One of the few good issues in regards to the authentic J.G. Melon, perennially packed and irrationally celebrated for its no-frills pub burgers, is the soundtrack of scorching meat.
A semi-open kitchen stands in the midst of this almost 50-year-old establishment, based by the late Jack O’Neill and Georges Morgues. Cooks slap fats patties on a griddle with such frequency that the Pavlovian hiss of browning beef by no means ceases. One may mistake the low-level hum for an ambient temper tape — like a soothing monitor of summer season rainfall or ocean waves. It’s the kind of quirk that pulls you into the cash-only institution on the Upper East Side; it makes you need to turn out to be a daily right here. Then you come to your senses.
After listening to this carnivorous symphony for 30 minutes — the standard watch for a seat on the worn-wood bar — and after getting bumped by gruff staffers ferrying cups of maroon chile con carne, you’re able to eat. You’re thirsty too, as a result of scores of oldsters are consuming frosty beers or Bloody Bulls, and but nobody acknowledges your presence. Still, as a result of the digs are considerably charming — the whimsical watermelon paintings, the inexperienced gingham tablecloths, the crimson tin ceilings — you persuade your self that right here, in an area that’s as crowded as a rush hour 6 practice, you’ll pattern a cheeseburger that can transport you. The $12.50 affair will perform as a splendidly reasonably priced counterpoint to all of the $30 bespoke blends on the market, you declare.
If solely — J.G. Melon isn’t fairly good anymore. In reality, its burger is a far cry from the status it’s come to carry.
No scarcity of publications, together with Eater, has positioned J.G Melon amongst its ranks of high New York burgers. What makes the venue distinctive, nonetheless, is a few of the extra surprising voices it has interested in the fray. Former mayor and billionaire presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has professed his love. Town & Country, a society journal for individuals too rich to buy at Pottery Barn, known as it the town’s finest burger, earlier than occurring to recount the pub’s look in Metropolitan, Whit Stillman’s meditation on privileged Manhattan preppies.
These pronouncements consult with the primary J.G. Melon, which opened in 1972 on the nook of 73rd Street and Third Avenue. A individually owned location within the West Village, with a a lot friendlier employees and a touch higher burger, debuted in 2015.
True to the ethos of the Upper East Side, right here’s what you may encounter on the authentic: guys in Yankee caps; fathers consuming martinis with their toddlers in tow; a silver-haired dude with AirPods yelling at a hardworking busser; and a younger man in a tech vest who holds a 20-minute cellphone name on the bar earlier than placing in an order. Waiters brusquely shove you apart with one hand — as in the event that they had been doing crowd management at a protest — to shout orders at different staffers. When you ask for a pint of Stella, a bartender makes use of one other patron’s soiled serviette as your drink coaster.
J.G. Melon is the actual life model of a fictionalized rom-com New York, the place somebody takes a Greyhound to the massive metropolis and finds that everybody is an amoral businessperson or a imply cab driver in a cartoonish, “hey, move it pal” type of means. See these guys in blazers who confirmed up after you? They’ll discover a option to snag a seat on the bar earlier than you. Here, you need to fend for your self, together with while you depart. The entrance door swings inward, which perhaps isn’t the most secure setup for a spot this packed.
If you need to eat right here, order the chile con carne, which is about as nourishing and warming as any first rate model at a neighborhood diner. A grilled cheese sandwich, in contrast, reveals little signal of being grilled with butter or margarine; it’s extra of a mealy toasted cheese sandwich with chewy bacon.
But actually, nearly all the pieces that comes out of the kitchen is a burger. Nick Solares, writing for Eater in 2015, known as the mix, by Bronx-based Master Purveyors, “plump and juicy,” whereas including that the patty was so loosely packed “you wonder if it is even formed” earlier than cooking. He did word, nonetheless, that the burger was utterly unseasoned and contained an excessive amount of overcooked meat. Things have gone additional downhill since.
You can ask for a medium uncommon burger, simply as you possibly can ask the finance bro subsequent to you to purchase you a Lamborghini Aventador. Good luck with both proposition. A couple of minutes later, out comes a well-done patty (sorry!) garnished with a slice of half-melted American cheese. The hefty providing sits on a squishy white bun, which is the most effective tasting factor right here.
The burger doesn’t odor richly of beef, like a correct Shake Shack specimen, nor does it pack any succulent juiciness. Consistent with the Solares evaluation, it doesn’t present indicators of getting been seasoned. It is just a dry, bland, hockey puck of a burger. Even the charred exterior betrays little bovine aroma or umami richness. It tastes much less like actual beef and extra like one thing cast from rehydrated tree bark and marinated asphalt.
Cottage fries come unsalted. They are tender and puffy at first, however shortly flip gritty earlier than you’re midway completed.
Getting the examine is nearly as tough as getting a seat on the counter. You look on the bartender, nod at him, make eye contact, name him, and check out chatting with him whereas he’s proper in entrance of you — to no avail. He’ll get round to you, ultimately.
Perhaps a few of these absurdities could be tolerable if the place had been really filth low cost, if J.G. Melon accepted bank cards, or if the meals had been truly good. But the price of a cheeseburger, with fries, is $19, or a greenback additional with bacon. That’s simply $three lower than the softer, juicier, beefier model at P.J. Clarke’s, a friendlier throwback tavern that’s stored up with the instances although it’s over 100-years-old. J.G. Melon, situated only a mile uptown on the identical avenue, and never even half the age of P.J.’s, stays mired in a previous that doesn’t deserve our nostalgia.
This is the most recent installment in a brand new sequence known as Is It Still Good? Eater NY will probably be revisiting long-established eating places which have acquired towering reputations and nonetheless generate loads of visitors to search out out if the meals high quality justifies our continued admiration.