previous owner just before 9/11. The restaurant’s web address is www.jimbradys.com.
Eric Gordon has been the chef at Libertine, 15 Gold St. in the Gild Hall Hotel for just a few months, but he has already put a classy hamburger on the menu. The grass-fed burger comes with Applewood smoked bacon, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, Thousand Island dressing and a gherkin. It costs $13 and is available at both lunch and dinner. Gordon calls his creation a “Bear Burger” — “for the bull and bear market,” the restaurant’s general manager Abiri Ward explained. Libertine restaurant is open Monday to Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Check out Libertine’s website at www.thelibertinerestaurant.com.
Ryan Maguire’s Ale House, 28 Cliff St., was closed for a year after a devastating fire in February 2010. When the restaurant reopened on March 14, 2011, Chef Raj Soomai returned and added a barbecue “voodoo” burger to the menu. The voodoo sauce is made with five kinds of peppers and herbs from Trinidad, which is where chef Soomai comes from. The sirloin burger is served with red cole slaw and costs $10.95. Tom and Mena Maguire, the owners of the ale house, named it for their son Ryan, who was a toddler when the restaurant opened in 1995. Go to www.ryanmaguiresalehouse.com for more information.