It’s a problem when a burger joint can’t make a decent burger.
It’s a bigger problem when said burger joint charges $14 for an anemic, charred patty with cut-rate accompaniments like hard pink tomato slices — and when it’s all delivered by surly servers whose memories are shorter than their attention spans.
But that’s exactly what’s going on at Prime Burger, the much-touted new “sports bar” offshoot of Prime KO, the kosher Japanese Steakhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Prime Burger’s the fifth outpost of Prime Hospitality Group, whose holdings include midtown’s Prime Grill, Pizza da Solo in midtown Manhattan’s Sony Building, and Upper East Side steakhouse Prime at the Bentley. The burger place opened last week in a basement space attached to Prime KO, where celebs like Lindsay Lohan and Alec Baldwin have dined on delicacies like $20 sushi rolls and $50 steaks. Considering the lofty reputations of Prime’s establishments, we expected more from its newest eatery.
Turn left down a flight of stairs, and you’re in Prime KO; turn right, and you’re in Prime Burger. There’s no difference between the rooms, with their tufted fabric walls, dark wood tables, and latticed ceilings. They share a kitchen, too, and an executive chef, David Kolotkin, but offer very different menus. Maybe Kolotkin’s got too much on his plate; Prime Burger’s more casual offerings seem like an afterthought.
Prime Burger’s already buzzing; on a recent Thursday, the room stayed packed through the evening. Much of the chatter seemed to consist of complaints. “Where’s my frank? FRANK!” yelled a nearby diner at a blank-faced waiter while her hat-wearing husband tapped on an iPhone.
Said frank arrived a few minutes later, minus the sauerkraut she’d ordered, which precipitated more drama. In the meantime, our orders came barely five minutes after we placed them – usually a sign that a kitchen’s heating pre-made food rather than cooking to order.
Our grassfed burger ($13.50), the most basic offering on Prime Burger’s menu, translated as a charred puck of gamy meat that lacked depth, dimension, or character. Ordered medium rare, it arrived dark brown with a hint of pink. Its bun was too large for the eight-ounce patty, which made the meat seem diminutive. Soft and warm, the house-made bread looked and tasted like store-bought product. Two leaves of lettuce, a flavorless tomato slice, and a lone pickle sliver didn’t help.
Flaccid, lukewarm spicy fries ($5.50) tasted like French Fries with a dusting of paprika — a sort of why-bother upgrade to standard fries ($5.50).
We fared slightly better with a spiced lamb burger ($17.50), though the kitchen blasted the patty — ordered medium — to a black husk. Somehow, the meat survived, and actually yielded a musky sweetness. We detected no spice except salt, and an arugula mint-mayo slathered across the burger tasted mostly of cream. Again, an oversized bun made the burger look comically small, and the boring trimmings went untouched.
To balance out the meat and potatoes, we tried a chopped kale salad ($8.50); it was fresh, bright, and as boring as it sounds. An inert creamy garlic dressing didn’t help.
Prime Burger offers a limited dessert selection, including kosher/nondairy banana cream pie, apple pie, and pecan pie ($8.50). By the end of the evening, our scowling server had stopped communicating, verbally, and silently dropped our check. We took it as a cue to flee and not look back.
Prime Burger, 217 W. 85th St., primehospitality.com